Robert Schumann (1810–1856) Symphony No. 3 in Eb major Op. 97
Rhenish Symphony – Urtext edited by Joachim Draheim [orch] duration: 33'
220.127.116.11. – 18.104.22.168. – timp – str
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Schumann wrote his Third Symphony within a few weeks in late 1850. It was premiered in Düsseldorf on 6 February 1851 under the direction of the composer. The nickname “Rhenish Symphony” seems to go back to Wilhelm Josef von Wasielewski, who published a biography of Schumann in 1858.
This new edition is based on the first edition.
|2. Scherzo: Sehr mäßig|
|3. Nicht schnell|
On 2 September 1850, after a two-day journey from Dresden via Leipzig and Hanover, the Schumann family arrived in Düsseldorf, where Robert was to succeed his friend Ferdinand Hiller as Municipal Music Director. Schumann had long striven for a post at the head of an orchestra and chorus, and now he had finally obtained it, albeit in the rather modest framework of a small city known above all for its art academy. The enthusiastic reception of the renowned artist couple in Düsseldorf, the stimulating social circles, and, not least, Schumann’s relatively stable health and the growing recognition of his works brought a creative euphoria upon the composer, similar to what he had experienced during the revolutionary years 1848/49.
In late September, he began orchestrating the New Year’s Song op.144, which he had written in Dresden. He started work on his Cello Concerto in A minor op. 129 on 11 October and completed it on the 24th of that month, the day of his first Düsseldorf subscription concert. He must have begun the Symphony in E flat major – which later became known as the “Rhenish Symphony” – on 7 November 1850. This is only suggested by the note “disturbed diligence” in the Haushaltbuch, but is already confirmed by the entry “first movement of symphony in E flat fully sketched” on 9 November.
Contrary to his usual practice, Schumann began to orchestrate the movements even before he had fully sketched the work in its entirety. Judging from his entries in the Haushaltbuch, he did so in ever shorter time spans. The finale (Lebhaft) was “rather finished” on 2 December, and the entire symphony was completed on 9 December, which took Clara Schumann by surprise. As late as 16 November, she still had not known what composition her husband was working on, as she noted in her diary.
Under the date 9 December, the Haushaltbuch announces “The symphony is fully orchestrated – joy”, which was followed by a “check” on 12 December. The work had thus been created in little more than a month, a considerably shorter time than most of his earlier large symphonic works. They had either required long phases of revisions (such as the “Spring Symphony”) or had been composed with larger time gaps between the work phases (as with the Second Symphony), or had even been written in two versions (such as the Overture, Scherzo and Finale op. 52 or the D-minor Symphony).
Schumann’s first biographer Josef Wilhelm von Wasielewski, who not only took part in the first performance of the work as concertmaster of the Düsseldorf Orchestra and “marked” the violin parts for the printing, i. e. provided cue notes and bowings, reported: “When Schumann told me that he had just completed the symphony, I could not help myself from exclaiming how amazed I was that he had created it so quickly, to which he replied: ‘[…] Whoever is able to create anything at all should be able to do so quickly, the faster the better. Flights of fancy and trains of thought are more genuine and natural than a long period of reflection.’”
Under the direction of the composer, the symphony was given its first performance at the sixth concert of the “Allgemeiner Musikverein” held in Düsseldorf’s “Geislerscher Saal” on 6 February 1851. In the program notes, the five movements of the work still bore headings, which were changed or largely omitted in the printed version: “Allegro vivace. – Scherzo. – Intermezzo. – Im Character der Begleitung einer feierlichen Ceremonie (In the Character of the Accompaniment to a Solemn Ceremony). – Finale. – ” After the performance, Clara Schumann wrote in her diary: “I am still amazed at Robert’s creative powers. He is always probing into melodies, harmonies and forms […] I cannot say which of the five movements is my favorite […] The fourth, however, is the one I find the least clear; it is extremely intricate, that much I can hear, but I can’t really follow it properly, whereas in the other movements there is hardly a bar that I find unclear; on the whole, the symphony, and especially the second and third movements, is easily accessible to laymen.” The Rheinische Musik-Zeitung wrote: “The first performance of the new symphony made a notable effect particularly with its first two middle movements. The work was greeted with hearty approval in a performance that was a solid success in spite of many problems. With his new musical poem, our esteemed composer most certainly did not intend to evoke a heroic character: on the contrary, the work presents a slice of Rhenish life with joyful freshness – if one is willing to allow such admittedly subjective descriptions.”
Less successful was a second performance under Schumann’s direction on 25 February 1851 in Cologne. Scheduled too hastily, it obtained reviews that were partially negative and were quite clearly due to the poor performance of the piece and the prejudices of several critics. Oblivious to all this, on 1 March 1851 the composer approached the Bonn music publisher Simrock, who had released some of his works since 1844, namely the Duets op. 43, the Romanzen op. 69 and 91, and, shortly before, the Drei Romanzen op. 94: “I recently wrote a symphony and performed it here and in Cologne. I leave it to others to comment on the work and its reception; I do believe, however, that a publisher would have no reason to fear the publication of said piece. Although the symphony is in five movements, it is not any longer than any others of average length … I know that such larger works bear fruit only little by little, and I would take this into account in my proposal of an honorarium. At present, I only wanted to let you know about the existence of the work. Perhaps you would like to publish it, which would make me very happy.” When Simrock hesitated, Schumann wrote back on 19 March 1851 and showed once again that he was a master of diplomacy in handling more or less short-sighted publishers with an overly developed business acumen: “We gave another repeat performance of the symphony, and I wanted to let this pass before replying to you. I know that such an undertaking is no minor matter, and I shall not be upset in the slightest should you want to consider the matter more closely. On the other hand, I think that you will not be risking anything, even though the reward will only be years in coming. I know that the publishers of the earlier two symphonies of mine are quite satisfied, and if I had performed the last symphony in Leipzig, I would have had them all at my beck and call. But as I already wrote you, it would make me particularly happy to have a larger work published here on the Rhine, especially this symphony, which perhaps reflects something of life here and there”.
This time Simrock agreed. There were several mishaps and delays in the printing process caused by hastiness, misunderstandings and unclear material, and Schumann, who was not a very careful proofreader, was obliged to correct both the score and parts himself several times. Nevertheless, the score and parts were issued in a relatively reliable edition in October 1851. After some discussion, a four-hand piano score of the symphony was made by the young Carl Reinecke (1824–1910) in the summer of 1851, according to Schumann’s express wish and under his critical supervision. Schumann held Reinecke in high esteem as an arranger of his works. Since piano reductions were of fundamental importance for the popularization of orchestral works at that time, this version was released only a few weeks after the score and parts.
The “Third Symphony (in E flat major) for Full Orchestra” op. 97, as it was called on the title page of the first edition, occupies a particular place in Schumann’s oeuvre not only because it is actually his fourth and last symphony; the D-minor Symphony, published later as No. 4, was in fact the revised version of a work written in 1841 and performed at that time. Two aspects in particular have always given rise to both meaningful considerations as well as meaningless speculations: the insertion of a fifth movement (in fourth position), whose evocation of the sacred, spiritual sphere remained unmistakable even after elimination of the title “In the Character of the Accompaniment to a Solemn Ceremony”; and the decidedly “folk-like” character that had been noted by the first critics and to which Schumann seemed to allude in his letter to Simrock of 19 March 1851. What some criticize as a breech of style is seen by others as a bold shift towards program music in the sense of the ‘New German School’, which at this point, and partly owing to Schumann’s many personal contacts, did not yet regard the composer as a reactionary, as it did later. Indeed, the “New German School” was still trying to win him over as an ally, an endeavor that was doomed to failure. One should also not overlook the fact that this symphony was not “dedicated with profound reverence” to a monarch, as were its predecessors (the “Spring Symphony” in B flat major op. 38 and the C-major Symphony op. 61), but remained without a dedication, just as the following symphony, the Fourth in D minor op. 120. The revolution of 1848/49, which had been repressed with bloodshed, had convinced the diehard republican Schumann to eschew a dedication to any of the ruling potentates whose politics had failed so abysmally. The popular character and revolutionary spirit of the symphony, which, significantly enough, recall Beethoven’s “Eroica” beyond the correspondence of the key (E flat major) and meter of the first movement (3/4), speak a clear language that was certainly understood in its day by the knowledgeable.
The work’s designation as “Rhenish Symphony”, which is customary today, was most probably stamped by Wasielewski. However, he is both right and wrong when he claims that Schumann was inspired by the view of the Cologne cathedral or even by the solemn elevation of the Archbishop of Cologne, von Geissel, to the rank of a cardinal, which took place on 12 November 1850, thus after the composer had begun working on the symphony. It is true that Schumann had been in Cologne with his wife Clara shortly before, on 6 November 1850, in order to attend a concert. This was the second time that he had seen the Cologne cathedral, on which construction had just begun in view of completing the structure. He must have been profoundly impressed by this mighty, incomplete edifice, perhaps even more so during his visit on 29 September 1850, only five weeks earlier. After all, the cathedral of Cologne was a symbol of Germany’s cultural unity, a unity that many dreamed of but that was not yet politically possible. Schumann did not, however, witness the cardinal’s elevation on 12 November. Although Wasielewski did not even claim this, it became an accepted fact in Schumann literature, even though it is known that Schumann was in Düsseldorf on that day and, moreover, was ”not well”. At all events, the composer had always refuted interpretations of his compositions that took great pains to find simple causal connections between life, experience and the work. Wasielewski himself witnessed this: “When the work was published, Schumann omitted the heading [In the Character of the Accompaniment to a Solemn Ceremony, for the fourth movement]. He said, ‘We must not show our heart to the world: a general impression of a work of art is better; at least, no preposterous comparisons can then be made’. In speaking of the other movements, he added, ‘I wished popular elements to prevail here, and think I have succeeded’, which no doubt refers to two movements (namely the second and fifth), which are in a smooth, almost popular vein.”
There can be no doubt, however, that extra-musical impressions played an important role in Schumann’s creativity. For example, on 13 April 1838 he wrote to his betrothed Clara Wieck: ”Everything that happens in the world affects me. Politics, literature, people – I reflect upon everything in my own manner, which then finds a way of venting itself, or escaping, in music.” It is precisely for this reason that one should be wary of making all too simplistic connections between life and works. They prevent us from seeing the essential, for example Schumann’s search for new solutions to compositional problems, e.g. in the five-movement structure of the “Rhenish Symphony”. He reinstates the formal balance by shortening the actual slow movement, which has a fluid tempo, into a brief “Intermezzo”; and by turning the additional slow movement into something like an introduction, albeit a very grave and weighty one, to the merry and boisterous finale, which is confirmed by motivic interconnections.
The “Rhenish Symphony” was one of the composer’s most often played works already during his lifetime. Its dazzling and colorful instrumentation does not need to be retouched whatsoever, as was suggested and even carried out by Felix von Weingartner and Mahler. Neither of them understood Schumann’s sound ideal, which took its orientation on Beethoven, Schubert and Mendelssohn. They, instead, tried to make it “more effective” in the sense of Berlioz and Wagner. The influence exerted by the “Rhenish” on the development of the genre extended all the way to Bruckner and Mahler, and even beyond. The many doublings of the strings by the woodwinds had been most likely necessitated by the Düsseldorf strings, which were few in number and technically weak. What is important here is dynamic shading and a fairly compact string section – not an arbitrary intervention into the musical substance. Since the thesis of Schumann’s improperly functioning metronome was refuted decades ago, one should follow the metronome marks faithfully, but not pedantically. The metronome indications run counter to the widespread tendency to drag the tempi in a sentimental manner. This also applies to the phrasing (e.g. the completely different significance of the staccato dot and the wedge), to the various sforzato accents that often remain underexposed, and to the differentiated dynamics that contain such original indications as f dolce (at the beginning of the fifth movement).
This new edition is based on the first edition. An account of the editorial minutiae can be found in the “Revisionsbericht” (Critical Notes) of the full score PB 5362. The editor wishes to cordially thank Hellmut Döhnert (Leipzig) for his constructive and critical collaboration on this edition.
Karlsruhe, Spring 2001
We offer a PDF of the complete text with all notes for download.