Friday, December 09, 2005
Mendelssohn: the Italian Symphony
The slow Movement is a sort of Chant, and its stately rhythmic tread suggests a Procession. Mendelssohn is said to have had here an old Bohemian folk-song in mind. It is beautifully conceived, and is executed with the utmost technical refinement. The design is sonatine-allegro (that is there is no Development). Considerable importance attaches to the brief Prelude, which, though obviously introductory in purpose, is drawn upon for the Codetta to the principal Theme, and recurs as Interlude before the Recapitulation. In the latter, the principal Theme is transposed, and otherwise modified.
For the third Movement no other title is indicated than the tempo-mark; it would have been consistent to call it a Menuetto, for its elegance and grace of line, its winning melody, and its suave, serenely lovely mood, conjure up the vision of this country dance. Its design is the usual Song-form with Trio. The opening of the Trio, in horns and bassoons---an incipient fanfare with cunningly rounded edges, is one of the most original and delightful conceits to be found anywhere in Mendelssohn's music. And its reverberation in the Coda is a master-touch.
The Finale is a whirling, vertiginous Salterello. The principal Theme is preceded by six measures of related introductory matter. Of the three Codettas, only the second is of new thematic material; the first one closely resembles the principal Theme, and the third one is brief. In two respects this Finale is noteworthy: the first is the choice of the minor mode. It is not at all unusual to end a minor composition in the major mode (see the Fifth and Ninth Symphonies of Beethoven, the First of Brahms, the Scotch Symphony of Mendelssohn---and very many others); but contrary to all tradition and usage, and with an apparent reversal of the finer and truer psychological consequences---Mendelssohn rounds out this singularly joyous (major) Symphony, in the somber minor mode. Incidentally, he does the same thing, with almost weird effect, in one of his earliest piano pieces (Op.7,No.7). The other exceptional feature of the Finale is its unusual structural design: it is ostensibly a sonata-allegro form, states a perfectly regular Exposition, and a long legitimate Development (in which, as in the first Movement, a new motive is inserted), but there is no Recapitulation; true to nature, the progressive whirl of the turbulent dance gradually, and naturally, undermines the later structural parts, so that finally the expected Recapitulation is engulfed---nothing remains but a Coda, which is more normal, less orgiastic than might be awaited.