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Brahms' often overlooked symphony is also the most lyrical and best crafted.
Once Johannes Brahms started writing symphonies in his 40s, there was evidently no stopping him. By 1883, when he reached the third, he had clearly found his own voice. Sweeping, lyrical string lines and beautifully autumnal woodwind passages make this a delight. Hans Richter, who conducted its premiere proclaimed it to be Brahms' ‘Eroica’.
There is a risk that this symphony could suffer from a sort of musical version of middle-child syndrome. The novelty of the Symphony No.1, coupled with the fire and joy of the No.4, can leave the No.3 being almost forgotten. The problem is compounded by the fact that it’s the shortest of Brahms’ four symphonies.
But it’s also the most lyrical and, arguably, the best crafted, which goes some way towards explaining its enduring popularity. The influential music critic Hanslick said, of all Brahms’ symphonies, the third struck him ‘as being artistically the most nearly perfect.’