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Music with Ease > Classical Music > Concert Guide: Romantic Era > Symphony No 4, in A ("Italian Symphony"). Op. 90. (Mendelssohn)


Symphony No 4, in A
("Italian Symphony"). Op. 90.

Felix Mendelssohn
(1809-47)



1. Allegro vivace.
2. Andante con moto.
3. Con moto moderato.
4. Saltarello. Presto.

Like the A minor Symphony, the A major gets its familiar name from the composer himself, how always styles it the "Italian" in his letters. The first movement, Allegro vivace, reflects as clearly the blue skies, clears air, brightness, and joyousness of Italy as the first movement of the A minor Symphony does the sombre and melancholy aspect of Holyrood. After a moment of preparation, the violins sweep off at once in a vigorous theme to an accompaniment of horns, bassoons, clarinets, and flutes. After its development, the order is reversed; and a second theme, more restful in character, appears in the clarinets and bassoons, with string accompaniment. It is taken by the flutes and oboes, and leads the way to a new theme in the first violins and clarinets, the development of which brings us back to the first theme, closing the first part of the movement. The second part opens with a fresh, bright theme given out by the second violins and continued in the other strings and flutes, followed by an episode for the strings alone. It is finally interrupted by the wind instruments. The principal themes reappear in various forms, at last returning to the first. Toward the close of the movement an entirely new subject appears in the first violins. The Coda is full of spirit and joyous feeling, and at last the happy, vivacious movement comes to an end.

The Andante, sometimes called the "Pilgrims’ March," opens with a unison phrase, followed at once by the principal theme, given out in the oboe, bassoon, and violas, and then repeated by the first violins, with an elaborate accompaniment by the flutes. After the announcement of the second theme, with a similar instrumental setting to the first, the second part opens with a bright, joyous strain from the clarinets, reinforced by the violins and flutes. At the close of its development the call is heard again, summoning attention to the development of thematic materials already presented.





The third movement is supposed to have been taken from one of his youthful works, though its identity in this respect has never been discovered. It opens with a simple but graceful melody. The trio is fresh and full of delicate fancy. At its conclusion the first theme returns, and a charming Coda constructed upon suggestions of this theme, brings the movement to a close.

If there were any doubt about the national significance of this symphony, it would be removed by the Italian Finale, Saltarello presto, evidently inspired by the Roman carnival, of which Mendelssohn was a delighted spectator. The movement is a Saltarello, a favorite dance rhythm in Italy, combined with a whirling Tarantella with astonishing skill. After a short introduction the flutes lead off in the merry dance, the other instruments soon joining as if they too had caught the mad contagion. At the close of the theme a soberer melody is given out by the violins, the wind instruments still busied with fragments of the dance measures. Soon the Saltarello returns again, this time, however, with a fresh accompaniment. At last it give place to the rush of a Tarantella whirling gaily along until the Saltarello combines with it, and the two rhythms go on to the end, now alternating, now together, in a general terpsichorean hurly-burly.






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