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Program Notes: Schumann's "Rhenish" Symphony (March 3-4, 2023)

Updated: Feb 24, 2023


March 3-4, 2023

Oswald Huỳnh

Gia Đình (2021)

Cha nào con nấy

Không có gì bằng cơm với cá, không

có gì bằng má với con

Blood is thicker than water

Franz Joseph Haydn

Keyboard Concerto No. 11 in D major, Hob. XVIII (1784)


Un poco adagio

Rondo all' Ungarese: Allegro assai

Peter Henderson, piano


Robert Schumann

Symphony No. 3 in E-flat major, op. 97, (1810–1856) “Rhenish” (1850)


Scherzo: Sehr mässig

Nicht schnell




Program Notes

by Skyler Dykes

In the 18th century, orchestral audiences began to expand. Franz Joseph Haydn, the second composer featured in today’s concert and a figure often referred to as the “Father of the Symphony,” brought symphonic literature, or music written for an orchestra, out of aristocratic salons and into the public sphere.

Composed less than a century later, Robert Schumann’s Third Symphony builds upon Haydn’s legacy. While a young Schumann composed primarily for an audience of intellectual elites, around the time of his Third Symphony, he began to envision a broader audience. Schumann had recently assumed a position in Düsseldorf, a city with a lively public concert life, and fashioned his Third Symphony to be “accessible to laymen” (in the words of his wife and fellow composer, Clara Schumann.) Embracing the connection between music and community, Schumann would later write: “music—so different from painting—is the art which we most enjoy when gathered together socially.”

Today’s audiences continue to enjoy symphonic literature in public spaces, in community with each other. St. Louis Symphony Orchestra audiences partake in this tradition, whether seated in rows at Powell Hall or on picnic blankets in Forest Park. The repertoire in today’s concert reflects the roots of this tradition and, through a world premiere that explores Vietnamese heritage and a finale inspired by the sublime Cologne Cathedral, foregrounds another aspect of the symphony as a public genre: its ability to bring intimate subject matter to expansive audiences.

Oswald Huỳnh
Oswald Huỳnh

Gia Đình

Oswald Huỳnh

Born 1997, Portland, Oregon

Oswald Huỳnh is a composer, arts administrator, and educator whose works explore Vietnamese aesthetics and tradition. A recent graduate of the University of Missouri, Huỳnh’s works have been performed by a range of ensembles, including the American Composers Orchestra, Alarm Will Sound, and the Pacific Chamber Orchestra.

In 2021, Huỳnh was one of three composers selected to participate in the SLSO and Mizzou New Music Initiative’s annual composer’s workshop. Through the workshop, Huỳnh collaborated with SLSO musicians and Assistant Conductor Stephanie Childress to adapt and refine Gia Đình, the piece that receives its premiere in today’s concert.

“Gia Đình,” which translates to “family” in Vietnamese, explores the Vietnamese diaspora. The piece draws from a sampling of Vietnamese folk melodies and religious texts and plays with experimental techniques, such as chant and improvisation. In his own note, Huỳnh offers an analysis of the piece:

The Composer Speaks

“The opening movement, ‘Cha nào con nấy,’ (Like father, like child) observes heritage, tradition, and culture as trauma. Borrowing thematic material from the Vietnamese folk song Lý Kéo Chài, I present fragments of the song without ever presenting the melody in its entirety. These musical splinters are introduced clearly, but quickly disintegrate into the orchestral texture.

“The second movement, ‘Không có gì bằng cơm với cá, không có gì bằng má với con,’ (There is nothing like rice with fish, there is nothing like mother with child) considers colonization and war as a source of trauma. A unique aspect of Vietnamese Catholic practice is the tradition of đọc kinh [reciting or chanting a prayer]. I directly quote Kinh Thú Nhận (Penitential Act), which is preceded by a fragmented theme that slowly builds into the chant.

“The final movement, “Blood is thicker than water,” (Một giọt máu đào hơn ao nước lã) examines…what is passed on to the next generation [and] what is lost. This is represented musically by two extremely contrasting themes: a slow, lyrical melody inspired by Vietnamese folk melodies and a fractured, unrelenting section that cycles through the entire orchestra. I bounce between the two themes until the music melts into a coda that recalls the first movement.”

First performance: February 16, 2022, by the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, Stephanie Childress conducting

Instrumentation: 2 flutes (2nd doubling piccolo), 2 oboes (2nd doubling English horn), 2 clarinets (2nd doubling bass clarinet), 2 bassoons (2nd doubling contrabassoon), 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion, harp, strings

Approximate duration: 13 minutes

Franz Joseph Haydn
Franz Joseph Haydn

Keyboard Concerto No. 11 in D major, Hob. XVIII

Franz Joseph Hadyn

Born 1732, Rohrau, Austria

Died 1809, Vienna, Austria

The story of Franz Joseph Haydn’s D-major Keyboard Concerto opens with a surprising, yet mundane event: a contract negotiation.

In 1779, Haydn entered a new contract with the House of Esterházy, a noble family in Austria-Hungary for whom he had served as Kapellmeister, or musical director, for nearly two decades. Notably absent in Haydn’s new contract was a clause that, present for the duration of his tenure, had given the Esterházy family near-exclusive control over his professional life. With the scrawl of a pen, Haydn was free to sell his works, enter publishing contracts, and accept commissions from abroad.

Embracing an entrepreneurial spirit, Haydn capitalized on the liberties provided by his new contract. He accepted commissions from France and England, resulting in his oft-performed “Paris” and “London” symphonies. He enjoyed lucrative international tours and entered a significant publishing agreement with an emergent Viennese publishing company, Artaria. Through these events, Haydn’s music, which aristocratic audiences had enjoyed for decades, gained genuine popularity.

The D-Major Keyboard Concerto is one of many pieces Haydn published with Artaria. For related reasons, it is also regarded as his most popular keyboard concerto. When Haydn published the piece in 1784, over a decade had passed since the premiere of his earlier keyboard concertos. In part, his return to the genre might have had something to do with Artaria—with a publishing agreement in hand, Haydn chose to pivot to more marketable genres of music, which, in the 1780s, included music written for keyboard.

During Haydn’s ten-year hiatus from the keyboard concerto, the genre saw a remarkable reform. Composers, such as W.A. Mozart, had begun to solidify the concerto’s structure and reimagine the role of the orchestra in the keyboard concerto; no longer did the orchestra function as a mere musical foundation, but as a unit in dialogue with the soloist. Aspects of Mozart’s contributions are evident in Haydn’s D-Major Keyboard Concerto—most notably, the inclusion of a rondo, or theme and variations, movement. The concerto is a product of its time in other facets as well.

The concerto was Haydn’s first written for the fortepiano, an instrument that came into vogue in the 1760s. The fortepiano, an ancestor of today’s piano, was remarkable for its dynamic range. The concerto also reflects a timely preference for refined melodies over virtuosic display. A peek at the score reveals little ornamentation, leaving embellishments, rather, to the performer’s imagination.

The concerto opens with a sprightly Vivace (“lively”) section. The movement’s primary theme first lies with the strings and navigates its way, with periodic development, through the winds and piano. The second movement demonstrates one of Haydn’s compositional talents: an ability to write lyrical, seemingly operatic melodies for piano. Finally, the concerto’s third movement, designated as a “Hungarian Rondo,” seeks to invoke folk tunes from the Dalmatian coast (a region encompassed, in the 1780s, by the Austro-Hungarian Empire.) While an 18th[1]century infatuation for all things “folk” surely inspired the concerto’s final movement, its spirited melodies continue to delight audiences today.

First SLSO performance: February 15, 1935, José Iturbi conducting from the piano

Most recent SLSO performance: September 20, 2003, Stéphane Denève conducting, Piotr Anderszewski as soloist

Instrumentation: solo keyboard, 2 oboes, bassoon, 2 horns, strings

Approximate duration: 18 minutes


Robert Schumann
Robert Schumann

Symphony No. 3 in E-flat major, op. 97, “Rhenish”

Robert Schumann

Born 1810, Zwickau, Germany

Died 1856, Endenich, Germany

The Rhineland, a region that traces the Rhine River, has long served as a German national symbol and source of artistic inspiration. Richard Wagner’s Ring Cycle begins in the depths of the Rhine River. Lord Byron captured the region’s beauty through poetry in Childe Harold’s Pilgrimmage. Robert Schumann, too, turned to the Rhineland, a decade before his Third Symphony, when he set Heinrich Heine’s poem “In the Rhine” to music.

While Schumann never gave his Third Symphony a name, the moniker “Rhenish,” affixed itself to the piece soon after its premiere. A neologism or invented word of sorts, “Rhenish” indicates the Symphony’s connection to the Rhineland—a region Schumann had recently come to call home.

Schumann composed the Rhenish Symphony in just over a month in 1850. He and his family had recently moved to Düsseldorf, a city nestled at the confluence of the rivers Düssel and Rhine, where he had assumed the position of municipal Music Director. In Düsseldorf, Schumann discovered an outgoing patronage that contrasted with the conservative people of his native Saxony. The Düsseldorfers 24 greeted the Schumanns with weeks of celebratory banquets and performances, among other forms of pageantry.

Shortly after their arrival in the Rhineland, the Schumanns traveled to witness the much-publicized completion of the Cologne Cathedral. A Romantic enthusiasm for the Middle Ages and the discovery of the monument’s 13th-century design plans had galvanized a civic effort to finish the Cathedral’s nearly six-centuries-long construction. One can imagine the sense of wonder the Schumanns experienced in touring the Cathedral, which, at the dawn of its completion, was the largest Cathedral in Europe and the tallest structure in the world.

In a metaphorical sense, the compositional style of the “Rhenish” Symphony reflects the architectural development of the Cologne Cathedral, with its blend of Gothic and modern design. A musical marriage of formal conservatism and romantic vitality, the symphony is a paradigm of Schumann’s characteristic commitment to honoring, yet building upon, canonic tradition.

The symphony opens with a finale-like exuberance. Its primary theme, which Schumann develops with unrelenting persistence, derives its energy from use of contrasting rhythms.

The symphony’s remaining movements reflect Schumann’s impressions of the Rhineland. The second movement, a scherzo that Schumann originally titled “Morning on the Rhine,” but later renamed, captures the sun rising on the Rhineland’s hill country with a lightly undulating theme. The third movement, a slow intermezzo, offers a romantic, song-like rumination on the composer’s new environment.

The fourth movement, which originally bore the title “In the character of an accompaniment to a solemn ceremony” (Schumann later shortened the title to “Feierlich” or “solemnly”), evokes the grandeur of the Cologne Cathedral. A stunning interlude that concludes with a brass fanfare, the movement features an ethereal tone that seemingly traces the Cathedral’s soaring vaults and Gothic arches.

The symphony’s final movement immerses itself in the hustle and bustle of city streets. Gradually, pieces of the ecclesiastical fourth movement return before the symphony reaches its resplendent conclusion.

First performance: February 6, 1851, in Düsseldorf, Germany, the composer conducting

First SLSO performance: March 8, 1912, Max Zach conducting

Most recent SLSO performance: September 7, 2016, Gemma New conducting

Instrumentation: 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, timpani, strings

Approximate duration: 32 minutes


Skyler Dykes is a graduate student at Washington University in St. Louis, where she studies musicology and law. Her scholarship explores the histories of American orchestras, including the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra.

Program Notes are sponsored by Washington University Physicians.


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