The Symphony No. 3 “Rhenish” in E flat major, Op. 97 is the last of Robert Schumann‘s (1810-1856) symphonies to be composed, although not the last published. It was composed from November 2 to December 9, 1850, and comprises five movements:
- Lebhaft (Lively)
- Scherzo: Sehr mäßig (Scherzo) (in C major)
- Nicht schnell (not fast) (in A-flat major)
- Feierlich (Solemn) (in E-flat minor)
- Lebhaft (Lively)
The Third Symphony is scored for two flutes, two oboes, two clarinets in B♭, two bassoons, four french horns in E♭, two trumpets in E♭, threetrombones, timpani and strings. Its premiere on February 6, 1851 in Düsseldorf, conducted by Schumann himself, was received with mixed reviews, “ranging from praise without qualification to bewilderment”. However according to Peter A. Brown, members of the audience applauded between every movement, and especially at the end of the work when the orchestra joined them in congratulating Schumann by shouting “hurrah!”.
Throughout his life, Schumann explored a diversity of musical genres, including chamber, vocal, and symphonic music. Although Schumann wrote an incomplete G minor symphony as early as 1832-33 (of which the first movement was performed on two occasions to an unenthusiastic reception),he only began seriously composing for the symphonic genre after receiving his wife’s encouragement in 1839. Schumann gained quick success as a symphonic composer following his orchestral debut with his warmly-received First Symphony, which was composed in 1841 and premiered in Leipzig with Felix Mendelssohn conducting. By the end of his career Schumann had composed a total of four symphonies. Also in 1841 he finished the work which was later to be published as his Fourth Symphony. In 1845 he composed his C major Symphony, which was published in 1846 asNo. 2, and, in 1850, his Third Symphony. Therefore, the published numbering of the symphonies is not chronological. The reasoning for the “incorrect” numerical sequencing of the symphonies is because his Fourth Symphony was originally completed in 1841, but it was not well received at its Leipzig premiere. The lukewarm reception caused Schumann to withdraw the score and revise it ten years later in Düsseldorf. This final version was published in 1851 after the “Rhenish” Symphony was published
The same year that Schumann composed his Third Symphony, he completed his Cello Concerto op. 129 which was published four years later. Schumann was inspired to write this symphony after a trip to the Rhineland with his wife. This journey was a happy and peaceful trip with Clara which felt to them as if they were on a pilgrimage. As a result of this trip, he incorporated elements of his journey and portrayed other experiences from his life in the music. The key of the symphony has been connected to Bach’s idea of E flat major and the Holy Trinity.