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Symphony No. 3 (Brahms)

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Title: Symphony No. 3 (Brahms)  
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Subject: Symphony No. 4 (Brahms), Johannes Brahms, Victor de Sabata discography, Music in the Civilization video game series, Take My Love (Frank Sinatra song)
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Symphony No. 3 (Brahms)

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The Symphony No. 3 in F major, Op. 90, is a symphony by Johannes Brahms. The work was written in the summer of 1883 at Wiesbaden, nearly six years after he completed his Second Symphony. In the interim Brahms had written some of his greatest works, including the Violin Concerto, two overtures (Tragic Overture and Academic Festival Overture), and the Second Piano Concerto.

The premiere performance was given on 2 December 1883 by the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, under the direction of Hans Richter. It is the shortest of Brahms' four symphonies; a typical performance lasts between 30 and 40 minutes.


  • Instrumentation 1
  • Form 2
  • History 3
  • Musical elements 4
  • Use in popular culture 5
  • Notes 6
  • References 7
  • External links 8


The symphony is scored for two flutes, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, a contrabassoon, four horns, two trumpets, three trombones, timpani, and strings.


The symphony consists of four movements, marked as follows:

  1. Allegro con brio (F major), in sonata form.
  2. Andante (C major), in a modified sonata form.
  3. Poco allegretto (C minor), in ternary form (A B A').
  4. Allegro – Un poco sostenuto (F minorF major), in a modified sonata form.


Hans Richter, who conducted the premiere of the symphony, proclaimed it to be Brahms' Eroica. The symphony was well-received, more so than his Second Symphony. Although Richard Wagner had died earlier that year, the public feud between Brahms and Wagner had not yet subsided. Wagner enthusiasts tried to interfere with the symphony's premiere, and the conflict between the two factions nearly brought about a duel.[1]

After each performance, Brahms polished his score further, until it was published in May 1884. His friend and influential music critic Eduard Hanslick said, "Many music lovers will prefer the titanic force of the First Symphony; others, the untroubled charm of the Second, but the Third strikes me as being artistically the most nearly perfect."[1]

Musical elements

A musical motto consisting of three notes, F–A-flat–F, was significant to Brahms. In 1853 his friend Joseph Joachim had taken as his motto "Free, but lonely" (in German "Frei aber einsam"), and from the notes represented by the first letters of these words, F–A–E, Schumann, Brahms and Dietrich had jointly composed a violin sonata dedicated to Joachim. At the time of the Third Symphony, Brahms was a fifty-year-old bachelor who declared himself to be Frei aber froh, "Free but happy". His F–A–F motto, and some altered variations of it, can be heard throughout the symphony.[1]

At the beginning of the symphony the motto is the melody of the first three measures, and it is the bass line underlying the main theme in the next three. The motto persists, either boldly or disguised, as the melody or accompaniment throughout the movement. For the third movement – poco allegretto instead of the rapid scherzo standard in 19th-century symphony – Brahms created a unique kind of third movement that is moderate in tempo (poco allegretto) and intensely lyrical in character.[2] The finale is a lyrical, passionate movement, rich in melody that is intensely exploited, altered, and developed. The movement ends with reference to the motto heard in the first movement – one which quotes a motif heard in Schumann's Symphony No. 3, Rhenish in the first movement just before the second theme enters in the recapitulation – then fades away to a quiet ending.

Use in popular culture

In the 1961 film Goodbye Again (also known as Aimez-vous Brahms?), starring Ingrid Bergman, the soulful theme of the third movement of the symphony is heard repeatedly, including as the tune of a song ("Say No More, It's Goodbye") sung by the night club singer (Diahann Carroll).

In the 1946 film noir Undercurrent, starring Katharine Hepburn, the same theme appears both in the opening credits and in multiple scenes.

In the 2013 film Kill Your Darlings, the poco allegretto third movement is used three times, twice in original full orchestra scoring and once in piano transcription. The second instance is used as source music: Lucien Carr is playing it on a record player in his Columbia dorm room, and Allen Ginsberg hearing it from his own room goes to track it down.

The 1951 song "Take My Love" recorded and co-written by Frank Sinatra also uses the tune.

In the show Fawlty Towers, Basil Fawlty, when accused by his wife of "listening to that racket", famously responds "Racket!? That's Brahms! Brahms's third racket!"

Carlos Santana used the allegretto theme in his song "Love of My Life", from the album Supernatural, although he does not credit Brahms.

In 1983 Serge Gainsbourg wrote Baby Alone in Babylone for his ex-partner, the singer Jane Birkin, using the third movement as the main theme.

The 2005 computer game Civilization IV uses the symphony as part of the soundtrack for the Industrial Age.

In the 1987 film The Rosary Murders, the end credits music is an adaptation of the third movement. The song is titled "In Your Eyes" sung by Nancy Wood.

In the song When She's Gone by Eric XL Singleton Ft. Sinclair & Wilde (1997) the theme from the symphony was used in the refrain.

In the 2003 Hong Kong crime film Infernal Affairs II, the allegretto theme was used in the ending scene, which shows the crowd toasting to Hon Sam during the Hong Kong handover.


  1. ^ a b c Leonard Burkat; liner notes for the 1998 recording (William Steinberg, conductor; Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra; MCA Classics)
  2. ^ Kamien, R. (2006). Johannes Brahms. In Music: An appreciation (9th ed., p. 352). McGraw-Hill Humanities.


  • Frisch, Walter (2003). Brahms: The Four Symphonies. New Haven:  

External links

  • Symphony No. 3: Scores at the International Music Score Library Project
  • European archive Copyright free LP recording of Brahms 3rd symphony by George Szell (conductor) and the Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orchestra (for non-American viewers only) at the European Archive.
  • Visual analysis of Brahms' Symphony no. 3, first movement
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