|About this Recording
8.553200 - MENDELSSOHN, Felix: Symphonies Nos. 3 and 4 (Ireland National Symphony, Seifried)
Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy (1809 - 1847)
Symphony No.3 in A Minor, Op. 56 "Scottish"
Felix Mendelssohn was born in Hamburg in 1809, son of the banker Abraham Mendelssohn and grandson of the great Jewish thinker Moses Mendelssohn, the model for Lessing's Nathan the Wise, the epitome of tolerance in a generally intolerant world. In 1812 the family moved to Berlin after the French occupation of Hamburg and it was there that Mendelssohn received his education, in music as a pupil of Carl Zelter, for whom the boy seemed a second Mozart. As a child he was charming and precocious, profiting from the wide cultural interests of his parents and relations, excelling as a pianist and busy with composition after composition. In 1816 he was baptized a Christian, a step that his father took six years later, accepting what Heine described as a ticket of admission into European culture although it was one not always regarded as valid by prejudiced contemporaries.
Abraham Mendelssohn sought the best advice when it came to his son's choice of career. Cherubini, director of the Paris Conservatoire, was consulted, and, while complimenting Abraham Mendelssohn on his wealth, agreed that his son should become a professional musician, advice given during the course of a visit to Paris in 1825 when Mendelssohn met many of the most distinguished composers and performers of the day. In Berlin his career took shape, with prolific composition and activity as a pianist and as a conductor. His education was to include a period of travel throughout Europe, a Grand Tour that took him as far north as Scotland and as far south as Naples, his journeys serving as sources of inspiration.
In 1835 Mendelssohn was appointed conductor of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra. There were, at the same time, other commitments to be fulfilled in a short career of intense activity. In Leipzig he established a series of historical concerts, continuing the revival of earlier music on which he had embarked under Zelter with the Berlin performance of Bach's St. Matthew Passion in 1829. At the same time he gave every encouragement to contemporary composers, even to those for whom he felt little sympathy. At the insistence of the Russian King Friedrich Wilhelm IV he accepted an official position in Berlin, but this failed to give him the satisfaction he had found in Leipzig, where he established the Conservatory in 1843 and where he spent his final years until his death at the age of thirty-eight on 4th November 1847, six months after the death of his beloved sister Fanny.
In childhood Mendelssohn had written thirteen string symphonies between the ages of twelve and fourteen. In what must pass for maturity, starting at the age of fifteen, he wrote five more symphonies for full orchestra. Symphony No.3 in A minor, Opus 56, was the second in conception and the last in order of completion. Its first inspiration came from a visit to Scotland in 1829. In April Mendelssohn had arrived in London, after an unpleasant voyage from Hamburg, Two months later in a letter to his teacher Zelter he mentioned his plans for the summer, after the end of London season, a projected journey to Scotland, a country that figured largely in romantic imagination thanks to the work of Sir Walter Scott. Accompanied by his friend Karl Klingemann he travelled north. In Edinburgh he recalled the story of Mary, Queen of Scots, and the murder of her secretary David Rizzio in the palace of Holyrood, and in the ruined chapel first entertained the idea of a Scottish symphony. Further north he could comment on the climate, remarking that the Highlands brew nothing but whisky, fog and foul weather, while the voyage by steamer to see the island of Staffa and what he described as the odious Fingal's cave, made him sea-sick. In spite of this he immediately sketched the opening theme of the Hebrides Overture, which was later revised to be performed in 1832 in London, where it won immediate popularity.
In the autumn of 1830 Mendelssohn was in Italy and it was there that he completed, revised and later rechristened the Hebrides Overture. Two symphonies occupied his thoughts, while a third was commissioned for the Reformation centenary. The Reformation Symphony, No.5, was completed in 1832, and the Italian Symphony, No.4, in 1833. The Scottish Symphony was longer in intermittent gestation and was only finished in 1842 and given its first performance in Leipzig in the same year. The first movement opens with sixteen bars that Mendelssohn first sketched in Holyrood chapel in Edinburgh, an idea that makes other appearances in his oratorios St. Paul and Elijah, expanded into a melancholy recitative. The main part of the movement introduces a theme of Scottish contour, played by clarinet and strings, and the clarinet introduces the second subject, the material splendidly developed. The movement ends with a return to the opening mood. The sound of the bagpipes is near enough in the second movement, which leads to a lyrical slow movement, varied by hints of martial valour to come. The final movement makes use of five themes, apparently derived from songs, and the source of much programmatic speculation from those who like to hear in it the gathering of the clans.
The Italian Symphony was completed in 1833 but remained unpublished in Mendelssohn's life-time because of his own dissatisfaction with it and his intention of revising the first movement. The ideas for the work were developed during his stay in Italy in 1831, and the whole symphony, described by the Vienna critic Eduard Hanslick as "full of sweet enchantment, an intoxicating floral fragrance", fits well enough the composer's own view of it as "the gayest thing I have ever done".
The first movement opens with the violins offering the initial cheerful theme, over repeated wind chords. Classical procedure is followed, with clarinets and bassoons playing a second subject over a busy string accompaniment. The central development of the movement introduces a third theme, with the opening figure providing material that leads to the re- appearance of the first subject and the recapitulation. The second movement is the famous Pilgrims' March, the solemn theme of the procession announced by oboes, bassoons and violas, with the melody unfolding over the rhythmic march of the lower strings. A third movement, described by one critic as "a Biedermeier minuet", has about it something of the spirit of Mendelssohn's fairy music for A Midsummer Night's Dream, but it is in the rapid elegance of the final Saltarello and the concluding Neapolitan tarantella that this mood is decisively recaptured.
National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland
Close the window