Music with Ease > Classical Music > Concert Guide: Romantic Era > Symphony No 3, in A Minor ("Scotch Symphony"). Op. 56. (Mendelssohn)
Symphony No 3, in A Minor
("Scotch Symphony"). Op. 56.
1. Introduction. Allegro agitato.
2. Scherzo. Assai vivace.
3. Adagio cantabile.
4. Allegro guerriero. Finale maestoso.
The A minor Symphony, the third of the Mendelssohn series, is familiarly known as the "Scotch," the composer having given it that name is his letters written from Rome in 1832. The first conception of the symphony dates still farther back. In April, 1829, Mendelssohn, then in his twentieth year, paid his first visit to England. After remaining in London two months he went to Scotland, arriving in Edinburgh July 28; the next day he heard a competition of the Highland pipers, which, it may well be imagined, gave him a good idea of the national melodies. The next day he visited Holyrood. He wrote down on the spot the first sixteen bars of the introduction, announcing the theme which not only opens but closes the movements and thus gives an unmistakable clew to its meaning.
Its introduction begins with the Andante theme already mentioned, a melody of a sombre and even melancholy cast. The first theme is of the same cast. A subsidiary theme, of a tender, plaintive character, leads back to the Andante of the introduction, which closes a movement rarely equaled for its musical and poetical expression and graceful finish.
A short passage for flutes, horns, and bassoons connects this earnest, serious movement with the Scherzo, which gives us a different picture. In its form, it departs from the Minuet and Trio, and is purely a caprice, and a most lovely one; while, at the same time, it differs from all his other Scherzos in the absence of their sportive, fantastic quality. It is a picture of pastoral nature, characterized by a continuous flow of rural gaiety. Its opening theme, given out by the clarinets, dominates it throughout; for the second theme plays but a small part, though it has its place in the general working up. The first motive is frequently reiterated, and fills the movement with glowing life and spirit.
The Adagio cantabile presents still another picture. The first movement gave us the sombre tints; the second, those of rural freedom and idyllic gaiety; the third, though still infused with melancholy, is evidently a reverie in which the composer meditates upon the ancient state and grandeur of the country. Its majestic strains well prepare the way for the final movement, the impetuous first part of which is marked Allegro guerriero. The romantic sentiment disappears. In its place we have the heroic expressed with astonishing force and exuberant spirit in its three themes, which finally give place to a short second part, maestoso, colored by national melody, and closing this exquisite tone-picture of the Scotch visit.