1833: Mendelssohn: Symphony No. 4 (#3) (ITALIAN) in A major

Mr. Peabody Says:

Mendelssohn was dissatisfied with the composition. He revised it in 1834 and even planned to write alternative versions of the second, third, and fourth movements. He never published the symphony, and it appeared in print only in 1851; thus it is numbered as his “Symphony No. 4”, even though it was in fact the third he composed.

Claudio Abbado

  1. 0:01 Allegro vivace, A major
  2. 10:29 Andante con moto, D minor – D major – D minor
  3. 17:25 Con moto moderato, A major
  4. 24:04 Presto and Finale: Saltarello, A minor

Instrumentation:

  • 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons
  • 2 horns, 2 trumpets
  • timpani
  • strings

1st movement

Everything in this movement is “up”, fast and optimistic.

2nd movement

Supposedly this is about an impression of a religious procession the composer witnessed in Naples.

3rd movement

It’s a minuet, and French horns are introduced in the trio.

4th movement

The final movement is minor throughout. It incorporates the Roman saltarello and the Neapolitan tarantella.

Major to minor

It is among the first large multi-movement works to begin in a major key and end in the parallel minor, as was true in Brahms’s first piano trio. This is, in fact, quite unusual.

History:

The work has its origins (as had the composer’s Scottish 3rd Symphony and The Hebrides overture) in the tour of Europe which occupied Mendelssohn from 1829 to 1831. Its inspiration is the color and atmosphere of Italy, where Mendelssohn made sketches but left the work incomplete.

Below is a snippet of a letter he wrote to his father:

This is Italy! And now has begun what I have always thought… to be the supreme joy in life. And I am loving it. Today was so rich that now, in the evening, I must collect myself a little, and so I am writing to you to thank you, dear parents, for having given me all this happiness.

In February he wrote from Rome to his sister Fanny:

The Italian symphony is making great progress. It will be the jolliest piece I have ever done, especially the last movement. I have not found anything for the slow movement yet, and I think that I will save that for Naples.

Completion:

The Italian Symphony was finished in Berlin on 13 March 1833, in response to an invitation for a symphony from the London (now Royal) Philharmonic Society; he conducted the first performance himself in London on 13 May 1833 at a London Philharmonic Society concert. The symphony’s success, and Mendelssohn’s popularity, influenced the course of British music for the rest of the century. The Germania Musical Society of Boston gave the first performance in the United States, on 1 November 1851, with Carl Bergmann conducting.

Yet the composer was not satisfied:

Mendelssohn himself, however, remained dissatisfied with the composition, which cost him, he said, some of the bitterest moments of his career; he revised it in 1834 and even planned to write alternative versions of the second, third, and fourth movements. He never published the symphony, and it appeared in print only in 1851; thus it is numbered as his “Symphony No. 4”, even though it was in fact the third he composed.

Leave a Reply