Schumann: Symphony No. 3, ``Rhenish''

Robert Schumann, 1810-1856. Symphony No. 3 in E flat Major, ``Rhenish,'' Op. 97. Completed 1850, first performance Feb 6, 1851, at Düsseldorf, conducted by the composer. Scored for 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, tympani, and strings.

In 1841, after a number of years in which he concentrated on writing for the piano and for voice, Robert Schumann had turned at the urging of his wife Clara to larger-scale works such as symphonies and concertos. However, other demands on his time distracted him, and much of this early work remained uncompleted until about 1848, when he returned to the symphonic form and produced an abundance of work.

In 1850, Schumann was appointed principal conductor at Düsseldorf, with the understanding that he would conduct both the standard repertoire of the time and his own new compositions. He was charmed by the city and the Rhineland, but was notably unsuccessful as a conductor, eventually being asked to give up the podium. He continued to compose with abandon, but only two years later began showing the first symptoms of schizophrenia, from which he would never recover. In 1856 he died in an asylum, unable even to speak intelligibly.

The Third Symphony is actually last in order of composition, Schumann having delayed publication of the second-composed Fourth for some years. The nickname ``Rhenish'' refers to the Rhine Valley around Düsseldorf, and the manuscript of the score bears an inscription (later crossed out) indicating that parts of the music reflect the composer's impressions of the Rhineland. With the exception of the fourth movement (marked feierlich, or ``solemn''), the music is as buoyant and lively as the people it depicts, capturing the listener at once and never failing to charm.

© 1994, Geoff Kuenning

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