Johannes Brahms (1833 - 1897)
Symphony No. 3 in F
Brahms's Third Symphony was written in 1883, and is perhaps the composer's most elusive symphony. It is certainly his most adventurous, featuring daring modulations in the first movement, and a Schumann-esque scheme of thematic inter-relationships that culminate in an unusually subdued coda in the finale. The violinist Joseph Joachim, who conducted the Berlin premiere in 1884, likened the finale to the tale of Hero and Leander, and Hans Richter described the symphony as Brahms's 'Eroica'. However, the piece is not without its gentler and more 'pastoral' elements. For Clara Schumann, it conjured up images of 'a chapel in a wood ... streams flowing, and beetles and gnats playing'.
2 flutes | 2 oboes | 2 clarinets | 3 bassoons (including contrabassoon)
4 horns | 2 trumpets | 3 trombones
FIRST MOVEMENT - Allegro con brio - Un poco sostenuto - Tempo I
FORM: Sonata Form
KEY: F major
Click here to listen to this movement (RealAudio file)
LIVE PERFORMANCE: The Queensland Youth Symphony Orchestra, conducted by John Curro
The movement begins with two massive chords in the wind and brass (Ex. 1):
The heroic principal subject (Ex. 2), rhythmically based on the main theme from Schumann's 3rd symphony, is played by the violins:
It is a testament to Brahms's powers of counterpoint that while this theme is being stated, an equally important motif, based on the two opening chords (Ex. 1), is introduced by the brass and winds. This is a sign of Schumann's profound influence over Brahms - the motif (C - Eb - high C - E) functions like a 'motto' theme that features throughout the entire symphony. This technique of thematic inter-relationships and transformations between movements was pioneered by Schumann in his four symphonies, particularly in the 2nd and 4th.
A transitional theme is introduced (Ex. 3):
This theme, as well as arpeggio-like figures, wind their way around to Db major. A masterly chord progression, Db - E7, allows modulation into A major for the secondary subject (Ex. 4):
This beautiful, uniquely Brahmsian theme is first introduced by the clarinet, with other wind instruments providing harmony. A bouncy counterstatement is made by the oboe:
The 'motto' theme returns again, leading into the closing section. This consists mainly of descending arpeggios. The exposition reaches a climax in A minor, ending with ascending chromatic scales and declamatory descending arpeggios in the strings. Most (but by no means all) conductors choose to take an exposition repeat at this point.
The development section begins with elaboration of the descending arpeggios used to end the exposition. These gradually work their way towards C# minor, in which the secondary theme is stated and developed by the cellos. After much stormy development of the secondary subject, the section reaches a state of tranquility in Eb major.
Various modulations lead into a full recapitulation, ending in D minor. A fierce coda eventually ends the movement in a tranquil F major.
SECOND MOVEMENT - Andante
FORM: Ternary form
KEY: C major
The pastoral-sounding principal subject (Ex. 6) is played by the clarinets:
This is then elaborated and developed by the full orchestra. Chromatic murmurings in the strings lead to the mysterious second subject (Ex. 7), again stated by the clarinet:
This theme is again an important 'motto' theme which returns in the fourth movement. The first two notes of this theme form a vital 'building block' which is used throughout the second movement.
This theme is answered by a more cheerful melody in the major, played by the strings, then the wind. Modulations lead into G major, in which there is a development of all the thematic material, eventually leading into a recapitulation.
The recapitulation is highly modified, with countermelodies in the strings and winds. An episode in the strings leads to a climax in C major. The repeated note of the secondary theme is again used for an extraordinary sequence of modulations, leading to a peaceful coda.
THIRD MOVEMENT - Poco Allegretto
FORM: Ternary form
KEY: C minor
This movement is essentially a wistful and melancholy waltz in C minor. The main theme (Ex. 8) is stated by the cellos:
The full strings section then answers in the major (Ex. 9):
The woodwind introduce the central Trio section (Ex. 10):
This is answered by the strings (Ex. 11):
Chromatic modulations lead to the return of the main theme (Ex. 8), this time played by the horn, then passed to the oboe. The major key theme returns (Ex. 9), and the main theme is stated for the last time by the full strings section. The coda reaches a heart-wrenching climax, before ending in C minor.
FOURTH MOVEMENT - Allegro
FORM: Sonata-rondo form
KEY: F minor
This movement is one of Brahms's most violent and dramatic symphonic creations. The dark and brooding principal subject (Ex. 12) is introduced by the strings:
In the first of a series of Schumannesque thematic inter-relationships, the secondary subject of the second movement (Ex. 7) returns in a modified guise (Ex. 13):
Dramatic dotted rhythms lead to the more optimistic secondary subject (Ex. 14), based on a hemiola rhythm:
The dotted rhythm figures return (amongst a whirlwind of other thematic material, including some chromatically ascending scales), ending the exposition in C minor. The principal subject (Ex. 12) returns, stated by the flute.
The development section follows, including a stormy elaboration of the secondary subject of the second movement, with frantic countermelodies in the strings, reaching an F major climax.
The recapitulation sees the dotted rhythms return, winding back to F major for the secondary subject (Ex. 14).
In the extraordinary coda, the principal subject is restated, transforming into F major. This is a particularly touching section, as the entire symphony is brought together and resolved. The 'motto' theme from the first movement returns, followed by the secondary subject from the second movement. With fluttering accompaniment figures in the strings, the notes of the principal subject of the first movement (Ex. 2), high F - C - A - G - F return, and the symphony ends peacefully on an F major chord.
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