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1850 – Schumann Symphony No. 3 (Rhenish)

 

1850 Robert Schumann Symphony No. 3 ‘Rhenish’
Instrumentation Strings, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones (alto, tenor & bass), timpani
Movements I: Lebhaft (Eb) II: Scherzo: Sehr mäßig (C) III: Nicht schnell (Ab) IV: Feierlich (Ebm) V: Lebhaft (Eb)
Overview This is the last symphony that Schumann completed and like Mendelssohn’s Italian symphony it is loosely inspired by a trip away, in this case to the Rhineland. It is notably in the same key as Beethoven’s Third symphony and begins its first movement in a similar heroic vein. In general, though, this is more like Beethoven’s sixth in its succession of vaguely programmatic five movements.

See full score / watch on Youtube

A) Overall form Like Beethoven’s Sixth symphony this piece is in five movements with the fourth, which is almost like a chorale/hymn, running straight into the last. The chorale idea reappears later in the finale. The usual order of the second third movements is switched, with the Scherzo appearing first.
D) 3rd  / slow movements The third movement of this piece is in a very unusual form that has some elements of a Scherzo and Trio and some of variations:

  • A: Scherzo idea in C major
  • A’: the next 16 bars turns out to be an elaborate variation of the same basic material.
  • B: new material in A minor, acting as a trio, but it includes some material from the previous section
  • A”: modulation to A major version of original scherzo material
  • A: Scherzo returns in its home key of C major
  • Coda

See annotated score of second movement

F) Development of the orchestra The fourth movement is effectively an orchestrated Bach chorale-like texture. Schumann uses the woodwind and brass to coax a range of different colours out of this essentially very simple homophonic textures.
L) Dance, Folk and national styles. The second movement is an odd mix of variation and scherzo/trio but has a strong feel of a Landler – a folk dance that became very popular with composers in the nineteenth century. Landler’s were originally quite vigorous with hops and skips incorporated but they became increasingly gentle and refined. They are in 3/4 and often somewhere between a minuet and waltz in feel.