Musings of Navigating The Finite remainder of life from Porchville, with the hope of a glimpse of The Infinite

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Schuman Symphony # 3

Last night I listened to a segment of a radio show called Q from CBC on our local NPR station.  The segment was an interview with Jennifer Senior who has been studying the lasting effect that high school has on us.  One thing she said that struck me was something to the effect that our brains are extremely plastic in the age range of 15 to 25 and the concepts, beliefs, ideas, and art that we are exposed to during that age tend to stick with us for  our entire life.  Here is Ms. Senior's article in the New York Magazine that was the basis for the interview:   

I don't really feel that much of anything that happened to me during high school, stuck.  I rather detested high school and for the most part I have relegated those years to the basement of the museum of my memory and seldom visit.  However, I did enjoy my time at the small community college that I attended, and I believe it is the concepts, art, and music from my college years that stuck with me rather than the stupidity of high school social drama.

William Schuman 1910 - 1992
One of the most enjoyable courses I took in college was music appreciation.  I was in a technical field, Drafting and Design, but we had to take 3 credits of arts and humanities to fulfill our graduation requirements.  Stupid arts.  What the hell am I going to take?  I hate the arts!   I had learned a deep and abiding hatred of music from my junior high school music teacher, so the thoughts of taking anything remotely related to music was tantamount to torture.  My son can thank God this music teacher didn't teach sex ed--I would despise fact thank God there was no sex ed back then, I hated gym teachers (who always taught health) with equal passion.  Despite my hatred for serious music, there were several diaphanous influences that seemed to congeal and push me into the direction of music appreciation.  One, I had bought a stereo that summer and being an "audiophile" (yeah right) I was being gently pushed for a desire to find music that would demonstrate the magnificent fidelity of my stereo.  Two, my father in some fit of cultural envy, picked up an LP record in the grocery store...The World's Greatest Music.  It was one of those deals that were common in grocery stores at the time...every week you bought the next volume, plate, or in this case LP and within three months you would have a set of encyclopedias, a matching china set for 4, or the entire repertoire of classical music but only in samples of select movements.  They didn't give you the entire piece of music, only what they considered the best movement.  So each album was a smattering of different movements of entirely different works by different composers--they must of got some deal on licensing from ASCAP.  Not realizing this, chunks of  Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade and Le Coq d' Or were mixed into a couple of hunks of Bizet's Carmen Suite, to form one piece of music in my mind.  Anyhow,  I had to admit that some of this music sounded...well OK, like the soundtracks from cartoons.  The third diaphanous influence was the most concrete.  You didn't have to buy a book and people who had taken the course said it was cake--you just sit around and listened to some long haired music.  So music appreciation defaulted into my education even though I vowed to always hate serious music as an eternal punishment to that old crabby music teacher.  May the stereos in hell only play Schoenberg's 12 tone music.  Music appreciation in college ended up being one of my all time favorite classes.

This was not the album cover, but similar.

Our home work for this class was to go to the library and take out an album of serious music, listen to it,  and write a short paper about the piece.  My first selection was William Schuman's (20th century Bill, not 19th century Bob with a double n) Symphony # 3.  I chose this album because Schuman appeared in a photo on the cover of the album, and he looked like the composer next store.  Just a normal contemporary 20th century guy wearing a suit, instead of an 18th or 19th century dandy dressed in clothes suitable for the rag bin.  If I had to gag through this, why not listen to somebody from this century (remember this was last century...I haven't quite accepted that it is no longer the 20th century).

So I took Schuman's Symphony # 3 home with me.  I had some drafting home work to do, and it was getting late, so I put on my trusty Super Ex headphones, slapped Bill on the turntable and started taping a piece of paper to the drafting board.  The music started and right from the opening bars,  I was knocked right off my cocky I hate serious music ass.  I was floored with this music.  I could not concentrate on my drafting home work and gave up.  I probably listened to that album 5 or 6 times that evening and ended up with sweaty ears and a smashed head that the headphones of that era gave one.    The magnificent sweep of the strings, from the low drawn bow strokes of the bass viols to the high rapid notes of the violins just amazed me.  Rather than me telling you, listen for your self.  It is 31 minutes long.  Leonard Berrnstein does his usual masterful work.

My favorite section is the slow moody chorale that runs from 13:42 until 23:20 with a special love for the section from 18:20 which rises triumphantly with a vibrant full spectrum of strings and then at drops off at 20:40 for a somewhat morose conclusion of the section.  Another favorite section is the heavy strings that start at 25:45 after the frivolous flutes.

The video of course is not the rendition that I listened to, I believe it was conducted by Schuman.  I probably listened to the album 30 times in the 7 days that the library allowed me to keep it.  I searched  record stores and record clubs for the album for years and was never able to find it or any other rendition.   In the late 80s I did find the symphony, but only on an vinyl LP.  I had no way of playing it.  I bought it anyhow and had a friend at work make me a cassette tape.  Now I have the same CD as the video.   For 20 years, this piece of music remained illusive for me.  It was something of a standard for which all music had to aspire, but in reality only because it was the one piece of music that I could not find.  When judging against a memory, everything falls short.   Now that I own it, well, yes it is good, excellent actually, but there are other pieces of music that I listen to far more often.  Yet this piece of music, very 20th century and very American in character sparked my interest in classical music that has remained for a lifetime.

We should probably give thanks that Schuman did develop beyond his high school years, according to Wikipedia, Schuman while in high school formed a dance band, Billy Schuman and his Alamo Society Orchestra.  He played at weddings and bar mitzvahs.

Oh, the class didn't quite end up as cheap and as cake as I had been led to believe.  Yes we didn't have to buy a text book, but we had to attend an opera.  I bought two tickets to The Marriage of Figaro and couldn't get one lousy friend to go with me.  I went by myself but enjoyed two seats!


For more information on William Schuman see the following links:

For programme notes on Symphony # 3 see:

Image & Video Credits:

William Schuman:  Wikipedia, William Schuman

Tribute To William Schuman album cover:

Video: YouTube, William Schuman, Symphony # 3, TheMasterDecoder

Music Credit:

Due to the fact I do own the CD that is featured In the video, I can give the particulars on this performance.

William Schuman Symphony # 3.  New York Philharmonic Orchestra, Conducted by Leonard Bernstein.  Recorded at Manhattan Center, New York City, October, 17 1960.  

Part I
Passacaglia and Fugue    13:42

Part II
Chorale and Toccata       17:14

(C) 1997 Sony Music Entertainment,  SMK 63163., Schuman: Symphonies Nos. 3, 5 ("Symphony for Strings") & 8 Available in CD or MP3

I almost fell out of the chair, when I saw the recording date, emphasis mine.  Four days earlier Bill Mazeroski knocked the ball out of Forbes Field in the bottom of the ninth, and sent the Yankees back home to listen to Casey Stengel play them some classical music.  I don't know if Schuman was involved with this recording, but he was quite a baseball fan and could have very well been licking his wounds from the beloved Yankees getting their asses whipped by the Pirates in the 1960 World Series.  The who?  They hadn't won a world series since 1925 and they beat the Yankees.  Forgive me it was the only sporting event that ever meant anything to me.  They haven't won since 1979 so maybe I will follow them again next year.  What I find amazing is the quality of this music.  I was 11 when this was recorded.  It could have very well been the rendition I listened to 8 years later.  I don't remember of Bernstein being associated with the album, but my memory is not an instrument to be envied.  Oddly I do remember it being a Columbia (now Sony) release and it was a very modern album cover verses my usual purchases at the time of the 99 cent specials done by some post war orchestras you never heard of.

EDIT 8-17-13:  Copland and Shostakovich "out Schuman" Schuman.  A statement guaranteed to anger any knowledgeable 20th century musicologist!  My statement is in my own personal terms.  Schuman's Third Symphony was my first exposure to 20th century symphonic music.  So Schuman's Third is the ideal of 20th century music for me, an unobtainable ideal for two decades.  In the late 80s I discovered Copland's Appalachian Spring and Shostokovich's Symphony # 5, both of which reminded me of Schuman.  When I finally procured Schuman's Third after having listened to these other 20th century pieces, I was shocked to find that I liked both more than Schuman.   Listen for yourself:


YouTube: Shostakovich - Symphony No.5 - Third Movement 

EDIT 8-21-13: Last night while my wife watched America's Got Talent, which I can't stand, I sat out on the porch and listened to Schuman's 3rd, 5th, and 8th symphonies on the above CD.  I had the volume fully cranked to compete with the 17 bazzilion crickets and katydids and the full moon filtered down through the walnut tree in the backyard.  It was mystical...while I was listening to the third.  I have never fully listened to the 5th and 8th before.  So I forced myself to sit through them.  Fifty minutes of hell despite the lovely moon light and serenading insects.  I couldn't wait for it to be over.   For the record,  my love for Schuman is thus far limited to the 3rd Symphony.  


  1. Wow're listening to Canadian Radio...CBC no less...I'm impressed. Actually Jian Ghomeshi is a pretty decent interviewer and radio host.
    Well you'll be happy to hear I listed to the Symphony and the radio podcast.
    The music was good, but I rather enjoyed the radio interview more.
    Nothing in high school stuck with you?? How bout girls, man! The only thing that stuck with me in high school was the opposite sex. Good times.
    I had a girlfriend from the middle of grade 11 to end of grade 12.
    Of course being 17-18 yrs old, these ideas, beliefs and concepts and opposite sex art stood me in good stead all these years.

  2. Yeah high school pretty much sucked. I couldn't wait for it to be over even though I then had the draft breathing down my neck. I had a girl friend in the middle of 12th grade on but she lived 40 miles away, so it had nothing to do with high school, which was good. I couldn't stomach that asinine social scene.

    I bloomed in college and really enjoyed it, but high school...well I just don't think about it too much and very little of it "stuck."

    I very seldom listen to Q even though it is a good program. I only listen in the car by myself and 9 PM just is not a time a day that I am out any more. I don't think we have an operational radio in the house. They die of loneliness. I could stream it but I never think of it.

    Busman, always an honor, thanks for stopping by and commenting.

  3. Great post, Sextant. Reminded me of how much I love Aaron Copland.

    1. Only a weirdo like me would know Schuman prior to Copland. Both are giants in 20th century American music, but Copland is far better known. Schuman is more of an academic and theoretician. It was only sheer accident of finding an album with a modern looking guy on it that introduced me to Schuman.

      Copland is phenomenal. Donna, as always thanks for stopping by and commenting.

  4. Ahhhh, classical music. That has always been a part of my life I'm happy to say. My parents listened to classical music, various selections were often on the record player playing in the background of my life.
    I remember going up to our local library and exploring the classic records, starting with the albums that had the most dramatic covers, and then going a bit deeper and exploring the various composers.
    My good friend and I sat for hours in my room listening to things like the 1812 Overture and other "dramatic" music.
    Later in life, I was to find out that a lot of the rock musicians and groups I gravitated to, had classical music in their own background. I thought I had reached nirvana when I came across an album that combined both rock and a symphony!
    As far as opera goes....I learned early on that my friends opinions didn't mean much, I learned that it was an unforgettable experience. A combination of great music and theatrics.
    I have to thank my parents for this, without that music in the background, I might have ended up thinking that Rap was a form of music.... ;-)

    It was good to read your opinions! Happy New Year!