CORA ASTLE (Pianoforte), JOHN ADAMS (Tenor)
THE STATION ORCHESTRA, conducted by JOSEPH LEWIS
Soon after Mendelssohn' came home from his Italian and Swiss tour in 1831, he wrote this concerto. He was then twenty-two.
There are three Movements:
I (Very quick, fiery). Mendelssohn plunges almost at once into his First Main Tune, which the Piano has by itself.
The soloist and orchestra for a while toss a conversational ball to and fro, and then the quiet second main tune creeps in. These tunes are developed in vigorous fashion, and after their recapitulation a Trumpet and Horn passage leads us to a new key for the next movement, which follows without a break.
II (Rather slow). One Main Tune, expressive and restful, suffices here. It is given out by the cello, to which Mendelssohn was fond of giving themes.
The movement consists of delicate varied repetitions of this, by either the soloist or the orchestra
III A short introductory section (Very quick) leads to the brilliant First Main Tune, a galop for the Piano. Here is the essence of youthful vivacity, that in Mendelssohn was never tinged with vulgarity, but always had in it something high-toned and urbane.
After the opening Tune comes a second idea, a coruscation of arpeggios, much used throughout the movement.
A third motive is a phrase for flutes, consisting of a repeated four-note figure, the second note trilled.
Using these materials with brilliant spontaneity and handling his Orchestra (especially the woodwind) with delightful ease and certainty, Mendelssohn works up the movement, rounding it off with a final irresistible outburst.
In 1830, the tercentenary year of the Augsburg Protestant Confession, it was proposed to hold a general celebration throughout the Protestant States of Germany. The scheme was dropped, after Mendelssohn had specially written this Symphony as a contribution to it.
Written for a church celebration, the Symphony makes many a quotation of church music. The very opening notes are a medieval melody which was used by Bach and Mozart. Later in the introductory section occurs another ancient melody, stridently sounded, and this is immediately followed by the 'Dresden Amen' (which Wagner also adopted-as one of the principal themes in his Parsifal). This opening section of the music may be said to stand for the older church.
To this, follows an outburst of quick music that seems to suggest anger. This part is fully worked out as a symphonic 'first movement.'
The next movement is lyrical, with a hint of pastoral delight. It is cast in the common form and three-beat rhythm of 'Scherzo and Trio.'
A pathetic little tune, in a minor key, opens the next movement. Presently the famous Lutheran hymn. Ein feste Burg ('A safe strong-hold'), enters, the herald of the Reformation. At first it is played by a single flute, other instruments join in at the second line and the rest of the orchestra enters during the remaining lines.
The next section is a variation on this hymn tune. Fragments of it are heard against a running figure in the strings.
The last movement is built largely of massive music, into which the Lutheran hymn is woven towards the end, its last lines being given out, at the close, with full power.