Mendelssohn Scottish and Beethoven Eight | Midsummer Dreams | Canberra
Mendelssohn Scottish & Beethoven Eight
MENDELSSOHN Overture to A Midsummer Night's Dream, Op.21 (1826)
BEETHOVEN Symphony No.8 in F major, Op.93 (1812)
MENDELSSOHN 'Scottish' Symphony No.3 in A minor, Op.56 (1842)
Like all European young men of means in the 19th century, Felix Mendelssohn set off on a Grand Tour of Europe at the age of 20. Unusually, however, Mendelssohn elected to begin in Scotland – and while there he was greatly moved by the dramatic landscape and the bloody history of Mary Queen of Scots. He began writing his Scottish Symphony while on his tour, although he didn’t complete it until a decade later. But clearly, Scotland had left its mark on him, and the symphony seems to evoke the striking countryside.
Equally evocative is Mendelssohn’s Overture to Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, written when he was just 16 – the quick, playful strings at the start suggest the scampering of fairies’ feet, and later one can hear the braying of Bottom after he has been turned into a donkey.
Beethoven’s Eighth Symphony features a lightness of touch, but it is perhaps his most radical symphony. It completely abandons the traditional structure of a symphony, leaps from loud to soft without warning, and at every turn surprises and confounds expectations. When asked by his pupil Carl Czerny why the Eighth was less popular than the Seventh, Beethoven is said to have replied, "because the Eighth is so much better" – an appropriately enigmatic answer for a fascinating work!