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F op. 90

I. Allegro con brio - Un poco sostenuto

II. Andante
III. Poco allegretto

IV. Allegro - Un poco sostenuto

In the 1880s, the name Johannes

Brahms (1833-1897) was no stranger to
the upper society in Europe. Following

the success of his first symphony in
1877, Brahms music had reached the
new height of popularity. Despite his
busy conducting and performing

schedule, the composer, who had
reached the age of 50, was still able to

compose a huge profile of high-quality
works. Summer was Brahms most

productive period in terms of composing
in the year. Every year, he would spend

his summer in the countryside,
searching for inspiration and write them
down in his new works. Symphony
No.3, Op.90 was written during the

summer in 1883, which Brahms spent
his time in Wiesbaden, a spa town in
Germany that overlooks the Rhine.

op. 90

Although the third symphony is the

shortest one among the four
symphonies that Brahms had composed,
the symphony is in many ways
exceptional. In this compact work, the
musical ideas, both thematically and

harmonically, are highly coherent
throughout the entire symphony. Also,

all the movements in this work end
surprisingly soft, which is rare in the 19th
century symphonic genre. These
innovative features have made this

symphony stand out from many other
symphonies of the same period.

The whole symphony is developed from (F-A-F)

the three-note motive F-A-F. It is
suggested that this motive, although
never mentioned by the composer,
symbolize Brahms personal motto: Frei
aber Froh (Free but happy). Brahms
motto is perhaps a rebuttal to Frei aber Frei aber
einsam (Free but lonely)the motto of
violinist Joseph Joachim, who was once Froh

a friend of Brahms. The meaning of this
motto is emotionally ambiguous. The Frei
word aber seems contradicting and the
motto can be interpreted both as a aber einsam
statement and as a question, and these
two interpretations have strikingly
different meanings. Such ambiguity can
also be found in the music, where the
music frequently interchanges between
Major and minor scale. Whether or not
the composer intended to express the
motto Frei aber Froh, the F-A-F motive is
nevertheless significant to the melodic
and thematic design of the symphony
and is extensively used.

The 1st movement starts with two block

chords from the winds. Those chords are
in F Major and F minor respectively,
which address the issue of rivalry
between two contrasting tonalities
throughout the movement and of the
entire symphony. It is followed by an
expressive and passionate exposition in
the key of F minor, which quotes the 1st
movement of Schumanns Symphony
No.3 (Rhenish). Soon the tension is
slightly released, and a contrasting
second theme in F Major arrives, which
the woodwinds conjuring a lyrical,
elegant waltz.
Instead of following the common
practice in Romantic period to compose
a slow movement and a scherzo for the
inner movements of a symphony,
Brahms wrote two moderately-paced
intermezzo movements for this work,
which the genre intermezzo appears
frequently in his piano works. The
pastorally-sounded second movement
opens with a chorale-like passage, which
is played by clarinets and bassoons. The
remaining parts soon join in, echoing
with the quartet. This movement leads
us to imagine the fascinating scenery of
the landscape of Wiesbaden and of the
grand river Rhine, which is the view that
the composer was facing when the
composer composed this piece.
The 3rd movement is perhaps one of the

most well-known excerpts written by

Brahms that touches many peoples

heart by the simplistic use of materials.

Cellos in their unusually- high register

bring the melancholic melody out of the

stirring background. The intricate

orchestration in this movement has

proved Brahms as a master of the

Romantic period. The melody expresses

a sense of hesitation and lamentation

and is transformed and repeated

throughout the movement by different

instruments. Since 1877, Brahms close

friends started to pass away one by one.

This unfortunate event undoubtedly

dealt a heavy blow to the composer,

given that the composer suffered from

problem of interpersonal relationship

throughout his lifetime. This passage

perhaps reflects the composers

loneliness and desolation in his mind.

The energy is resumed in the 4th

movement and tonal centre is shifted

from C in previous two movements back

to F. The beginning, which features the

alternation of the motto motive, is

mysteriously soft that seems like the

peace before the storm. Then horn calls

are heard and the musical surface is no

longer calmed .The suppressed emotion

is released all at once. The agitated

upper strings exclaim out their

complaints while the lower strings

create a great turbulence underneath.

Some happy thoughts try to find a way

through the stormy passage, but it fails

and is buried in the mist of the storm. At

the end, when one expected for another

big wave to come, the music, however,

is resolved surprisingly. With the last

appearance of the opening motive, the

symphony concludes in a serene