Mendelssohn's Symphony No. 3
Beethoven's Symphony No. 6
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It’s that miraculous transformation of spirit that comes with a long vacation: Mendelssohn found his muse standing amid the ruins of Holyrood Abbey in Edinburgh, while Beethoven found his in the Austrian countryside. Both composers poured their exhilaration into picturesque symphonies, packing them with verve and irresistible melodies. Hear these 19th-century gems when Conductor Laureate Herbert Blomstedt leads the San Francisco Symphony.
At a Glance
Symphony No. 6, Pastoral 1808 | 40 mins
As the piece begins, we are little more than eavesdroppers. The music of Ludwig van Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony seems already to be in progress; we have simply stumbled within earshot. The Pastoral Symphony is a masterpiece of landscape painting, although Beethoven claimed he was attempting no literal description of the countryside itself. Instead, he said, the music was meant to capture the emotions that nature can evoke. LISTEN FOR: In this music Beethoven the nature lover offers a beautifully gauged mix of the explicit and the suggestive. Among the explicit elements are the birdcalls that close the Scene by the Brook and which Beethoven actually marks “nightingale” (flute), “quail” (oboe), and “cuckoo” (clarinet); the sometimes disarrayed village band music to which the country folk dance; the thunderstorm; and the yodeling shepherd’s song. But all these things are intelligible simply as music, and you never need a key to understand what is going on. Read More
Symphony No. 3, Scottish 1842 | 40 mins
During a three-week trip to Scotland in 1829 Felix Mendelssohn visited the Palace of Holyrood in Edinburgh and was moved to record this observation: “In the evening twilight we went today to the palace where Queen Mary lived and loved. . . The chapel close to it is now roofless, grass and ivy grow there, and at that broken altar Mary was crowned Queen of Scotland. Everything round is broken and mouldering and the bright sky shines in. I believe I have found today in that old chapel the beginning of my Scottish Symphony.” It was 1841 before Mendelssohn returned to his plan for such a work, noting at one point that he could not “find his way back into the Scottish fog mood.” While Mendelssohn’s Scottish Symphony does not, in fact, employ folk melodies from Scotland, his writing does conjure up a spirit that would have been deemed folk-like by many of its contemporary listeners, saturated in a passion that stirred Romantic souls. LISTEN FOR: The energetic music of the finale gives way to a noble song that sounds for all the world like a hymn of victory—a passage that Mendelssohn himself likened to the singing of a classic German men’s choir. Read More
Steven Ziegler is Managing Editor of the San Francisco Symphony