Symphony No. 4 in A major, Op. 90, "Italian"
Related Artists/CompaniesFelix Mendelssohn
National Symphony Orchestra: Osmo Vänskä, conductor / Mendelssohn's "Italian" Symphony, plus Sibelius and Aho - Apr. 24 - 26, 2014
Renowned conductor Osmo Vänskä leads Mendelssohn's Symphony No. 4, Sibelius's Symphony No. 3, and Aho's Clarinet Concerto featuring the NSO debut of Martin Fröst, "a kinetic player with a vivid, interpretative imagination" (The New York Times).
National Symphony Orchestra: Beyond the Score: Mendelssohn's Symphony No. 4--Why Italy? - Fri., Apr. 25, 2014, 8:00 PM
For aficionados and newcomers alike, this series uses actors, narration, excerpts, and multimedia to share captivating stories behind a score, followed by a full performance of the work. This event explores Mendelssohn's delightful "Italian" Symphony.
About the Work
In May 1830 the young Mendelssohn set out from his family home in Berlin on what he called "the great trip," from which he did not return until June 1832. It was Goethe who suggested such an expedition, and early in its course Mendelssohn called on him at Weimar for the last time. (Goethe died there in March 1832.) In those 25 months Mendelssohn went to several German cities, traveled through Italy, met Chopin in Paris, and made the second of his ten visits to London. He was a talented painter, and brought back impressions in the form of watercolors and drawings as well as music.
While in Italy he conceived his "Italian" Symphony and began working on it. He completed the score on March 13, 1833, and conducted the premiere in London exactly two months later. Nicolo Paganini, who was present, was so pleased to hear one of his own pieces quoted in the new symphony, and so taken by Mendelssohn's performance of Mozart's D minor Piano Concerto, that he proposed that Mendelssohn team up with him to perform all the Beethoven sonatas for violin and piano. (That never happened, but in the following year Paganini commissioned from Berlioz a work that turned out to be another sort of "Italian Symphony," Harold in Italy. ) Although the premiere was a huge success (the second movement had to be repeated), Mendelssohn had misgivings about the finale, and he withheld the score from publication for years in order to make revisions; the final version was not published or performed until after his death, and thus the work that was actually the second of his five numbered symphonies came to be known as No. 4.
Apart from the locale of its conception, the only conspicuously Italian factor in this symphony would seem to be the movement Mendelssohn felt he had to brush up. The finale is the only one of the four movements based on an Italian musical form--the dance called the saltarello. Though some scholars have insisted that the music Mendelssohn so labeled is really a tarantella , it may be noted that there are two real saltarello themes in this finale, possibly drawn from Neapolitan folk material. Another genuine Italian theme in this movement is the one already alluded to: that of the ninth of Paganini's 24 Caprices for unaccompanied violin--the one in E minor, called La Chasse --which is here given to the flute.
The second movement of this symphony bears a curious similarity to the corresponding section of the parenthetically aforementioned Harold in Italy . Mendelssohn's slow movement, possibly inspired by a religious procession the young composer witnessed in Naples, has even been referred to, "unofficially," by the title Berlioz affixed to the corresponding section of Harold : "March of the Pilgrims."
Questions of derivation, "pre-echo," and coincidence aside, the aptness of this symphony's sobriquet seems amply justified by the impetuous sunburst that opens the work, by the warm southern lyricism of the third movement (said to have been inspired by Goethe's light-hearted poem Lilis Park ), and by the sheer songfulness that pervades the entire score, as well as the direct inspiration Mendelssohn himself acknowledged.