Conducted by Paavo Järvi, the hr-Sinfonieorchester (Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra) plays Felix Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 1 in C minor, Op. 11. Recorded on June 29, 2014 at the Eberbach Abbey (Kloster Eberbach). The opening concert of the Rheingau Musik Festival (Rheingau Musik Festival) 2014.
Felix Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 1
Felix Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 1 in C minor, Op. 11, is a remarkable testament to the composer’s precocious talent. Composed in 1824, when Mendelssohn was just 15 years old, the symphony is an impressive demonstration of his already mature grasp of form, orchestration, and thematic development.
However, the autographed score was not published until 1831. The symphony was dedicated to the Royal Philharmonic Society (a British music society, formed in 1813), who performed the London première on May 25, 1829, with Mendelssohn conducting.
For this performance, Mendelssohn orchestrated the scherzo from his Octet Op. 20 as an alternative third movement for the symphony. The work was premièred at a private gathering on 14 November 1824 to honor his sister Fanny Mendelssohn’s 19th birthday. Its public première occurred on 1 February 1827, with the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra performing under the leadership of its then-Kapellmeister Johann Philipp Christian Schulz.
The work begins with a surge of energy and youthful vitality that remains a constant presence throughout the symphony. Mendelssohn’s characteristic blend of lyrical beauty and rhythmic drive is evident from the outset. His ability to convey deep emotions with elegance and precision sets him apart as a unique voice in the Romantic era.
While the symphony does pay homage to classical traditions, particularly the influence of Mozart and Haydn, it also contains hints of the Romantic sensibilities that would come to define Mendelssohn’s later works. There’s a freshness to the melodies and harmonies, a sense of exploration and innovation that belies the composer’s young age.
One of the notable aspects of this symphony is Mendelssohn’s adept handling of the orchestra. Each section, from strings to winds, is given its moment to shine, and there’s a transparent quality to the orchestration that allows individual voices to emerge clearly.
Though it’s not as frequently performed as some of Mendelssohn’s later symphonies, the First Symphony stands as a clear indicator of the genius that was to fully blossom in the years to come. It’s a work of both historical significance, given its place in the trajectory of Mendelssohn’s career, and intrinsic musical value.
Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 1 is in four movements:
- Allegro di molto: Opening with a burst of energy, this movement provides a robust introduction to the symphony. Mendelssohn, even at a young age (he was only 15 when he wrote this symphony), displays a command over orchestration and form. The music moves with a spirited tempo, unfolding with well-defined melodies that showcase both the string and wind sections. There’s a youthful exuberance to this movement, but it’s combined with a depth of emotion that’s characteristic of Mendelssohn’s style. The development and recapitulation sections provide contrast and exploration of the thematic materials, making this a lively and engaging start to the symphony.
- Andante: This movement offers a lovely contrast to the vibrant opening. The Andante exudes a serene, song-like quality. The melodies are gracefully handed between the different sections of the orchestra, allowing each to shine. Mendelssohn’s genius lies in his ability to convey profound emotion with simplicity, and this movement is no exception. The nuanced dynamics and phrasings evoke a sense of introspection and peacefulness, creating a delicate and heartwarming atmosphere that stands in gentle opposition to the surrounding movements.
- Menuetto: Allegro molto: Inspired by the dance forms of older classical symphonies, this Menuetto is lively and rhythmic. However, Mendelssohn gives it a fresh twist with unexpected harmonies and his signature lyrical touches. The trio section provides a lovely contrast with a lighter, more transparent texture. This movement demonstrates Mendelssohn’s ability to blend the traditional with the new, paying homage to past composers while injecting his unique voice.
- Allegro con fuoco: The finale of Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 1 is a tour-de-force that revisits the energy of the first movement. It’s a fast-paced, fiery conclusion filled with driving rhythms, spirited melodies, and brilliant orchestration. The music races forward with an unstoppable momentum, with the various sections of the orchestra coming together to create a wall of sound that’s both powerful and intricate. Throughout the movement, Mendelssohn maintains a balance between exuberance and control, leading to a thrilling and satisfying conclusion to the symphony.
Eberbach Abbey (German: Kloster Eberbach) is a former Cistercian monastery near Eltville am Rhein in the Rheingau, Germany. On account of its impressive Romanesque and early Gothic buildings, it is considered one of the most significant architectural heritage sites in Hesse, Germany. In the winter of 1985/86, the interior scenes of The Name of the Rose were filmed here. It is the main venue of the Rheingau Musik Festival.
Rheingau Musik Festival
The Rheingau Musik Festival (RMF) is an international summer music festival in Germany, founded in 1987. It is mostly for classical music but includes other genres. Concerts take place at culturally important locations, such as Eberbach Abbey and Schloss Johannisberg, in the wine-growing Rheingau region between Wiesbaden and Lorch. The festival was the initiative of Michael Herrmann, who has served as its Artistic Director and chief executive officer.
- Symphony No. 1 (Mendelssohn) on Wikipedia
- Eberbach Abbey on Wikipedia
- Rheingau Musik Festival on Wikipedia