Monday, September 29, 2014

Mendelssohn - String Symphony No. 7 In D Minor

Francis Bacon, 17th century English statesman, scientist, jurist, orator, author and philosopher wrote in his essay titled Of Studies:
To spend too much time in studies is sloth; to use them too much for ornament, is affectation; to make judgment wholly by their rules, is the humor of a scholar. They perfect nature, and are perfected by experience: for natural abilities are like natural plants, that need pruning, by study...
Natural ability such as Mozart and Mendelssohn possessed only became mastery after much work, study and diligence. For Mozart, it was his good fortune to be born into a family with a father that was a consummate musician and teacher who was wise enough to know the wisdom of Bacon's words. The young Mozart did his share of necessary exercises in harmony and counterpoint, the pruning of his natural abilities.

Mendelssohn's situation was a different matter. His family was headed by a father who was a banker and a mother who was from a prominent family. Felix's talent was noticed by his parents and other members of the family. Felix's family could afford private music teachers, and the youngster also had the added benefit of having his early works played by a small orchestra that gathered at the Mendelssohn family home. Thus Bacon's words rang true for Felix as well, including the tempering of study by experience.

When Mendelssohn was twelve years old he began to write a series of symphonies for string orchestra as exercises in composition for his teacher Carl Friedrich Zelter, and for performance at the concerts at his home. He wrote a total of twelve string symphonies in two years. The first six string symphonies had three movements, but with the String Symphony No. 7 the movements increased to four.

I. Allegro - Written in sonata form, the movement begins straight away with the first theme that is reminiscent of C.P.E. Bach's angular themes. Perhaps C.P.E.Bach was a strong influence as Felix's great-aunt Sarah Itzig-Levy took keyboard lessons from Wilhelm Friedemann Bach and premiered some of C.P.E. Bach's harpsichord music. She was a wealthy woman and helped to support the widow of C.P.E. Bach and took a special interest in Felix's musical education. The second theme is more lyrical, and soon succumbs to the return of the first theme. The exposition is repeated. The development section begins with a working out of the second theme while a figuration from the first theme accompanies, until the first theme gains dominance and goes through its own section of being worked through. The recapitulation repeats with modulations of themes until a short coda is reached that introduces a new figure and a very short section of syncopation until a fragment of the first theme leads to the end of the movement - a D major chord.

II. Andante amorevole - Written in D major, the theme winds its way casually through the movement. The pace remains a leisurely walk with hardly any drama. The short movement ends in D major.

III. Menuetto - Mendelssohn returns to D minor for the minuet that is in the spirit of a Haydn peasant stomp. The trio section is in B-flat major. The minuet is not repeated after the trio. There is a short coda that follows the trio that focuses on material heard in the trio with not a trace of the music of the minuet, and the movement ends in B-flat major.

IV. Allegro molto -  An early example of the quick tempo music that shows up in Mendelssohn's music. It is a foreshadowing of the tarantella of the 4th Symphony written years later. A fugal section follows, and the pattern is repeated until the opening music returns and leads to a short coda that ends the work.

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