“Italian” Symphony

By Felix Mendelssohn
Composed in 1831

The Italian Symphony is one of Mendelssohn’s most popular orchestral works. He began composing it while on a visit to Italy in 1831 (when he was only 22 years old!), but did not finish it until two years later.

It opens on a joyous note, after which a soaring violin melody rises against the backdrop of repeated wind notes. A second theme is then introduced by the clarinets and bassoons; in the development, yet a third theme is introduced by the second violins which is picked up by the other strings in a fugue-like section and combined with the other themes.

The second movement has the feel of a solemn pilgrims’ processional, with a spare melody (first played by oboe, bassoon and violas) juxtaposed against a steady ‘cello-bass background. The refreshing third movement is reminiscent of a menuet and trio, with the latter featuring horns and bassoons.

The fiery fourth movement is based on the Italian “saltarello,” a lively folk-dance characterized by leaps and skips.