Robert SchumannSymphony no. 3 in E flat major op. 97, ‘Rhenish’
In September 1850 Robert and Clara Schumann travelled upriver on a riverboat to Cologne, where Schumann was much impressed particularly by the Gothic-style cathedral. The landscapes around the river and the trip to Cologne sparked an intensive process of creativity in early November 1850, resulting in less than a month in the birth of the Symphony in E flat major, subtitled ‘Rhenish’ or ‘of the Rhine’. This work is numbered as Symphony no. 3, because Schumann revised his earlier Symphony in D minor after completing the Rhenish Symphony, and the revised version is therefore known as Symphony no. 4.
The opening movement is one of Schumann’s most effective and disciplined essays in sonata form. Schumann had a perpetual interest in punchy rhythmic structures, as is evident in the use of syncopation in the expansive main subject to create a superimposition of two kinds of triple time – known as a hemiola, a device also favoured by Brahms. The second movement is a Scherzo, not of the Beethovenian dynamic kind but more like a Ländler folk dance; Schumann originally intended to title this movement ‘Morning on the Rhine’.
The symphony has two slow movements, very different in character. The first one is a lyrical intermezzo, while the second one is solemn and woven in a gleaming tapestry of counterpoint. This is one of the most impressive pieces of music that Schumann ever wrote, and its working title ‘In the character of an accompaniment to a solemn ceremony’ refers to an actual ceremony that Schumann witnessed at Cologne Cathedral. In contrast to the gravitas of this movement, the Finale is lucid and carefree; it has been described as being like stepping into bright sunlight out of the penumbra of the vaulted cathedral.
Shortened from Kimmo Korhonen's work presentation
Translation: Jaakko Mäntyjärvi