Symphony No. 3 (1941)
William Schuman: Symphony No. 3
This symphony was composed in January, 1941, and first performed by the Boston Symphony Orchestra on October 17, 1941. On the title page is in¬scribed, "This work is for Serge Koussevitzky." The Symphony has since become one of Schuman’s most performed works.
The orchestration calls for two flutes and piccolo, three oboes and English horn, E-flat clarinet, two B-flat clarinets and bass clarinet, two bassoons, four horns, four trumpets, four trombones and tuba, timpani, snare drum, bass drum, cymbals, xylophone, and strings. Additional instruments are listed as optional but not obligatory: “To obtain the best results, they are most desirable." They are a third flute and second piccolo, a third oboe, a third bassoon and contra-bassoon, a quartet of horns, and a piano. The Symphony No.3 is in two parts with two connected movements in each.
PART I. The Passacaglia theme (in triple beat) is given by the violas, followed in turn on rising semi-tones by the string section and then the winds. This development is in strict four-part canon. As the strings complete the can¬onic line, they reinforce (pizzicato) the wind instruments. The variation which follows is a paraphrase of the theme by trumpets and trombones against a string background of consistent harmonic and rhythmic texture. A transition, whose melodic material refers to the theme, leads to the next variation. Here the woodwinds have melodic variations against a harmonic background with rhythms related to a fragment of the theme. Another transition leads to the final two variations. The first of these is a long melodic version of the theme (violins) which continues with the canonic material of the first part of the movement. The background consists of fIowing figures in the lower strings. The dynamics are at first soft and the note durations long. As the dynamics increase, the note durations became faster and an agitated section is reached. A climax leads to the final variation. Here the strings set a characteristic harmonic and rhythmic background. The four trombones give the final summary of the Passacaglia theme. This leads without pause into the Fugue.
The subject (Vigoroso - in common time) is related in pitch design to the Passacaglia theme, but is of a very different rhythmic nature. It is stated in turn by the horns (supported pizzicato by the violas and cellos), violins, violas and cellos, tuba and basses, woodwinds, trombones, and finally trumpets. Save for the horns there is a three and one-half bar codetta after each en¬trance. The opening section of the Fugue relates to the same section of the Passacaglia. The entrances are on rising semi-tones from B-flat through E; the Passacaglia entrances were from E through B-flat. The development is also canonic and in the Fugue runs into seven parts. At the conclusion of this section, the four trumpets have an extended episode leading to a transition in the woodwinds and horns to the first variation on the Fugue subject. This is stated by the English horn unaccompanied. The extended developments which follow are for woodwinds and strings only. A climax is reached with the en¬trance of the timpani soon joined by the strings in setting a characteristic rhythmic background against the second variation of the Fugue subject. After development of this variation, the final section begins. In it there are three elements: an organ point around E-flat (related to the preceding variation), a third variation of the subject in dialogue form between woodwinds and strings, and a melodic dialogue between trombones and horns. There is a coda wherein the Fugue subject in an altered augmentation is set against the first variation. Continuation of these lines and the introduction of related materials brings Part One to a close.
PART II. The chorale (Andantino - in common time) opens with an introduction in the violas and cellos divided. The Chorale melody is then given by the solo trumpet. It is a variation of the Passacaglia theme. The movement is concerned with various treatments and extensions of this Chorale. The last movement follows without pause.
The Toccata, as the name implies, is a display piece. The rhythm for the principal theme is first given by the snare drum. The opening developments, as in Part One, are canonic. A transition leads into a cadenza-like section for all the strings. The closing sections of the work include a rhythmic treatment of the Chorale, developments of the Toccata theme and new material.