Norbert Burgmüller – Symphony No. 1 in C Minor Opus 2 (1830-33)
(b. Düsseldorf, 8 February 1810 – d. Aachen, 7 May 1836)
I Andante grave – Allegro moderato p. 3
II Adagio p. 90
III Scherzo. Allegro di molto p. 123
IV Finale. Allegro molto e con brio p. 148
August Joseph Norbert Burgmüller was the son of a family of musicians. His father, August Burgmüller (1766–1824) was Municipal Music Director in Düsseldorf and founder of the Lower Rhine Music Festivals. His mother Therese, née von Zandt (1771–1857), was a gifted singer and a sought-after piano teacher. Norbert’s elder brother Friedrich (1806–74), with whom he is occasionally confused, settled in Paris and made his fame and a fortune with light and easy piano works on favourite melodies of the time; he was further known for his ballet La Péri and for his piano studies, which are still in use today. Norbert Burgmüller was taught music by his father, after whose death Count Nesselrode-Ehreshoven enabled him to take further studies with Louis Spohr (1784–1859) and Moritz Hauptmann (1792–1868) in Kassel, from 1826 onwards. Burgmüller remained in Kassel after his studies were over, giving music lessons and performing as a pianist and composer. In 1830 he went back to Düsseldorf, where he lived with his mother. His social circle included painters, poets and musicians. The encouragement of Felix Mendelssohn, who had come to Düsseldorf in 1833 as music director, was important. In 1835 Burgmüller made friends with the poet Christian Dietrich Grabbe (1801-36), a friendship which helped keep his name before the public in the nineteenth century. Burgmüller, who suffered from epilepsy, died in unspecified circumstances while taking a bath during a cure in Aachen; Mendelssohn composed his Funeral March, Op. 103, for the burial.
Burgmüller’s œuvre comprises two symphonies, a piano concerto, an overture, Four Entr’actes for orchestra, four string quartets, a piano sonata, 23 lieder and a few piano pieces. His duo for clarinet and piano is still played today, but the operatic fragment Dionys and all his choral works are missing. A few smaller pieces were published between 1838 and 1844 by Hoffmeister, with Friedrich Kistner bringing out some further compositions between 1863 and 1865, among them all the extant works for orchestra. Support for Burgmüller in Robert Schumann’s writings and occasional performances meant that his works were never completely forgotten among connoisseurs.
A fuller outline of Burgmüller and his music can be found on the Internet, at www.burgmueller.com.
The First Symphony, in C Minor, Op. 2, was written in 1830–33 and had its first performance on 13 November 1834, in Düsseldorf, attracting a favourable review: ‘The deeply thought-out originality and the surprising novelty of this symphony, its comprehensibility, besides its unusual boldness and fullness of harmony, its character, which indeed reminds us most pleasantly of the author himself, its many highlights, which, simple and unaffected, make an even bigger effect – all this distinguishes this composition, giving it such an advantage over the many other similar ones of recent times that the work should meet with the greatest interest from music-lovers. May Burgmüller therefore find a good publisher for his work, because both composer and publisher could only profit from it’. Writing after a performance under Mendelssohn in the Leipzig Gewandhaus in 1838, Schumann considered it to be ‘the most important and noblest work in the realm of the symphony to have been created in recent times’. The Symphony in C Minor transforms influences of Beethoven and Spohr with astonishing independence and a very personal, dark-hued spirit of Sturm und Drang. In the best moments of the monothematically shaped outer movements, as in the vehement march of the Scherzo and the dreamy Adagio, it points beyond Schumann into the future, toward Brahms and Bruckner. On the occasion of a performance in Rostock in 1882 a critic remarked: ‘One praises the high musical values of this quasi-novelty, and one says that the work can well stand beside the best of Schumann’s symphonies even today – indeed, the orchestral inventiveness may in part even be superior’.