About the Works
Symphony No. 3
(beginning of the 3rd movement)
Completed in 1936, two years after the hugely popular Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Rachmaninov’s Third Symphony was considered by the composer to be one of his finest works. The symphony starts with a distant Russian motto theme, played pianissimo by a muted solo cello, horn and two clarinets, followed by a more emphatic outburst from the orchestra. The first subject, which has still further importance in the central development of the first movement is announced by oboes and bassoons, a theme characteristic of the composer in its lyrical implications, an element still more evident in the second subject, introduced by the cellos and suggesting to some an American folk–song, much as the slow movement of the Fourth Piano Concerto had brought a less desirable resemblance. The motto theme, which has had its part to play in the development, returns to preface the recapitulation, with prominence now given to the second subject. The motto theme brings the movement to a close. In the second movement Rachmaninov follows the precedent of the concertos in which he had included a scherzo in the slow movement. The French horn introduces the motto theme, with the accompaniment of the harp, before the entry of a solo violin, to be joined by the other violins, as the thematic material is developed. A solo flute suggests a second subject and the movement moves on to the jaunty and emphatic rhythms of a colourful Allegro vivace, framed by a return of the original material of the movement. The symphony ends with a movement of some variety, opening with a flourish and containing concealed references to the Dies irae and a related fugal section. It is the Dies irae theme that starts the recapitulation and assumes further importance as the symphony draws to a brilliant and optimistic close.