Symphony No. 3 in E-flat major (“Rhenish”), op. 97

The numbering of Schumann’s four symphonies reflects not the order in which they were composed, but rather, the dates of publication. His Third ‘Rhenish’ symphony is in fact his last in the genre. Having undergone a severe emotional and creative crisis in the previous years, Schumann composed the symphony in a positive period at the age of 40, shortly after accepting a post as city musical director in Düsseldorf in September. The work does not follow the classical symphonic model in that it consists of five, not four, movements; Schumann inserted a movement between the third slow movement and the finale, which is believed to have been inspired by Cologne Cathedral. (The e-flat-minor chorale-like melody of this solemn movement is intoned by trombones that appear for the first time in the work.) Although the composer had declined to provide a programme for what had been referred to as ‘a piece of life on the Rhine’, the ‘Rhenish’ moniker nevertheless stuck; indeed it is hard not to associate the fervently soaring opening movement with some kind of image from nature. The second movement, a moderate ‘Scherzo’, does not resemble the usual symphony scherzo in any way in that it melds the three-part form and variation. The tenderly lyrical third movement and the archaising e-flat-minor fourth movementis followed by a jolly finale, evoking the swift tempo and unclouded bliss of the first movement.