Conducted by Paavo Järvi, the Tonhalle-Orchester Zürich performs Felix Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 3 in A minor, Op. 56, MWV N 18, known as the Scottish. This performance was recorded on March 29, 2021.

Felix Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 3

Felix Mendelssohn‘s Symphony No. 3 in A minor, Op. 56, known as the “Scottish,” is one of his most beloved and frequently performed works. Composed between 1829 and 1842, the symphony is a musical evocation of Scotland, inspired by Mendelssohn’s visit to the country in 1829. The scenic landscapes, historic sites, and cultural atmosphere of Scotland left a deep impression on Mendelssohn, which he vividly translated into this symphony.

The “Scottish” Symphony is imbued with a sense of Romanticism, reflecting Mendelssohn’s ability to capture the spirit and character of a place through music. It is structured traditionally in four movements, yet it departs from strict classical conventions by having its movements played attacca, or without pause, to create a continuous and cohesive narrative flow. This structural innovation enhances the symphony’s overall unity and dramatic impact.

One of the most striking features of the “Scottish” Symphony is its atmospheric and evocative orchestration. Mendelssohn uses the orchestra to paint vivid musical landscapes that evoke the rugged beauty and historical grandeur of Scotland. The use of woodwinds, strings, and brass is particularly effective in creating the varied moods and colors that characterize the symphony.

The thematic material of the symphony is rich and varied, reflecting both the pastoral serenity and the stormy grandeur of the Scottish Highlands. Mendelssohn employs folk-like melodies and rhythms, which lend an authentic Scottish flavor to the music. These themes are developed and transformed throughout the symphony, demonstrating Mendelssohn’s skill in thematic development and variation.

The “Scottish” Symphony also reflects Mendelssohn’s deep admiration for the natural world and his ability to convey its beauty and majesty through music. The symphony’s melodies and harmonies are often imbued with a sense of nostalgia and longing, capturing the emotional essence of the Scottish landscape and its historical associations.

Upon its completion, the symphony was premiered in Leipzig on March 3, 1842, conducted by Mendelssohn himself. It was met with great acclaim and has since become a staple of the orchestral repertoire. The “Scottish” Symphony is celebrated not only for its technical mastery and lyrical beauty but also for its ability to transport listeners to the windswept moors and ancient castles of Scotland. It remains a testament to Mendelssohn’s genius as a composer and his unique gift for capturing the essence of a place and time through music.

Movements

With the start times in the video above:

  1. 00:00 Andante con moto – Allegro un poco agitato
  2. 16:21 Vivace non troppo
  3. 20:46 Adagio
  4. 30:29 Allegro vivacissimo – Allegro maestoso assai

1. Andante con moto – Allegro un poco agitato

The first movement of Felix Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 3 is marked “Andante con moto – Allegro un poco agitato – Assai animato.” It opens with a slow and solemn introduction, “Andante con moto,” that sets a tone of brooding intensity and anticipation. This introductory theme is played by the strings and woodwinds, creating a sense of mystery and foreboding. The dark, evocative character of this opening passage is said to have been inspired by Mendelssohn’s visit to the ruins of Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh, where he envisioned the somber history of Scotland.

The movement transitions seamlessly into the main “Allegro un poco agitato” section, where the tempo quickens and the music becomes more animated and restless. The main theme of this section is introduced by the violins, characterized by its energetic rhythm and agitated character. This theme is bold and dynamic, reflecting the rugged landscape and turbulent history of Scotland. Mendelssohn’s use of syncopation and driving rhythms adds to the sense of urgency and movement, propelling the music forward.

Throughout the “Allegro” section, Mendelssohn skillfully develops the thematic material, employing a variety of techniques such as modulation, counterpoint, and dynamic contrasts. The interplay between the different sections of the orchestra is intricate and sophisticated, showcasing Mendelssohn’s mastery of orchestration. The woodwinds and brass frequently join the strings in dialog, adding richness and depth to the texture.

A secondary theme, more lyrical and flowing, is introduced, providing a contrast to the vigorous main theme. This theme, played by the woodwinds, has a pastoral quality, evoking the serene beauty of the Scottish Highlands. The contrast between the agitated main theme and the more tranquil secondary theme creates a dynamic tension that is maintained throughout the movement.

The development section explores and elaborates on these themes, with Mendelssohn weaving them into complex and varied textures. The music moves through different keys and moods, creating a sense of narrative progression and emotional depth. The recapitulation brings back the main themes with renewed intensity, leading to a dramatic and powerful climax.

The movement concludes with a coda marked “Assai animato,” where the tempo increases and the energy intensifies. The main theme reappears, driving the music to a thrilling and vigorous conclusion. The first movement of the “Scottish” Symphony is a masterful blend of lyrical beauty and dramatic intensity, capturing the essence of the Scottish landscape and its historical resonance.

2. Vivace non troppo

The second movement of Felix Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 3 is marked “Vivace non troppo.” This movement provides a lively and spirited contrast to the brooding intensity of the first movement, characterized by its light, dance-like quality and vibrant energy.

The movement begins with a buoyant and rhythmic theme introduced by the woodwinds, which is then taken up by the strings. This theme is characterized by its quick, staccato rhythms and playful, almost folk-like melody. The music has an infectious, exuberant quality that evokes the lively spirit of Scottish dances and festivities. Mendelssohn’s use of syncopation and dotted rhythms adds to the movement’s sense of lightness and forward momentum.

Throughout the movement, Mendelssohn employs a variety of orchestral colors and textures to maintain interest and excitement. The interplay between the different sections of the orchestra is intricate and dynamic, with the woodwinds, strings, and brass exchanging motifs and complementing each other. The light, transparent orchestration allows the melodic lines to shine clearly, contributing to the movement’s overall sense of clarity and brightness.

A contrasting middle section provides a brief moment of repose, featuring a more lyrical and flowing melody. This theme is introduced by the strings and is more legato in character, offering a gentle counterpoint to the lively main theme. The contrasting section adds depth and variety to the movement, creating a sense of balance and coherence.

After this contrasting interlude, the lively main theme returns, bringing back the playful and spirited character of the opening. The movement concludes with a coda that heightens the sense of excitement and joy, driving the music to a spirited and exuberant finish. The energetic and joyful character of the second movement provides a delightful contrast to the more serious and introspective first movement, showcasing Mendelssohn’s ability to capture a wide range of emotions and moods in his music.

3. Adagio

The third movement of Felix Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 3 is marked “Adagio.” This movement provides a lyrical and introspective contrast to the lively second movement, showcasing Mendelssohn’s ability to write deeply expressive and poignant music.

The movement opens with a serene and contemplative theme introduced by the strings. This theme is characterized by its long, flowing lines and rich, warm harmonies, creating an atmosphere of calm and introspection. The melody is expansive and lyrical, evoking a sense of deep emotion and longing. Mendelssohn’s use of the string section is particularly effective in conveying the movement’s emotional depth, with the lush, singing quality of the strings adding to the overall sense of warmth and lyricism.

As the movement progresses, Mendelssohn introduces a series of variations on the opening theme. These variations explore different instrumental colors and textures, with the woodwinds and brass joining the strings to add contrast and complexity. The interplay between the different sections of the orchestra is intricate and sophisticated, with Mendelssohn using a variety of orchestral techniques to maintain interest and variety.

A middle section provides a contrasting theme that is more dramatic and intense. This section features a powerful and declamatory melody introduced by the brass and supported by the full orchestra. The mood becomes more urgent and passionate, creating a dynamic contrast to the serene opening theme. The dramatic middle section heightens the emotional intensity of the movement, adding depth and complexity to the overall structure.

After the dramatic middle section, the opening theme returns, bringing back the sense of calm and introspection. The theme is now developed and elaborated further, with Mendelssohn weaving together the various musical elements to create a rich and cohesive tapestry of sound. The movement concludes with a gentle and reflective coda, bringing the music to a peaceful and satisfying close.

4. Allegro vivacissimo – Allegro maestoso assai

The fourth movement of Felix Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 3 is marked “Allegro vivacissimo – Allegro maestoso assai.” This movement serves as a dynamic and exhilarating conclusion to the symphony, characterized by its energetic pace, rhythmic drive, and celebratory character.

The movement opens with a brisk and spirited theme introduced by the strings and woodwinds. This “Allegro vivacissimo” section is marked by its rapid tempo and lively rhythms, which convey a sense of urgency and excitement. The main theme is bold and vigorous, with a distinctly Scottish flavor, possibly inspired by the country’s folk dances and rhythms. The rhythmic vitality and spirited character of the music evoke images of lively Scottish celebrations and gatherings.

Throughout this section, Mendelssohn employs a variety of orchestral colors and textures to maintain interest and drive the music forward. The strings often play rapid, syncopated figures, while the woodwinds and brass add brightness and brilliance to the orchestral palette. The interplay between the different sections of the orchestra is intricate and dynamic, with Mendelssohn masterfully balancing the energetic themes with moments of lighter, more delicate scoring.

As the movement progresses, Mendelssohn introduces contrasting themes and motifs that add depth and complexity to the musical narrative. The development section explores and elaborates on these themes, with the music moving through different keys and moods, creating a sense of drama and progression. The rhythmic intensity and forward momentum are maintained throughout, driving the music towards its climactic conclusion.

The transition to the “Allegro maestoso assai” section marks a significant shift in character. This concluding section is grand and majestic, with a broad, noble theme that contrasts with the lively opening. The music becomes more expansive and triumphant, reflecting a sense of resolution and celebration. This majestic theme, introduced by the full orchestra, is characterized by its powerful, stately rhythm and rich harmonic texture.

In the coda, Mendelssohn brings back elements of the earlier themes, weaving them together in a grand and exhilarating finale. The rhythmic drive and energetic character of the opening return, leading to a powerful and decisive conclusion. The symphony ends on a triumphant and jubilant note, with the orchestra playing in full force, creating a sense of culmination and fulfillment.

Sources

M. Özgür Nevres

Published by M. Özgür Nevres

I am Özgür Nevres, a software engineer, a former road racing cyclist, and also an amateur musician. I opened andantemoderato.com to share my favorite music. I also take care of stray cats & dogs. This website's all income goes directly to our furry friends. Please consider supporting me on Patreon, so I can help more animals!

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