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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 as can be heard by listening to the opening of the fourth movement below and then:

  • the beginning of the last movement which is a new and vigorous idea – YouTube
  • the end of the last movement where the fourth movement chorale appears transformed first as an expansive brass idea and then in imitative entries – YouTube

The usual order of the second third and movements is switched, with the Scherzo appearing first.

D) Minuet / Scherzo – usually 3rd but here 2nd movement The second movement of this piece is in a very unusual form that has some elements of a Scherzo and Trio and some of variations:

  • 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.

This is the opening of the movement:

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.
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