Symphony No. 3, age 50
The work was written in the summer of 1883 at Wiesbaden, nearly six years after he completed his Symphony No. 2. In the interim Brahms had written some of his greatest works, including the Violin Concerto, two overtures (Tragic Overture and Academic Festival Overture), and Piano Concerto No. 2.
- Allegro con brio (F major)
- Andante (C major)
- Poco allegretto (C minor)
- Allegro — Un poco sostenuto (F minor – F major)
- 0:17 Allegro con brio (F major) 12:53 (0:17-13:10)
- 13:34 Andante (C major) 8:14 (13:34-21:48)
- 21:50 Poco allegretto (C minor) 7:26 (21:50-28:16)
- 28:16 Allegro — Un poco sostenuto (F minor – F major) 8:39 (28:16-36:55)
Total time: 35:12
- two flutes, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, a contrabassoon
- four horns, two trumpets, three trombones
This is a great movement, well over 10 minutes long, and in my mind one of Brahms best.
It starts out with an almost sunny sound, though also very introspective and peaceful. There is one place that reminds me of Dvorak, which probably means that Dvorak sometimes reminds me of Brahms. I’m thinking that Dvorak loved the music of both Brahms and Wagner and must have found the war between their camps very painful. As I’m listening I’m trying to remember why this is not a favorite symphony, and I realize it has nothing to do with the first two movements, which are just great.
So now we come to the 3rd movement, and what’s here? I know this symphony very well, so unlike some Mozart and Haydn symphonies, which I never quite can keep straight by themes, all of this is terribly familiar. But I could not recall the way this movement starts until I heard it again, and that shows I have neglected listening to it in favor of the other three. The moment it started I not only knew it, I recognized that it is terribly easy to listen to.
This is the part that lets me down, and I know exactly why. It has a magnificent peak, but then it just winds down and to me has never felt like a finish. I don’t like a symphony to end this way, and that’s why I always have a slightly negative feeling at the end, like a wonderful story – a book or movie – that just does not seem like it has a great finish. It’s only the ending I don’t like, because the rest of it is great. Apparently most of the world disagrees with me.
The 3rd was popular…
Hans Richter, who conducted the premiere of the symphony, proclaimed it to be Brahms’ Eroica. Hype? To me yes, and very much, because the Eroica has a very powerful ending, and this one does not. Then there is the 2nd movement of the Eroica, which is literally and figuratively funeral music. But it seems true that it was initially more popular than the 2nd symphony, which I believe is actually his best.
War between the followers of Brahms and Wagner
Although Richard Wagner had died earlier that year, the public feud between Brahms and Wagner had not yet subsided. Wagner enthusiasts tried to interfere with the symphony’s premiere, and the conflict between the two factions nearly brought about a duel. I suppose there is no cure for human stupidity, and a war between two musical factions seems like the epitome of insanity, that’s the world we live in. Call it the “musical cancel culture” of that time, where two opposite groups tried to destroy music.
He went on making changes
After each performance, Brahms polished his score further, until it was published in May 1884. Brahms was the ultimate perfectionist. If he didn’t destroy his music – which he often did – he worked on it endlessly until he felt it reached his very high standards.