Movement-in-a-Minute, Part I: Pivotal Moments in Brahms 3

by Victoria Aschheim

Johannes Brahms composed his Symphony No. 3 during the summer of 1883 near the Rhine River, close to Wiesbaden, the famous spa. Despite the last icy rains of the Cambridge/Boston winter, you will be surrounded by sonic warmth in the springlike, pastoral bloom of the woodwinds and the vigor of lush strings and brass as the HRO starts the work at 8 p.m. on March 5 at Sanders Theatre, with the exuberant opening melody, echoing Robert Schumann’s own Symphony No. 3, the Rhenish.Roger Norrington and Michael Musgrave, in The Cambridge Companion to Brahms, remind listeners of the quasi-Baroque first movement, with the clarinet’s melodic effect. A reprise of the opening material takes place at the end of the symphony, too.Norrington and Musgrave warn that the end gets too slow too soon in many performances. Our Sanders audience will not find this flaw in HRO's performance! Maestro Cortese has immaculate control over symphonic logistics and interpretation; indeed HRO’s performance would please Brahms himself, so that the ending is a "glowing sunset…not an endless goodbye," as Norrington and Musgrave write of some renditions of the end. Looking forward to your presence to experience this golden moment of Brahms and the HRO conducted by Federico Cortese this Friday.Now, let me introduce you to the music (and our legendary rehearsal and performance halls) by way of symphonic snapshots.Movement OneRoger Norrington and Michael Musgrave describe the first movement of Symphony No. 3 as quasi-Baroque, with fresh and lively, fluid melodic writing.In The Compleat Brahms, Karen Painter writes of the Third that the adjustments to the scoring seen in the manuscript show the composer's fascination with orchestration in a work that has been greatly admired for its timbral color. Professor Painter notes: "The anti-heroic stance of the Symphony is more immediately sensed in how its opening grand gestures dissipate, and in a second theme in the clarinet and bassoon that seem a melodic blossoming rather than inevitable logic."In this minute-long excerpt from movement one, the Symphony takes flight with an elegant, 9-beats-per-measure lilt as the woodwinds fashion quietly sentimental, arpeggio-based phrases, which the strings amplify into statuesque lines to propel the movement forward. [] Movement TwoKaren Painter describes the prominent wind scoring of the second movement - "a tranquil sublimination of folk song." She notes that a contrasting theme might have produced tension, but Brahms retains "placidity of mood by using the same poignant coloring for the second theme as for the first - clarinet and bassoon, then violins. The reprise is varied, with rich swirling figuration in the strings, but the coda reestablishes a sense of calm as it ends with the same scoring as the opening."I love the sacred, idyllic atmosphere set by the solo clarinet with the arching sigh of the oboe interwoven; the orchestration blossoms from a chorus of woodwinds as the oboe, then the flute, rise to lead in all the strings.Although betraying the promise of this post, I couldn't resist recording a two-minute excerpt of movement two. [] Just as the Orchestra started to re-tune after our break, I caught up with co-principal violist Chris Chang '12 and violinist Charlotte Nicholas '13 for on-the-go reflections. [] Join me here online Friday for Part II of Movement-in-a-Minute, capturing movements three and four of Brahms's Symphony No. 3.Photos by Victoria Aschheim

[Caption: HRO rehearsing in Lowell Lecture Hall]

[Caption: Maestro Cortese's score at the podium]

[Caption: HRO instruments...]

[Caption: rest]

[Caption: Maestro Cortese...]

[Caption: in...]

[Caption: action!]