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symphony no. 3

opus number
10 
Burghauser catalogue number
34 
composed
April 1873 - 4 July 1873 (revision 1887, 1889) 
premiere - date and place
29 March 1874, Praha 
premiere - performer(s)
"Filharmonie" Orchestra, conductor Bedrich Smetana 
main key
E flat major 
instrumentation 1 piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 1 English horn, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, 1 tuba, timpani, triangle, harp, violins, violas, cellos, double basses
parts / movements
1. Allegro moderato
2. Adagio molto, tempo di marcia
3. Finale. Allegro vivace
duration
approx. 37 min. 


general characteristics

In terms of his compositional development, the third symphony is a typical representative of the period in which Dvorak had extricated himself from Wagnerian and Lisztian Neo-Romanticism and was well on the way towards finding his own distinctive compositional style. While one cannot help noticing the strong Wagnerian influences, primarily in the instrumentation (the use of the harp, richly divided strings), and an unsettled approach to the cyclical form (the symphony has no scherzo movement), the work does bear traits of the kind of original musical language Dvorak would use in the future, namely a variety of musical ideas, broad, arching melodies and an atmosphere of joyful optimism in the closing movement. As in a number of the composer’s other works, here as well he applies the principle of reminiscence, or thematic association, within individual movements. Unlike the previous Symphony in B flat major, we will note a considerable shift towards thematic economy and a more direct approach to thematic treatment. The symphony was written following a period when the composer had attained his first successes, in particular, after the performance of the Hymn “The Heirs of the White Mountain”. These two works have in common not only their time of origin and prevailing key, but also the expression of nobility and sublimity typifying the related thematic material of both works. Dvorak’s biographer Otakar Sourek even finds in the symphony “an expression of the same sense of patriotism and fervent interest in the future of the nation”.


score of the 1st movement

formal structure and content

The first movement of the symphony is characterised by a sense of exalted pathos, conveyed, in particular, by the majestic and broadly arching principal theme. It is essentially written in sonata form with minor deviations in the recapitulation. The main section of the second movement is highly contemplative while, in the middle section, the music adopts a somewhat brighter tone. The movement closes with an abbreviated recapitulation of the introductory part. The final, third, movement, with its joyful atmosphere also incorporates certain characteristics of the scherzo movement.


premiere and reception

Dvorak submitted the score, together with his fourth symphony and other works, with his application for a state scholarship, which he was ultimately granted. The premiere of the work represented a landmark in Dvorak’s career to date, since this was the first complete performance of a symphony he had written, moreover, conducted by Bedrich Smetana. Of all the works he had produced as a young man, Dvorak had a particular affection for this symphony; he frequently returned to it and is said to have fondly leafed through the score only a few days before his death. The Symphony in E flat major has suffered the same fate as a large number of the composer’s other early works: despite its undeniable qualities, it is wholly overshadowed by Dvorak’s orchestral masterpieces and hardly ever appears on concert programmes. Nevertheless, as the fine recording by Vaclav Smetacek from 1959 reveals, in capable hands, the symphony certainly merits our full appreciation.


period press review

Ludevit Prochazka, Narodni listy 23. 4. 1874:

“The impression given by the composer’s latest work is close to breathtaking; then again, it is such that the listener’s attention and perception start to grow weary. The composer has a wealth of ideas at his disposal, and he always offers them to us, his hands full, like some kind of Croesus. There is something remarkable about this; his creative fantasy presents itself here in the most wonderful splendour. Nevertheless, it is also apparent that the composer is as yet unable to control the high-spirited steed of his imagination; he still allows himself always to be carried by his enthusiasm alone, with the result that the structural proportions of the work become less organic, and lose their symmetry and clarity. [...] The poetic conception is interesting indeed, the basic motifs are for the most part full of feisty emotion and expression, the thematic treatment is thorough and rich in the extreme, and the orchestration attains the level of modern art. [...] The Adagio (C sharp minor) is the most organic and most ingenious movement; it is here that the composer opens up what is deep inside him and seizes our whole being; the sublime ascent of this movement with its second motif in C sharp major, evolving organically from the first, recalls the greatness of the spirit of Beethoven. [...] God willing, this young composer will attain greater serenity and will be more temperate in his deliberation in his subsequent symphonic works, and will thus achieve perfection in his musical creations.”