MENDELSSOHN: Symphonies Nos. 1 and 5 (Chris Craker/ Ireland National Symphony Orchestra/ Reinhard Seifried) (Naxos: 8.550957)
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Felix Mendelssohn (1809 - 1847)
Symphony No.1 in C minor, Op. 11
Symphony No.5 in D major, Op. 107, "Reformation"
Felix Mendelssohn was born in Hamburg in 1809, son of the banker AbrahamMendelssohn and grandson of the great Jewish thinker Moses Mendelssohn, themodel for Lessing's Nathan the Wise, the epitome of tolerance in a generallyintolerant world. In 1812 the family moved to Berlin after the French occupationof Hamburg and it was there that Mendelssohn received his education, in music asa pupil of Carl Zelter, for whom the boy seemed a second Mozart. As a child hewas charming and precocious, profiting from the wide cultural interests of hisparents and relations, excelling as a pianist and busy with composition aftercomposition. In 1816 he was baptized a Christian, a step that his father tooksix years later, accepting what Heine described as a ticket of admission intoEuropean culture, although it was one not always regarded as valid by prejudicedcontemporaries.
Abraham Mendelssohn sought the best advice when it came to his son's choiceof career. Cherubini, director of the Paris Conservatoire, was consulted, and,while complimenting Abraham Mendelssohn on his wealth, agreed that his sonshould become a professional musician, advice given during the course of a visitto Paris in 1825, when Mendelssohn met many of the most distinguished composersand performers of the day. In Berlin his career took shape, with prolificcomposition and activity as a pianist and as a conductor. His education was toinclude a period of travel throughout Europe, a Grand Tour that took him as farnorth as Scotland and as far south as Naples, his journeys serving as sources ofinspiration.
In 1835 Mendelssohn was appointed conductor of the Leipzig GewandhausOrchestra. There were, at the same time, other commitments to be fulfilled in ashort career of intense activity .In Leipzig he established a series ofhistorical concerts, continuing the revival of earlier music on which he hadembarked under Zelter with the Berlin performance of Bach's St. Matthew Passion
in 1829. At the same time he gave every encouragement to contemporary composers,even to those for whom he felt little sympathy. At the insistence of thePrussian King Friedrich Wilhelm IV he accepted an official position in Berlin,but this failed to give him the satisfaction he had found in Leipzig, where heestablished the Conservatory in 1843 and where he spent his final years untilhis death at the age of 38 on 4th November 1847, six months after the death ofhis beloved sister Fanny.
Mendelssohn wrote his Symphony No.1 in C minor in March 1824, at theage of fifteen, a year or so before writing his famous Octet. This was not hisfirst attempt at the form, since he had already written a dozen symphoniesscored only for strings. The C minor Symphony, however, at first labelledby its precocious composer as No.13, was the first for full orchestra, scoredfor double woodwind, horns, trumpets and timpani and now strings with anundivided viola part. It was first performed in Leipzig on 1st February 1827 andtwo years later, conducted by the composer, in London, when he replaced theMenuetto with aversion of the Scherzo of the Octet, a practice that some havecontinued. The first movement is classical in form, following Mozart andtherefore Schubert, the latter twelve years his senior, his music unknown toMendelssohn at this time. There is a dramatic opening and first subject in thefirst movement, an important linking passage for the woodwind and a lyricalsecond subject. The first two elements are important in the central development,followed in due course by the recapitulation and an extended coda. Trumpets anddrums are silent in the E flat major Andante, its opening string theme answeredby descending clarinet thirds. The Menuetto, in 6/4, is in forthright contrastto its A flat major Trio, which it frames, and there is a fast-moving finale,its first theme strong in outline and contrast, with a secondary theme entrustedto the clarinet, accompanied by plucked strings. The symphony ends in atriumphant C major.
The Reformation Symphony was undertaken five years later, with theidea of contributing to the 300th anniversary of the Confession of Augsburg thatin 1530 established Lutheran Protestantism. It was not performed in 1830,however, and was first heard in Berlin on 15th November 1832, when it wasdescribed as Symphonie zur Feier der Kirchen-Revolution (Symphony inCelebration of a Church Revolution). Its contrapuntal textures raised oppositionin Paris, where Habeneck was prevented by his musicians from conducting aperformance. The score was only published after Mendelssohn's death and theinstrumentation includes three trombones, in addition to the requirements of theC minor Symphony. The first movement starts with a slow D majorintroduction, closing with the so-called Dresden Amen, a musical formulafamiliar from Lutheran worship, and subsequently from Wagner's Parsifal.
There follows an immediate and dramatic emphasis on the key of D minor. Therecapitutation is preceded by the Dresden Amen, which now ushers in a verysubdued version of the principal theme, again suggesting a reminiscence ofHaydn. The B flat major Allegro vivace has a contrasting Trio in G for stringsand woodwind and this is followed by a G minor Andante in which the burden iscarried chiefly by the strings, flutes and bassoons. This movement serves as apreface to the well known Lutheran chorale Ein' feste Burg, introduced,unexpectedly, by the flute, at once joined by the rest of the woodwind and thenby other instruments, including violas and cellos from the string section. Thechorale is then elaborated, before a sonata-form Allegro maestoso, with elementsof the chorale re-appearing in the central development and in the conclusion tothe symphony.
National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland
The RT?ë Symphony Orchestra was founded in 1947 as part of the Radio andTelevision service in Ireland. With its membership coming from France, Germany,Britain, Italy, Hungary, Poland and Russia, it drew together a rich blend ofEuropean culture. Apart from its many symphony concerts, the orchestra came toworld-wide attention with its participation in the famous Wexford OperaFestival, an event broadcast in many parts of the world. The orchestra nowenjoys the faci1ities of a fine new concert hall in central Dublin where itperforms with the world's leading conductors and soloists. In 1990 the RT?ëSymphony Orchestra was augmented and renamed the National Symphony Orchestra ofIreland, quickly estab1ishing itself as one of Europe's most adventurousorchestras with programmes featuring many twentieth century compositions. Theorchestra has now embarked upon an extensive recording project for the Naxos andMarco Polo labels and will record music by Nielsen, Tchaikovsky, Goldmark,Rachmaninov, Brian and Scriabin.
Reinhard Seitried was born in Freising and showed early gifts as a pianistbefore his interest in the orchestra, in song and in opera led him to studyconducting as well as the piano at the Munich Musikhochschule. He went on tostudy under Franco Perrara in Siena and started his career as a repetiteur invarious opera-houses, finally at the National Theatre in Mannheim. In 1977 hebecame conductor at the Staatstheater am Gartnerplatz in Munich, serving from1980 to 1984 as First Kapellmeister. He was personal assistant to LeonardBernstein, particularly in the Munich production of Tristan und Isolde,and worked also as assistant with Rudolf Kempe, Rafael Kubelik and Karl Richter.
Engagements with various