Director’s News

“Doc Talk”/Class Lesson 5/26/2020





1) Registration for Marching Band is OPEN on our website!!!

Please sign up ASAP, and spread the word, especially to rising 9th graders!  The due date is Friday, June 19th.


2) Applications for Section Leaders/Captains and Drum Majors has been emailed to all the families and will be posted on our website.  Deadline for submission of the written application, along with videos for drum major candidates, is this Friday, May 29th!


TODAY’S LESSON: Robert Schumann’s “Symphony No. 3” – “The Rhenish”

I wanted to start the week with listening to a symphony that I would call “just delightful!”  It is one of the most optimistic works in the repertoire and one that is played on many orchestral programs.


Robert Schumann (1810-56) was both a fine pianist/composer and writer.  In fact, he started a music journal in Germany where he wrote critiques of pieces, performances and composers.  In addition to his compositions, he had 2 “claims to fame.”  His first was introducing the world to Johannes Brahms—a composer that was deeply inspired by Schumann’s music.  (Remember we studied his “Symphony No. 1 in c minor” a few weeks ago.)


His other “claim to fame” was marrying a very talented pianist and composer, Clara Weick—and the daughter of his piano teacher!  Although Clara stayed in the “background” during much of Schumann’s career, she was an important part of his music, as she would offer valuable critiques and would often motivate him to write certain works, such as the one we are studying today.


Musically, Robert Schumann is most known for his collections of piano works, such as “Carnival,” and his songs.  It wasn’t until later in his life when he began writing symphonies (encouraged by his wife).  Although he has 4 published works in this genre, his “Symphony No. 3” was the last symphony he wrote and has become the favorite among audiences and musicians.


Schumann wrote his “Symphony No. 3” in late 1850 after returning from a vacation with his family in the Rhineland (Western Germany along the Rhine river), thus the title “The Rhenish.”  There is NO program for this symphony—the title was added by his publisher to promote sales.  In truth, it is absolute music at its best.  This was the happiest period in Schumann’s life:  he enjoyed a wonderful family; he had his dream job working as a maestro/writer/composer in Dusseldorf; and he was publicly respected as both a successful writer and composer.  The “Symphony No. 3” is in 5 movements, a bit of a “rarity” in 1850 although Beethoven (Symphony No. 6) and Berlioz (Symphony Fantastique) wrote 5 movement works.


What makes the “Symphony No. 3” so attractive are its tunes—its themes and melodies.  You cannot help smiling when you hear them.  They are easy to sing and musically tasteful.  However, there is also some very fine craftsmanship—and some ingenious writing–in this work, especially in the fourth movement.  In fifth/final movement, Schumann brings back a few themes heard in previous movements.  This compositional device—what scholars refer to a “cyclic”–was still novel at the time that Schumann composed this work; however, it is a device that all audiences enjoy because familiarity adds significantly to the appeal of a work.


Movement 1:  Lebhaft (lively)

Music cue #1:  0:07-1:20 in the attached link

Note that the title of this musical is about a tempo, which is NOT programmatic; rather it is very classical.  However, it is the breadth of the melody-its length and rhythmic cleverness-that makes it so romantic.  Note the feeling of 3 over 2 measures (hemiola).  This creates a forward push to the melody that sends it soaring over the bar lines!  Note the arpeggiation construction of the theme and that it vacillates between hemiola and ¾ time (conducted 1 to a bar).  This “A Theme” is very heroic and is solidly in Eb major (like the “Eroica” Symphony of Beethoven).  In fact, many historians cite that this symphony is Schumann’s answer to Beethoven, as Brahms answered Beethoven with his “Symphony No. 1 in c minor” which served as an homage to Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 5.”


The other thing to note about this heroic theme is its use of 4ths—this will be an important motif throughout the entire symphony.


Music cue #2:  1:39-1:57 in the attached link

After a short modulation bridge, that is a transition that changes keys, the “B Theme” is sounded in g minor.  This theme is much more conjunct and melancholy than the “A Theme.”  Note that this theme begins with the interval of a 4th.


In the development section, Schumann states the “A & B Themes” almost in their entirety in many different keys, some very distant from the home key of Eb major.  The only rub is that you are not sure when the actual recapitulation begins…  You keep thinking: “that’s it!  No, wait, that’s it!”


Music cue #3:  6:12-7:11 in the attached link

However, a sudden pianissimo in the strings and an exclamation from the horns signals that something important is about to happen.  Also note the pedal (on the dominant Bb) in the basses.  This is called the “retransition”—the music right before the recapitulation which sets up the return.  It’s like an introduction to the recap.  6:56 in the attached link is the beginning of the recapitulation.


[FUNNY MOMENT!  At 6:50 in the attached link, Bernstein knocks off the music on the 1st violin stand!!!  He was really excited about the recap!!!]


Movement 2:  Scherzo [Sehr massig (very moderately)]

Music cue #4:  10:02-10:59 in attached link

The second movement is in a moderate ¾ time and is known as a landler, or German waltz.  It is in the “sunny key” of C Major and features a beautiful melody with a graceful rising and falling contour.  Note the arpeggio-like construction of this tune.  Also note that Schumann places the first half of the melody in the lower strings and the second half in the upper strings.


There is a “trio theme” played by the winds—with the French horns prominent—which contrasts this “A Theme.”  The A Theme returns after the trio, but the fun aspect of this piece is that musical material from the trio will keep poking its head into the texture.  This movement has some wonderful, heroic French horn writing!


Movement 3:  Nicht schnell (not fast)

Music cue #5:  16:32-17:36 in attached link

This is a beautiful cantabile movement in Ab major, often referred to as an “intermezzo,” but arguably the most challenging to enjoy on first hearing because of the slow tempo and a melody that is not as “catchy” as those in other movements.  But give it time—there is great beauty and master craftsmanship at work here.  There are 3 distinct ideas that are sounded in the first third of the work; in the remaining 2/3 of the work, these 3 themes are intermingled in very tasteful ways.  The influence of this writing on Johannes Brahms is unmistakable!  Talk about teacher-student influence!  Right???


Movement 4:  Feierlich (Solemnly)

Music cue #6:  23:04-24:40 in the attach link

This movement is the crown of the symphony.  Said to be inspired by the great cathedral of Cologne, it is a beautiful, but intensely polyphonic movement inspired by Bach and the Baroque masters.  It shows-off Schumann’s command of writing an older, polyphonic style—much like a fugue, but not quite.  The trombones make their first entrance in the entire symphony at the beginning of this movement, sounding the solemn/religioso theme which begins with a rising 4th, ascends to a high Eb, and then descends back to a lower Eb.  [It also progresses from Eb minor to Eb Major, and then returns to Eb minor.]  It is the only minor key movement of the work:  Eb minor.  It reminds me of Mozart’s “Requiem.”


There is a broad suggestion of an A-B-A form outlined by the meter changes:  The first A section is in 4/4, the B section is in 3/2 (conducted as a slow 3) and then the final A section is in 4/2 (conducted as a slow 4).  The work is so beautiful—the many overlapping voices give the illusion of looking at the intricacies in architecture of a great gothic cathedral.


Robert Schumann suffered throughout his life from manic depression.  He could sometimes be quite happy and then at an instant sink into a depressed state of melancholy.  He even autographed some of his compositions by one of two names:  Eusebius for the “passive,” melancholy side, and Florestan for the “active,” happy side.  In the last years of his life, suffering from what was likely a brain tumor, these polar opposite images grew more and more intense.  It is possible that within this very “happy symphony,” Schumann had to place a moment that reflected the dark demons that still haunted him.  Supposedly, this movement seriously troubled Clara, who wrote to Brahms that she really enjoyed the symphony except for the 4th movement, one that she did not understand…


Movement 5:  Lebhaft (lively)

Music cue #7:  30:02-31:12 in attached link

We return to the home key of Eb major and a very joyful happy theme which begins with the last four notes of the Eb scale and eventually becomes more articulated and syncopated as it stretches on.


Music cue #8:  32:10-33:30 in attached link

What makes this finale so special is the return of the music from a few of the previous movements.  At this moment–the end of the development section—Schumann brings back the landler melody from Movement 2.  He ingeniously “morphs” it into the recapitulation as well!  A very magical moment!!


Music cue #9:  34:40-end in the attached link

In the coda of the movement, he brings back the music from the fourth movement—the cathedral theme.  It is truly unmistakable and gives this symphony a gravity that it wouldn’t otherwise have.  However, here the polyphonic theme sounds much more “heroic” as if the composer has come to grip with his demons.



1) Listen to the Schumann’s “Symphony No. 3 in Eb Major” without interruption.

Please look up “Schumann Symphony No. 3 Bernstein” (sorry, no direct link)

Sorry!  Was not able to find audio score.


It’s all good!


Dr. Jerry Markoch, Director of Bands

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