Schumann – Symphony No.3 in E-flat, Op. 97 (“Rhenish”)

by Max Derrickson

Robert Schumann (1810-1856)

Symphony No.3 in E-flat, Op. 97 (“Rhenish”)
1. Lebhaft
2. Scherzo
3. Nicht schnell
4. Feierlich
5. Lebhaft

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Robert Alexander Schumann was born in 1810 to a bookseller and publisher who fostered in him an affinity for the glories of literature. The culmination of this was introduced in the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik in 1834. This publication, edited and contributed to for many years by Schumann and colleagues, chronicled the Romantic era of Music inEuropeduring its richest time – a time of Wagner, Chopin, and Berlioz. Schumann’s own commentaries remain well respected as perhaps the keenest views from that age. His “other career,” music, which came about rather informally, was hailed as being “imaginative” and “refreshingly original”. His plans to be a virtuoso pianist were quelled by the partial paralysis of two fingers in his left hand caused by unreliable mercury treatments for syphilis. He was haunted by fears of insanity as early as 1833, leading him to attempt suicide in 1854 by jumping into theRhine. The last two years of his life were spent in a private asylum in Endenich, his physical and mental state decaying until his death in 1856. His funeral was attended by thousands, and his memory cherished the world over.

No discussion of Schumann is complete without mention of his beloved wife Clara Wieck Schumann, by all accounts a remarkable woman.
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The “Rhenish” symphony is agreed by many to be Schumann’s finest. It is actually Schumann’s fourth symphony by chronology, as the second was put aside and reworked extensively into its present form as number four. Regardless, all four of Schumann’s symphonies have posed a problem to scholars and over-stuffed critics
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The Rhenish symphony owes its inspiration to the Rhineland and its famous river. The first movement opens with one of Schumann’s grandest symphonic themes, powerfully sweeping and majestic.
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Next is a comfortable and rustic laendler (rustic dance), not at all a fiery “scherzo” as marked. The theme is treated more or less as a set of variations, and again, a brand new melody is brought cleverly into play later in the movement, appearing magically, then drifting and disappearing down river.

The third movement shows the essence of Schumann’s intimate nature.
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It meanders sweetly between these two tunes through gracious nuances, extolling a delicate mood.

Enter the medieval Cologne Cathedral upon theRhine, and the delicacy evaporates. This extraordinary fourth movement was subscripted by Schumann thusly: “In the style of an accompaniment to a solemn ceremony.” The penetrating and emotionally intense theme becomes the fabric of expansive polyphonic treatment.

A short breath, and then what resembles a quick recessional from the cathedral out into the glorious sunshine over the flowingRhine- the fifth movement finale.
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