05 Feb 2013

Mendelssohn – Symphony No. 1 in C Minor, Op. 11

Instrumentation: 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani, strings.

Duration: 32 minutes in four movements.

THE COMPOSER – FELIX MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847) – On the occasion of his 15th birthday in 1824, Mendelssohn graduated from apprentice to professional in the eyes of his teacher Carl Zelter. The acknowledgment, though generous in spirit, might have been unnecessary with Mendelssohn already so productive. But Zelter had instilled in his pupil a great love for the music of Bach, Mozart and Haydn and truly felt he was ready to take his place among them.

THE MUSIC – Mendelssohn was not new to the symphony genre in 1824. He had already composed over a dozen by that point but none yet had included the requisite winds and brass that would make him eligible for comparison to the old masters. Those youthful efforts remain unnumbered in tacit validation of Mendelssohn’s “coming of age” in 1824. Zelter’s birthday pronouncement, which seemed to confirm Mendelssohn’s precocious brilliance and also presage his brief life, made it possible for the pupil to get an early start on his maturity as an artist. Still, at fifteen, it was to be expected that Mendelssohn’s voice would still include glimpses of his influences. His early “sound,” as would become manifest in the official Symphony No. 1, contained a fair portion of Mozart’s sense of style and structure as well as evidence that Mendelssohn took his study of Bach’s counterpoint quite seriously. There were also bits of more contemporary exemplars like Weber and Beethoven. All of these fantastic seeds of genius found very fertile ground with Mendelssohn, who would put them to respectful but sparing use. His highly selective application of the current but nascent Romantic-era ideals to Symphony No. 1 was emblematic of an ethic that would come to define a short but robust composing life. Mendelssohn already displayed the poise and discipline of a life-long Classicist, taking from the revolution only what was necessary to feed his own highly refined musical personality.

THE WORLD – Beethoven’s 9th Symphony also premiered in 1824, as did his Missa Solemnis. The First Anglo-Burmese War began that year. Simon Bolivar was installed as leader of Peru. And Lord Byron died in Greece.

THE CONNECTION – Mendelssohn’s 1st Symphony has been infrequently programmed by the Utah Symphony. The most recent performance was in 2002 with Pavel Kogan conducting.