Loading CPR Website Widgets...
Mendelssohn Symphony No. 4
Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847): Symphony No. 4 in A major, Op. 90 (Italian)
I. Allegro vivace
II. Andante con moto
III. Con moto moderato
IV. Saltarello: Presto
Mendelssohn spent eight months in Italy as part of his Grand Tour of 1830 and 1831. One of the results of this journey was the Italian Symphony. In February of 1831, he wrote to his sister Fanny: “I have once more begun to compose with fresh vigor, and the Italian symphony makes rapid progress; it will be the most amusing piece I have yet composed, especially the last movement.”
The Symphony was sketched out entirely in Italy, but somehow Mendelssohn couldn't seem to finish it. In 1832, he complained that the work was causing him “the bitterest moments I have ever endured or could have imagined.”
It took a commission from the London Philharmonic Society to spur the composer to finally complete the score on March 13, 1833. He wrote to a friend: “It has turned out to be a good work; be it as it may there is progress in it, and that is the important thing.”
The premiere of the Fourth Symphony took place in London on May 13, 1833. Mendelssohn himself conducted. He also appeared as piano soloist in the Mozart Concerto No. 20 in D minor, K. 466. One critic called the Symphony “a composition that will endure for ages, if we may presume to judge such a work on a single performance.”
But Mendelssohn was dissatisfied. For the rest of his life he intended to revise the last movement, but never got around to it. The Italian Symphony wasn't published until shortly after Mendelssohn's death in 1847. Sir Donald Francis Tovey commented: “There is a kind of easy-going spaciousness which suits a young composer, and no longer satisfied an older one.”
Herbert Kupferberg writes: “For all its bright and sunny Mediterranean atmosphere, the symphony makes no use of actual folk melodies. Everything is pure Mendelssohn in its invention and development. The first movement--healthy, energetic and bursting with life--sets a mood of warmth and animation that never is lost throughout the work.”
According to Mendelssohn's friend Ignaz Moscheles, the second movement was inspired by a Bohemian pilgrim's song. Noting that Pope Pius VIII died during Mendelssohn's stay in Rome, others point to the music's kinship with a religious ceremony.
In 1843, Robert Schumann wrote of the third movement's “eloquent character.” In discussing the trio of the movement, Tovey opined: “Such depth of beauty can be sounded only by a poet who knows that solemn things must be said with the lightest touch if they are not to become blasphemous.” Igor Kipnis says the finale “undoubtedly was inspired by the exciting Neapolitan dance Felix had seen one night in the village of Amalfi.”
The score calls for 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani and strings.
©2012 Charley Samson