Felix MendelssohnSymphony no. 4 in A major op. 90 "Italian"
Symphony no. 4 in A major op. 90 "Italian"
For music lovers who prefer order and discipline, the numbering of Mendelssohn’s Symphonies is no doubt a perpetual headache. He wrote twelve String Symphonies between 1820 and 1824, but being juvenile works they were never included among his numbered Symphonies, of which there are five. Mendelssohn’s Symphony no. 1 in C minor (1824), however, is also a youthful work, written at the age of 15. The next to be completed was the ‘Reformation’ Symphony in D minor (1830), but this is referred to as Symphony no. 5 because it was published last. Three years later, Mendelssohn completed what would be his most frequently performed Symphony of all, no. 4 in A major (‘Italian’), and this was followed by Symphony no. 2 in B flat major (‘Lobgesang’, 1840) and Symphony no. 3 in A minor (‘Scottish’, 1842).
Mendelssohn completed his ‘Italian’ Symphony in 1833. It owed its genesis to the composer’s stay in Italy in 1830–1831, although the only identifiable ‘Italian’ element in it is the dance in the Presto finale. This has the greatest freshness and vitality among all of Mendelssohn’s Symphonies and reflects his buoyant composer personality that was hardly ever overshadowed by grand tragedy or the demons of the night, as with many other Romantic composers. Sibelius once remarked that he considered Mendelssohn one of the finest orchestrators of all time, but as can be noted in the ‘Italian’ Symphony, this has more to do with clarity and functionality than with colourfulness or curiosities.
The sunniest of the movements in the Symphony is the opening movement, with a ceaseless 6/8 pulse. The second movement is a sombre procession, followed by a third movement that resembles a minuet but has broad melodic arcs soaring over its dance rhythm. The quicksilver finale is in A minor throughout, which is exceptional considering the key of the Symphony is A major, but it is exhilaratingly energetic all the same. Mendelssohn called the movement a ‘saltarello’, although it resembles a ‘tarantella’ more than anything else.
Text: Kimmo Korhonen