Schumann and Prokofiev in private

The Composer's Datebook from American Public Media
Thursday, December 6, 2018

Two famous pieces of chamber music had their premieres on today’s date, both at private readings prior to their first public performances.

On today’s date in 1842, the German Romantic composer Robert Schumann arranged for a trial reading of his new Piano Quintet in E-flat at the Leipzig home of some of his friends. Schumann’s wife, Clara, was supposed to be the pianist on that occasion, but she took ill, and Schumann’s friend and fellow-composer Felix Mendelssohn stepped in at the last moment for the informal performance, reading the work at sight.

After this preliminary reading, Mendelssohn praised the work, but offered some friendly suggestions concerning part of the trio section in the new work’s Scherzo movement, which prompted Schumann to write a livelier replacement movement for the work’s first public performance.

About 100 years later, on today’s date in 1949, a cello sonata by the Soviet composer Sergei Prokofiev received a similar private performance in Moscow, for an invited audience at the House of the Union of Composers. Two of the leading Soviet performers of the day, cellist Mstislav Rostropovich and pianist Sviatoslav Richter, gave the work its first performance. The following spring, it was again Rostropovich and Richter who gave the Sonata its public debut at the Moscow Conservatory.