Mendelssohn: Symphony No. 4


The Fourth Symphony was inspired by Mendelssohnís visit to Italy. Arriving in Venice in October 1830, he was instantly awestruck by the cityís churches and in particular the paintings of Titian he discovered there. On his way to Rome he passed through Bologna and Florence where, as a traveler from the typically overcast northern European climes, he was quite taken by the sunny environment and the flowers still in bloom. Of the Italian cities he visited, Rome was the most inspiring. Mendelssohn wrote: ďRomeís past seems to me like history itself. Its monuments inspire, whether they make one feel serious or gay. It is satisfying to think that human beings can accomplish something which continues to refresh them and strengthen them after a thousand years.Ē

The spacious Italian countryside comes to mind with the ebullient opening theme of the Allegro Vivace. The second theme is similar but a bit less energetic. The Development section introduces a more martial theme which is soon combined with the initial melodies in the recap.

Much of the Andante con moto sounds like a 19th century tribute to the Baroque era, an idea which may have sprung from Mendelssohnís appreciation for Italian art. A chorale-like melody is introduced played by violins and oboes. In conclusion, in the manner of the Funeral March of Beethovenís Eroica, the main theme breaks off into fragments at the movementís close.

The Con moto moderato movement focuses upon a sublime minuet interrupted by a Trio section that emphasizes the horns and bassoons. The themes are so closely related that at the movementís close, Mendelssohn combines them together. The Saltarello was a dance that originated in Italy as early as the 14th century and its fervent energy inspired the fourth movement. The theme is first heard in the flutes underscored by a heavy rhythmic pedal. Unexpectedly, there is a reference to a notable passage in the first movement. A new theme enters becoming the basis for a brief fugue. After this contrapuntal exercise has run its course, all of the themes are re-combined as the symphony is brought to its energetic close.

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