21-22 YSOPB Final SINGLES - Flipbook - Page 86
Symphony No. 2 in B-flat major, Op. 52
“Lobgesang” (“Hymn of Praise”) (1840)
FELIX MENDELSSOHN BARTHOLDY
CLASSICAL SERIES: SCHUBERT’S “UNFINISHED”
(February 3, 1809-November 4, 1847)
Mendelssohn’s mature symphonies are numbered approximately in the
order that they were published, rather than the order in which they were
composed. The order of actual composition is 1, 5, 4, 2, 3. Symphony
No. 2 was composed in 1840 to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the
invention of the printing press and the appearance of the Gutenberg Bible.
His “Symphony No. 2” had never been published during Mendelssohn's
lifetime. After his death the editors of the Mendelssohn complete edition
decided his Op. 52 Lobgesang (Hymn of Praise), “A Symphony-Cantata for
Soloists, Chorus, and Orchestra,” should be called Symphony No. 2 in the
sequence for editorial reasons. There is no indication that this represented
the composer's intentions.
The concept of combining orchestra and voices in a symphony or
cantata was not new. Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, with three orchestral
movements before the chorus is added, is a likely influence. Mendelssohn’s
experience reviving and conducting massive sacred works by Handel and
J.S. Bach also provided many models. In Lobgesang, these predecessors
are updated to a mid-19th century style, using all available resources,
past and present, to convey the meaning of the text to the fullest extent
possible. The piece consists of a three-movement orchestral Sinfonia
attached to a nine-movement vocal cantata with biblical texts celebrating
mankind’s progress from darkness to enlightenment (as represented
by the Gutenberg Bible). The symphony and cantata are connected by
a recurring motive, first heard in the trombones at the beginning of the
Sinfonia. The work is almost twice as long as any of Mendelssohn’s other
symphonies. The text is based on Biblical excerpts and a text by Martin
Rinkart from the Evangelical Church Hymnal. The first performance was
June 25, 1840.
The Sinfonia begins with a majestic chorale featuring the trombones.
The Allegro that follows presents an uplifting theme for full orchestra,
contrasted by a gentler second theme in the winds and violas. Both themes
are developed in a variety of keys, melodic variations, and combinations.
The music eventually comes to a halt and the gentler second theme
returns. After one final reprise of the uplifting music, the movement comes
full circle with the opening majestic chorale. Surprisingly, this leads to a
direct segue to the second movement.
A tuneful melody contributes to a pleasant, occasionally melancholy
mood for the second movement. A contrasting section presents a theme
in a chorale-like setting reminiscent of the first movement. The first theme
returns and the movement winds down to a gentle close.
The third movement, Adagio religioso, begins with a quiet, reverent
chorale in the strings. Winds are gradually added to fill out the sound.
Accompanying figures under the chorale melody become increasingly
active, creating a gradual build to a full orchestral climax, followed by a
gentle winding down, bringing the Sinfonia to a reverent, satisfying close.