The Overture to Manfred is an excerpt from Schumann’s dramatic poem with music, as the composer himself called his work, written to accompany Byron’s drama of the same title. Byron wrote the poem Manfred in 1816 and rewrote the third act the following year. According to Byron’s description, it is a metaphysical drama in which supernatural beings and elements are depicted that also serve as the backdrop for a profound spiritual drama. The protagonist is consumed with guilt over the death of his lover and seeks forgiveness. At the end of the work, death releases him from his spiritual torment. The dramatic story of the protagonist makes it easy to think of a biographical parallel, since Byron began writing this work after he was forced to leave England. The reason for his departure was his alleged love affair with his half-sister, and he left his country to avoid scandal. Schumann discovered the work in 1848, at a time when he was tortured by hallucinations, and perhaps because of the parallels he felt between the protagonist’s mental suffering and his own, he set about composing the music with great dedication. The Overture is a piece of music that is usually performed at concerts, as it is a dramatic, passionate piece of music that reflects the turbulent state of mind of Byron’s protagonist. Schumann’s work was first performed in 1852 in Weimar, conducted by Ferenc Liszt.
Wagner’s Wesendonck Lieder (“Wesendonck Songs”) was also inspired by a forbidden love. Mathilde Wesendonck was not only the muse but also the poet of the songs. In 1858, Wagner was a guest at the villa of his patron Otto Wesendonck near Zurich, where he met the host’s wife Mathilde. She had a great influence on Wagner, and it is said that they developed a secret love affair, and that it was by Mathilde’s influence that Wagner began to set Tristan and Isolde to music. The Wesendonck songs could only acquire this title after the woman’s death, before which they were entitled Five Poems for a Female Voice. The original version was with piano accompaniment, but later one of Wagner’s conductors, Felix Motti, wrote a version for orchestra, which follows the harmonies of Tristan and Isolde.
The final work of the evening is Johannes Brahms’ Symphony No. 3, composed in 1883 and first performed in Vienna. Brahms stuck to the traditional form and wrote his work in four movements following the classical form. The first and last movements are in the sonata form, the second has the features of variation, and the third is in the trio form, a three-part composition.
The work is usually described as heroic in character, but it is also considered to be a mysterious piece of music. The main key of the symphony is F major, but it is so often shaded into a minor key that it casts a gloomy shadow over the character of the composition as a whole. In addition, all the movements of the symphony end softly, which emphasises the lyrical character, and is a unique solution in the Romantic period.