Symphony No. 4, Op. 120
(Leipzig: Breitkopf & Härtel, [1839?])
Following his famous Liederjahr of 1840, Schumann turned his attention to the orchestra in 1841. That year he composed the Symphony No. 1 (“Spring”), as well as two other works—both of them called “Fantasy”—that are better known today in other versions. The one-movement Fantasy for piano and orchestra became the Piano Concerto (Op. 54) when Schumann added a slow movement and finale in 1845. The Symphonic Fantasy in D Minor received its premiere in Leipzig under the direction of Ferdinand David on December 6, 1841, but it then lapsed into obscurity until Schumann revised it ten years later. The later version was eventually published as the Symphony No. 4, because he had composed two other symphonies in the intervening years. Although he no longer called it a fantasy, Schumann retained some of the work’s unusual qualities, including the form described by the work’s rather verbose subtitle: “Introduction, Allegro, Romance, Scherzo, and Finale in a Single Movement.” The idea of connecting the movements of a multi-movement work—whether by writing transitions between them or by sharing thematic material among them—had fascinated composers ever since Beethoven, and Schumann used both techniques in this symphony. The revised version has proved to be one of Schumann’s most popular orchestral works. Some critics prefer the earlier version, which features relatively light orchestration, but it is performed less often than Schumann’s final version, with its thicker textures and more extensive doubling.