This is Italy! And now has begun what I have always thought… to be the supreme joy in life. And I am loving it. Today was so rich that now, in the evening, I must collect myself a little, and so I am writing to you to thank you, dear parents, for having given me all this happiness.
Felix Mendelssohn wrote these word from Venice in October, 1930 around the time he was composing the “Italian” Symphony. The same sunny, jubilant spirit invades the Symphony, which Mendelssohn described as “blue sky A major.” In the opening of the first movement (below), listen to the way the string melody seems to take flight, giving us a visceral sense of upward lift. At the end of the development section, listen to the almost mysterious way we return to this opening music. (I love the way the clarinet emerges, suddenly, out of the strings in this passage). The “Italian” Symphony’s final movement is a zesty Saltarello, an ancient Italian dance in fast triple meter which involves leaping steps.
This excerpt is from a new Deutsche Grammophon release featuring all five of Mendelssohn’s symphonies. Yannick Nézet-Séguin leads the Chamber Orchestra of Europe.