Mendelssohn wrote his Symphony in C minor in a short space of time in March 1824, when he had just turned 15. He wrote the ordinal number 13 on the cover sheet, because between 1821 and 1823 he had written 12 Symphonies for strings. But when the C minor Symphony was subsequently published, it was given the number 1, because Mendelssohn regarded his String Symphonies as immature juvenile works and did not wish to add them to his series of numbered Symphonies. The C minor Symphony was given its public premiere in Leipzig in February 1827.
It comes as no surprise that the C minor Symphony is the one of Mendelssohn’s numbered Symphonies that is the closest to Classical ideals, although his own voice is already identifiable. His handling of the orchestra is admirably confident and uncontrived, even though this was his first extensive orchestral work.
The first movement begins dramatically with a tempestuous main subject played by the full orchestra, contrasted by a more intimate lyrical second subject. The influence of Beethoven and Weber is detectable, but features such as the rapidly ticking string figures are unmistakably Mendelssohn. The development is rather concise and controlled, and the culmination of the entire movement does not come until the elaborate coda, which opens with a long note on the horns.
The slow movement in E flat major is built around a warm, Romantic melody presented in a variety of orchestral guises. The next movement is a minuet in 6/4 metre but more akin to a scherzo than a proper minuet in character. The tranquil Trio, with string arpeggios accompanying a chorale melody in the winds, forms an effective contrast to the flanking sections.
The finale, like the first movement, shows the influence of Beethoven and Weber. The energetic main subject and transition are followed by a curious pizzicato passage the turns out to be the accompaniment for the second subject introduced by the clarinet. Mendelssohn uses a fugato in the development, and later, at the end of the recapitulation, another fugato takes the work to its magnificent conclusion in C major.