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Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy (1809 - 1847)
Symphony No.4 in A major, Op. 90, "Italian"
Pyotr Il'yich Tchaikovsky (1840 - 1893)
Symphony No.6 in B minor, Op. 74, "Pathetique"
Felix Mendelssohn, grandson of the distinguished Jewish thinker MosesMendelssohn, was born in Hamburg in 1809, second of the four children of thebanker Abraham Mendelssohn. The additional name Bartholdy was assumed at thesuggestion of Felix Mendelssohn's rich uncle, the art-collector and writer JakobSalomon-Bartholdy, a token of the fact that that branch of the family had becomeChristian, accepting what the Jewish poet Heine was to describe as" aticket of admission into European culture".
As a child Mendelssohn showed prodigious talent in composition and as apianist, gifts that received parental encouragement. It was on the advice of oldCherubini, the dour director of the Conservatoire in Paris, that his fatherallowed him to become a professional musician, a career in which he was todistinguish himself as a composer and as a conductor.
In his earlier years Mendelssohn wrote twelve string symphonies, one of whichhe arranged for full orchestra. Of the five later symphonies three form part ofstandard orchestral repertoire, the so-called Scottish Symphony, the Reformationand the Italian, all of them conceived, at least, during the GrandTour of Europe that Abraham Mendelssohn had planned for his son in the early1830s.
Mendelssohn's subsequent career took him to Leipzig, where, from 1835, heconducted the Gewandhaus Orchestra and was later to be instrumental in theestablishment of a conservatory. In 1841 he became involved in attempts inBerlin by the new Prussian king, Friedrich Wilhelm IV, to bring about a generalreform of the arts in his kingdom, attempts that were to be largely frustrated.
The association with Potsdam, however, led to the composition of incidentalmusic for plays by Sophocles and Racine, and for Shakespeare's A MidsummerNight's Dream, on the subject of which he had earlier written an Overture
The Italian Symphony was completed in 1833 but remained unpublished inMendelssohn's lifetime because of his dissatisfaction with it and his intentionof revising the first movement. The ideas for the work were developed during hisstay in Italy in 1831, and the whole symphony, described by the Vienna criticEduard Hanslick as "full of sweet enchantment, an intoxicating floralfragrance", fits well enough the composer's own view of it as "thegayest thing I have ever done". The first movement opens with the violinsoffering the initial cheerful theme, over repeated wind chords. Classicalprocedure is followed, with clarinets and bassoons playing a second subject overa busy string accompaniment. The central development of the movement introducesa third theme, with the opening figure providing material that leads to there-appearance of the first subject and the recapitulation. The second movementis the famous Pilgrims' March, the solemn theme of the processionannounced by oboes, bassoons and violas, with the melody unfolding over therhythmic march of the lower strings. A third movement, described by one criticas "a Biedermeier minuet", has about it something of the spirit ofMendelssohn's fairy music for A Midsummer Night's Dream, but it is in therapid elegance of the final Saltarello and the concluding Neapolitantarantella that this mood is decisively recaptured.
Pyotr Il'yich Tchaikovsky must be regarded as the most popular of all Russiancomposers, his music offering certain obvious, superficial attractions in itsmelodies and in the richness of its orchestral colouring. There is more toTchaikovsky than this, and it would be a mistake to neglect his achievementbecause of what sometimes seems to be an excess of popular attention.
Born in Kamsko-Votkinsk in 1840, the second son of a mining engineer,Tchaikovsky had his early education, in music as in everything else, at home,under the care of his mother and of a beloved governess. From the age of ten hewas a pupil at the School of Jurisprudence in St. Petersburg, completing hiscourse there in 1859 to take employment in the Ministry of Justice. During theseyears he developed his abilities as a musician and it must have seemed probablethat he would, like his contemporaries Mussorgsky, Cui, Rimsky-Korsakov andBorodin, keep music as a secondary occupation, while following another career.
For Tchaikovsky matters turned out differently. The foundation of the newConservatory of Music in St. Petersburg under Anton Rubinstein enabled him tostudy there as a full-time student from 1863. In 1865 he moved to Moscow as amember of the staff of the new Conservatory established by Anton Rubinstein'sbrother Nikolay He continued there for some ten years, before financialassistance from a rich widow, Nadezhda von Meck, enabled him to leave theConservatory and devote himself entirely to composition. There same period inhis life brought an unfortunate marriage to a self-proclaimed admirer of hiswork, a woman who showed early signs of mental in stability and could only addfurther to Tchaikovsky's own problems of character and inclination. Hishomosexuality was a torment to him, while his morbid sensitivity and diffidence,coupled with physical revulsion for the woman he had married, led to a severenervous break-down.
Separation from his wife, which was immediate, still left practical andpersonal problems to be solved Tchaikovsky's relationship with Nadezhda von Meck,however, provided not only the money that at first was necessary for his career,but also the understanding and support of a woman who, so far from makingphysical demands of him, never even met him face to face. This curiously remoteliaison only came to an end in 1890, when, on the false plea of bankruptcy,Nadezhda von Meck discontinued an allowance that was no longer of importance,and a correspondence on which he had come to depend.
The story of Tchaikovsky's death in St Petersburg in 1893 is now generallyknown. It seems that a member of the nobility had threatened to complain to theTsar about an alleged homosexual relationship between Tchaikovsky and his son.
To avoid open scandal a court of honour of Tchaikovsky's old school-fellows metand condemned him to death, forcing him to take his own life. His death wasannounced as the result of cholera, and this official version of the event was,until relatively recently, generally accepted.
Tchaikovsky's last symphony, called, at the prompting of his brother Modest,the Pathetique, rather than simply Programme Symphony, as thecomposer had originally intended, was first performed in St Petersburg underTchaikovsky's direction on 16th October (28th October on the Western calender),1893. The programme of the work, which had been sketched earlier in the year andorchestrated during the summer, was autobiographical. He had jotted down a roughplan in 1892. The whole essence of the plan of the symphony is Life Firstmovement - all impulsive, confidence, thirst for activity. Must be short (Finale- Death - result of collapse). Second movement love; third disappointed; fourthends dying away (also short) In a letter to his nephew Bob Davidov he hadsuggested that the programme of the symphony was to be a secret, but subjectiveto the core This it remained, although the details of the original scheme wereto be modified.
The first movement opens with a slow introduction, in which t