Much has been speculated about possible influences on Johannes Brahms’s Third Symphony, composed in the summer of 1883. Similarities between the main theme of the first movement and two bridge passages in Schumann’s Symphonies No. 1 (2nd movement) and No. 3 (1st movement) have been pointed out, not that any relevant indications were made by Brahms or Clara Schumann. (Each listener can arrive at his or her personal judgement with this juxtaposition of the two works conducted by Sir Simon Rattle.) One thing is clear: Brahms’s symphony filled his contemporaries with enthusiasm. “What a work, what poetry, the most harmonious mood throughout the whole piece, all the movements as if cast from one mould, one heartbeat, every movement is a jewel! – How one is surrounded by the mysterious spell of forest life from the beginning to the end!” (Clara Schumann).
Robert Schumann’s “Third”– in chronological terms his Fourth – was a resounding success at its premiere on 6 February 1851. The stirring and singularly vital work was celebrated as “a piece of Rhenish life in refreshing cheerfulness,” whereby the music “particularly made a visible impression in the first two middle movements” and was “heard to enthusiastic applause” (Rheinische Musikzeitung). The work’s title is attributed to Wilhelm Josef von Wasielewski, concertmaster of the Düsseldorfer Symphoniker and later Schumann’s biographer: the composer was “first inspired” to create the work “by seeing Cologne cathedral”, which explains why it could be called “Rhenish”. Schumann, at least, was satisfied with his symphony: “Folk-like elements had to prevail here, and I believe I succeeded in doing so.”