Johannes Brahms

Symphony No. 3 in F major, Op. 90

    Description by Blair Johnston

    The time when performers and composers had personal mottoes -- Wieniawski's "Il faut risquer" (I must risk it), Joachim's "Frei aber einsam" (Free but lonely), Brahms' "Frei aber froh" (Free but happy) -- is long since past, but still such mottoes are more than just biographical curiosities: there are at least two very well-recognized musical encryptions of those mottoes. Schumann, Albert Dietrich, and Brahms put their collective talents together to compose the "F-A-E" Sonata as a gift for Joachim, and, when Brahms came up with his own motto, he decided to use the pitches of its initials -- F-A-F -- as the motto theme for his Symphony No. 3 in F, Op. 90.

    Brahms composed the Symphony No. 3 in the summer of 1883 after a five year long sabbatical from symphonic work. It is often considered the other three symphonies' "poor sister" -- a prominent feature, yes, on any symphonic season calendar, but not quite the same stunning pinnacle of symphonic achievement that each of the other three is. How wrong that notion is!

    If mass consumption has less taste for the Third Symphony's odd mix of overt heroism and dense formal logic than it has for the apparently more sensuous, even voluptuous, music of the second or fourth symphonies, or the Beethovenian spiritual journey of the First Symphony's outer movements, that is hardly evidence of a shortcoming on the composer's part. And indeed there is something heroic about the Symphony No. 3, enough to prompt Hans Richter, who conducted the premiere of the piece, to suggest that Brahms give it the subtitle "Eroica" (a suggestion that Brahms didn't take). It is a heroism utterly unlike the kind brought to mind by the composer of the actual "Eroica" Symphony, however. How could a symphony that begins with a musical manifestation of the bittersweet words "free but happy" approach Beethoven's Third or Fifth in raw grittiness?

    The symphony is in four movements: Allegro con brio, Andante, Poco allegretto, and Allegro. The winds open the first movement with a three-chord rendition of F-A-F (actually A flat), after which a tempestuous first theme, also outlining F-A-F, takes over. The second theme is as beautiful a melody, pulsating with warmth, as one might hope for.

    The melody of the Andante is rather like that of the First Symphony's third movement, and not just because it is first given by a clarinet; it also has the same initial rhythm and the same gentle intervallic circle. Poco allegretto is hardly a scherzo; it is almost mournful.

    The finale rekindles some of the first movement's dramatic fire. The quiet, unison theme of the opening is like the long-lost twin of the quiet, unison theme at the opening of the Second Symphony's finale, except that what is in the Second Symphony a joyous occasion is in the Third Symphony intense and shadowed. The F-A-F motto appears again in the final bars, this time winding downward towards the final serene F major chord by way of luxurious string tremolandos.

    Parts/Movements

    1. Allegro con brio
    2. Andante
    3. Scherzo. Poco allegretto
    4. Allegro

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2018 Menuetto Classics
    2018 ICA Classics ICAC 5150
    2018 Alba ABCD 420
    2018 Eloquence
    2018 BIS BIS 2319
    2018 Deutsche Grammophon 4835251
    2018 Linn Records CKD 601
    2018 Deutsche Grammophon
    2018 Warner Classics 0190295633837
    2018 hd-klassik SACD 3D801702
    2018 Profil - Edition Günter Hänssler PH 18048
    2018 Profil - Edition Günter Hänssler PH 18032
    2018 Warner Classics
    2018 Decca / Deutsche Grammophon 4798418
    2017 ICA Classics ICAB 5141
    2017 Berlin Classics 0300911BC
    2017 Oehms Classics OC 030
    2017 Opus KURA OPK 2117
    2017 Decca
    2017 IDIS IDIS 6730
    2017 BSO 34
    2017 Pan Classics PC 10356
    2017 Sony Classical 88985406762
    2017 Sony Classical 88985406752
    2017 Sony Classical 88985405082
    2016 Klanglogo KL 1514
    2016 Warner Classics 0190295975104
    2016 Detroit Symphony Orchestra
    2016 Warner Classics 0825646767717
    2016 ABC Classics 4814413
    2016 Sonoma 1482849
    2016 Deutsche Grammophon 4796314
    2016 Profil - Edition Günter Hänssler PH 13037
    2016 SWR Music SWR 19022CD
    2016 Decca / Philips 4788977
    2016 Deutsche Grammophon 4796018
    2015 BR Klassik 900140
    2015 Oehms Classics OC 1813
    2015 Deutsche Grammophon
    2015 Sony Classical 88843072592
    2015 Deutsche Grammophon 4794306
    2015 Melodiya MELCD 1002295
    2014 Deutsche Grammophon
    2014 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099999356521
    2014 Telarc
    2014 Telarc TEL 34659
    2014 Warner Classics 0825646278176
    2014 Profil - Edition Günter Hänssler PH 14046
    2014 LPO LPO 0075
    2014 LSO Live LSO 0737
    2014 IBA [Idil Biret Archives] 8571303-04
    2014 Deutsche Grammophon 4792787
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    2014 Decca 4787696
    2014 Urania WS 121265
    2014 Praga DSD 350103
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    2013 Oehms / Oehms Classics OC 677
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    2013 Profil - Edition Günter Hänssler PH 13028
    2013 Broken Audio BRAU 0952
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    2013 Decca 4785344
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    2013 Teldec 13136
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    2013 Oehms Classics OC 090
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    2013 Deutsche Grammophon 4791046
    2012 CPO 7777202
    2012 LPO LPO 0068
    2012 Oehms Classics 409
    2012 Broken Audio BRAU 0467
    2012 ICA Classics ICAC 5063
    2012 Signum Classics SIGCD 255
    2012 Dutton Digital / Dutton Laboratories 9812
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    2012 Coviello Classics COV 31206
    2012 Deutsche Grammophon 002894770055
    2011 Haenssler / Hänssler Classic 93267
    2011 Brilliant Classics 94074
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    2011 RCA Red Seal 88697933492
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    2008 EMI Classics 5627422
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    2008 ZYX Music 100542
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    2007 BBC Legends 5001
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    2003 Budapest Music Center 067
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    2003 Guild Historical 2211/12
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    2002 Urania 219
    2002 Archipel 50
    2002 Rca Red Seal 89102
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    2002 Virgin 62081
    2002 Naxos 110164
    2002 Living Stage 35146
    2002 Doremi Records 7798
    2002 Golden Melodram 40063
    2002 Tahra 2175/6
    2002 History 205186
    2002 NM Classics 97016
    2001 Classica d'Oro 1028
    2001 Berlin Classics 0094332
    2001 Classica d'Oro 1015
    2001 Virgin 45480
    2001 IDIS 6362
    2001 Ondine ODE9902T
    2001 Aura Classics 0177
    2001 History 205259
    2001 History 205253
    2001 BBC Legends / BBC Worldwide 40582
    2001 Deutsche Grammophon 469124
    2001 EMI Music Distribution 1020
    2001 Music & Arts CD1077
    2001 Tahra 363/365
    2000 Teldec 84068
    2000 Arkadia 78564
    2000 RS 0540041
    2000 Deutsche Grammophon 495637
    2000 Teldec 82129
    2000 IMP Classics 2039
    2000 Supraphon 111272
    2000 Vox 7802
    2000 Testament 3167
    2000 Stradivarius 13591
    2000 Melodiya 245
    1999 Grammofono 2000 78866
    1999 Chandos 99764
    1999 Deutsche Grammophon 427496
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    1999 Biddulph Recordings WHL052
    1999 Deutsche Grammophon 459635
    1999 Philips 426632
    1999 EMI Music Distribution 73425
    1999 EMI Music Distribution 67030
    1999 Sony Classical 61829
    1999 EMI Music Distribution 56846
    1999 RCA 55838
    1999 Grammofono 2000 78764/5
    1999 EMI Music Distribution 67021
    1999 Testament 1173
    1999 Music & Arts CD4941
    1999 Golden Melodram 40039
    1999 Simax 1204
    1999 Pearl 9018
    1998 Arkadia 78548
    1998 Haenssler 98187
    1998 Teldec 90862
    1998 Tahra 303/4
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    1998 Tahra 320/22
    1997 Deutsche Grammophon
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    1997 Eclipse Records 64355
    1997 Point Classics 267157
    1997 Telarc Distribution 80465
    1997 Arte Nova 34014
    1997 EMI Music Distribution 69515
    1997 Deutsche Grammophon 453097
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    1997 Telarc Distribution 80450
    1997 Teldec 13136
    1997 Tahra 222
    1997 Melodiya 40719
    1996 Gemini Collection 600
    1996 London 448200
    1996 Deutsche Grammophon 449715
    1996 Deutsche Grammophon 449 601-2GJB5
    1996 Mercury 434380
    1996 Teldec 13565
    1996 Infinity Digital 62302
    1996 Erato 95193
    1996 EMI Music Distribution 56118
    1996 Music & Arts CD-941
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    1996 Denon Records 78956
    1996 Supraphon 1991
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    1995 Capriccio Records 10600
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    1995 RCA 61793
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    1995 Sony Music Distribution 66248
    1995 Preiser Records 90121
    1995 Everest EVC9016
    1994 Classical Heritage 1209
    1994 Erato 94817
    1994 Naxos 504001
    1994 Naxos 550280
    1994 London 433 548-2DH
    1994 Music & Arts 804
    1994 Philips 442 068-2PB4
    1994 Philips
    1994 Philips 438757
    1994 Biddulph Recordings 017
    1993 Centaur Records 2128
    1993 Teldec 92144
    1993 ASV 6103
    1993 Deutsche Grammophon
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    1993 Music & Arts 780
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    1992 London 430799
    1991 Deutsche Grammophon 431593
    1991 Deutsche Grammophon / Universal
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    1990 Orfeo 202891
    1990 Philips 426253
    1990 Deutsche Grammophon
    1990 Deutsche Grammophon 429 765-2GH
    1990 Deutsche Grammophon 429153
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    1980 Tahra 145
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    History 204557
    Deutsche Grammophon 477006
    Compose Records 9154
    RCA 60325
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    Urania
    Vanguard 1719
    Arte Nova 46484
    Philharmonia of the Nations 19
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    Ades 20306
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    Theorema 121147
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