Robert Schumann turned to the violin as a solo instrument late in his too-short life, inspired by the brilliant young musician Joseph Joachim. In 1853 the 22-year-old violinist appealed to Schumann to increase the repertoire for the instrument, sending him the score of Beethoven’s concerto. Schumann, despite his increasing physical and mental weaknesses (some say the result of syphilis, while others suggest a bipolar disorder) responded with a characteristic flood of enthusiasm: he penned the Phantasie Op.131 in a few days, and soon afterwards started on a D minor Violin Concerto.
The latter was underway in October when an unexpected guest arrived to see the Schumanns in Düsseldorf: the 20-year-old Johannes Brahms, a friend of Joachim’s. After hearing the young genius play his own works, Schumann completed the concerto in a rush of inspiration.
This promising start, though, did not presage a happy fate for concerto or composer. The piece had just one play-through, with Joachim as soloist; troubled by what he what he termed its “morbid brooding” and “tiresome repetitions”, the famously cantankerous violinist never performed it again.