Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Schumann - Symphony No. 3 In E-flat 'Rhenish'

In 1850 Robert Schumann accepted the Director Of Music position in the town of Düsseldorf situated in the lower valley of the Rhine river.  It was the first time Schumann had lived outside of his native Saxony, and shortly after his arrival he set to work on new compositions. The scenery of the Rhine river inspired  the 3rd Symphony (hence its nickname) and with characteristic swiftness Schumann wrote the work in about a month, from early November to early December of 1850. Schumann conducted the premiere of the symphony in Düsseldorf early in 1851.

There is some confusion concerning the numbering of Schumann's 4 symphonies, as the 3rd is actually the last one composed. What is now known as the 4th Symphony was written in 1841 but was withdrawn by Schumann after a poor reception. Schumann didn't return to this withdrawn symphony until 1851 which was after the 'Rhenish' had been published.

The 3rd Symphony 'Rhenish' is in five movements:

I. Lebhaft -  The rhythmic first theme begins the work in E-flat and its character has been compared to Beethoven's opening theme of his 3rd Symphony In E-flat 'Eroica'.  A short theme acts as a transition to the second more lyrical theme that is mostly carried by the winds. As the second theme continues, it is interrupted by fragments of the first theme until it takes over. The exposition is not repeated. The long development section concerns itself with the two main themes and the short transition theme of the exposition. Schumann modulates to other keys without returning to the home key of E-flat until the climax that leads to the recapitulation. The themes repeat, the first theme dominates the coda and the movement ends.

II. Scherzo: Sehr mäßig -  Written in the key of C major and called a scherzo, it is more in the spirit of a German Ländler. Schumann originally added the title 'Morning On The Rhine' to the movement but removed it. The  ländler is in two sections and is repeated before a trio section in A minor is played. Throughout the entire short movement there is an underlying, gently rolling quality to the music, perhaps revealing its debt to the rolling waters of the Rhine. After the trio section the ländler reappears and is slightly varied, and it leads to a gentle ending.

III. Nicht schnell - A lyrical, short interlude in A-flat major that lends a few moments of calmness to the symphony.

IV. Feierlich - Tradition has it that this movement was inspired by Schumann's visit to the Cologne Cathedral where he witnessed the installation of the Archbishop of Cologne. Whether this is true or apocryphal is moot. Schumann originally titled this movement 'In the character of an accompaniment to a solemn ceremony', so it may be a case of what Schumann admitted concerninig some of his other works with titles; that he composed the music first and the title was inspired by the music. All of this doesn't detract from the beauties of the music of this movement, perhaps Schumann's best work for orchestra. Written in E-flat minor, the music begins with a loud chord and proceeds in a solemn tone. Trombones that have been waiting silently the previous three movements make their entrance and add to the solemn progression as the music moves towards a new theme, a chorale. The complexity increases as the music makes its way to an ending that leads directly to the last movement.

V. Lebhaft -  The music makes an abrupt change in key (back to E-flat major) and mood as two themes are paraded through the orchestra. A theme from the preceding movement appears and is transformed from its former solemnity to one of brightness. Schumann rounds off the work with a short reference to the theme that began the symphony, and the work proceeds to end with chords in the home key.

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