Robert Hausmann and the Schumann Cello Concerto
Hausmann first performed the Schumann Cello Concerto in Leipzig on January 29, 1879. His previous concerto performances had been of more popular-style, now-forgotten works (Lindner, Dressler, Raff). He played it in London the following year, for the first time since Piatti had played it on a Music Society concert in 1866.
Although the reviews were excellent, the British press did not receive Schumann’s work enthusiastically:
The Musical Times had similar comments:
Its comparative neglect is readily to be accounted for. The solo part is very difficult without being proportionately effective, and as a composition it by no means ranks among Schumann’s best. The slow movement is beautiful, but the rest of the work is deficient in interest. Herr Hausmann’s playing was excellent, both in regard to tone and execution.
The Monthly Musical Record described the Concerto as “a novelty which is interesting, even if it is not altogether great.” As far as Hausmann’s playing: “His tone is not very large and full like that of some of our own English players, but is sweet and true, and his execution is perfect.”
Other reviews of this performance were also negative about the piece but enthusiastic about the performance. The Musical Standard pointed out some specific aspects of Hausmann’s playing that impressed:
Schumann’s Concerto is not one of his most interesting works, and the violoncello part might have been rendered more effective without a diminution of the difficulty. The difficulties for the solo instrument are, in some parts, very great, but they were made light of by Herr Hausmann, who evinced a thorough knowledge of the instrument. His double-stopping was especially sweet and true. His rapid passages, though accurate in intonation, were not so agreeable to the ear, but perhaps, in a great measure, this was as much the fault of the composition as of his manipulation. He seemed perfectly at home in his work, and played from memory with unfailing certainty in his “cues.”
The critic J. S. Shedlock had the most negative account of the work:
Schumann was certainly not in an inspired mood when he penned this difficult and ungrateful work. It is lacking in clearness of form; the themes of the first and last movements are not interesting, and their development is very laboured. The second section (“Langsam”) is, however, more attractive. The principal theme is full of melody and charm, and forms a pleasing contrast to the rest of the work. Herr Hausmann proved himself an excellent artist. His tone is full and clear, his execution exceedingly neat, and his powers of interpretation of a very high order.
Hausmann must have known that the Schumann would be a hard sell in England. When Piatti premiered the work a reviewer registered it as “another attempt to reconcile the English public to Schumann’s music,” and then dismissed it as a “dreary piece of business.” In the previous year, 1865, Clara Schumann had performed the Symphonic Etudes, to which one critic declared: “It may be safely predicted that such laboured and affectedly pretentious compositions will never become popular with the frequenters of the most popular of London musical entertainments.” This reviewer also compared the Schumann Piano Quartet unfavorably to Mendelssohn’s Quartets, thus giving away where his loyalties were.
Even in Germany the Cello concerto had not yet found its audience. Only a few cellists played it: Jacquard in Paris played it twice, in 1875 and 1877. Friedrich Grützmacher played it on a Frankfurt Museum Concert on March 18, 1870; Bernhard Cossmann (1822-1910) played it in Frankfurt on October 27, 1871. Julius Klengel played it in Leipzig in 1884 and 1888.
Hausmann played the Schumann concerto in London again in 1883 and in Manchester in 1886. In Germany he performed it in Berlin in 1880, then subsequently in Hamburg, Cologne, Aachen, Crefeld, Mannheim, Frankfurt, Braunschweig, Bonn, Meiningen, Cassel, Hannover, and Leipzig again in 1892. His last performance of it seems to have been in Dessau in 1896.
Quotes from The Musical Times 21, no. 446 (1880): 173-74; The Monthly Musical Record 10, (4, 1880): 55-56. Shedlock, J S. The Academy, (Mar 13, 1880): 206. The Athenaeum; Apr 21, 1866; 2008; British Periodicals pg. 536. CONCERTS. Saturday review of politics, literature, science and art; Jun 3, 1865; 19, 501; British Periodicals pg. 667.