I. Allegro con brio
III. Poco allegretto
Did Brahms ever write a more thrilling theme than the one which leaps from the orchestra like a bolt from Jove at the beginning of the Third symphony? And what is more poetical than the end of the symphony, when that same fury theme, or a fragment of it, is heard again in terms of sunset splendor? The symphony is a further development of Brahms’s mastery of material, and variety of rhythms, and its nature is very romantic.
The first and last movements of the Third symphony are closely connected by theme and mood. These movements are heard, as it were, against a back-ground of mountain, sky and singing winds. The two inner movements are in a different category. They are in fact less symphonic in character than the corresponding parts in any of the other Brahms symphonies. These inner parts of the Third symphony are smaller and more intimate in conception. Carefully as they are worked out, they have nevertheless such unity and mood that they sound almost as improvisations. Some feel that these movements are rather expansions of Brahms’s chamber music style, or even of the structures of his shorter piano pieces, than appropriate for a great symphony. The more fanatical of the “Brahmins,” who are content with nothing but the most extravagant praises of “the master,” will probably dispute this. For me the special effect of these movements lies precisely in their intimate and personal nature. They are cradled between the Jovian beginning and the towering finale as valleys lie between towering heights.
The second movement grows from a melody which has the character of a German folksong or lullaby. Its melodic offshoots cluster about the principal theme, with a brief passage of necessary contrast. The third movement is one of a compassionate melancholy and introspection, the principal theme given a special color by the combined tone of ‘cello and clarinet. The “color” of this movement is not less original and unprecedented in orchestral music than the peculiar technic and poetical coloring, in another field, of Brahms’s representative piano pieces. Schumann was not more personal. The finale is energetic and magnificent, and the last pages have the glory and serenity of the afterglow.