Symphony No. 3 (Mendelssohn)


The Symphony No. 3 in A minor, Op. 56, known as the ''Scottish'', is a symphony by
Felix Mendelssohn Jakob Ludwig Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy (3 February 18094 November 1847), born and widely known as Felix Mendelssohn, was a German composer, pianist, organist and conductor of the early Romantic Romantic may refer to: Genres and eras * The ...

Felix Mendelssohn
, composed between 1829 and 1842.



Mendelssohn was initially inspired to compose this symphony during his first visit to Britain in 1829. After a series of successful performances in London, Mendelssohn embarked on a walking tour of Scotland with his friend Karl Klingemann. On 30 July, Mendelssohn visited the ruins of Holyrood Chapel at
Holyrood Palace The Palace of Holyroodhouse ( or ), commonly referred to as Holyrood Palace or Holyroodhouse, is the official residence An official residence is the House, residence of nation's head of state, head of government, governor, Clergy, religious ...

Holyrood Palace
in Edinburgh, where, as he related to his family in a letter, he received his initial inspiration for the piece: Alongside this description, Mendelssohn enclosed in his letter a scrap of paper with the opening bars of what would become the symphony's opening theme. A few days later Mendelssohn and his companion visited the western coast of Scotland and the island of Staffa, which in turn inspired the composer to start ''the Hebrides''. After completing the first version of ''the Hebrides'', Mendelssohn continued to work on his initial sketches of what would become Symphony No. 3 while touring Italy. However, he struggled to make progress, and after 1831 set the piece aside. It is not known exactly when Mendelssohn resumed work on the symphony (sketches suggest he may have returned to the first movement in the late 1830s) but he was certainly working in earnest on the piece by 1841 and completed the symphony in Berlin on 20 January 1842. It was slightly revised after early performances, excising 111 bars of material in total, and the revised version is the one almost universally performed. Although it was the fifth and final of Mendelssohn's symphonies to be completed, it was the third to be published, and has subsequently been known as Symphony No. 3. Intriguingly, despite describing the work as his 'Scottish Symphony' to his family in 1829, by the time the work was published in 1842 Mendelssohn never publicly called attention to the symphony's Scottish inspiration, and it is debatable whether he intended the finished work to be considered 'Scottish'. Ever since the Scottish provenance became known following the composer's death, however, audiences have found it hard not to hear the piece as evoking the wild Romantic landscapes of the north - even if such picturesque associations have caused audiences to overlook the many other musical qualities of this symphony.


The premiere took place on 3 March 1842 in the
Leipzig Gewandhaus Gewandhaus is a concert hall in Leipzig, Germany, the home of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra. Today's hall is the third to bear this name; like the second, it is noted for its fine acoustics. History * The first concert hall was constructed i ...


The work is scored for an orchestra consisting of two
flute The flute is a family of musical instrument A musical instrument is a device created or adapted to make musical sounds. In principle, any object that produces sound can be considered a musical instrument—it is through purpose that the objec ...

s, two
oboe The oboe ( ) is a type of double reed A double reed is a type of reed Reed or Reeds may refer to: Science, technology, biology, and medicine * Reed bird (disambiguation) * Reed pen, writing implement in use since ancient times * Reed ( ...

s, two
clarinet The clarinet is a family of woodwind instrument Woodwind instruments are a family of musical instruments A musical instrument is a device created or adapted to make musical sounds. In principle, any object that produces sound can be cons ...

s in B flat and A, two
bassoon The bassoon is a woodwind instrument Woodwind instruments are a family of musical instruments A musical instrument is a device created or adapted to make musical sounds. In principle, any object that produces sound can be considered a m ...

s, two
horns Horns or The Horns may refer to: * Plural of Horn (instrument) A horn is any of a family of musical instrument A musical instrument is a device created or adapted to make musical sounds. In principle, any object that produces sound can be con ...

in C and A, two horns in E, F and D, two
trumpet The trumpet is a brass instrument A brass instrument is a that produces sound by of air in a tubular in sympathy with the vibration of the player's lips. Brass instruments are also called labrosones or labrophones, from Latin and Greek ...

s in D,
timpani Timpani (; ) or kettledrums (also informally called timps) are musical instruments in the percussion instrument, percussion family. A type of drum categorised as a hemispherical drum, they consist of a Membranophone, membrane called a drumhead, ...

, and
strings String or strings may refer to: *String (structure), a long flexible structure made from threads twisted together, which is used to tie, bind, or hang other objects Arts, entertainment, and media Films * Strings (1991 film), ''Strings'' (1991 fil ...


Mendelssohn's symphony is in four interconnected movements: Unusually, Mendelssohn marked the movements to be performed without breaks, and underlined the connection between the symphony's parts by making them grow from the continual thematic transformation of the original idea he had notated in 1829, presented in the slow introduction to the first movement. Despite this overriding concern for musical unity the emotional scope of the work is wide, consisting of a dark and stormy first movement, a joyous and fairly brief second movement, a slow movement maintaining an apparent struggle between love and fate, and a finale that takes its components from
Scottish folk dance Image:SCD 05SV 001.jpg, 275px, Scottish country dancing at the 2005 Skagit Valley Highland Games in Mount Vernon, Washington, US. Scottish country dance (SCD) is the distinctively Scottish form of country dance, itself a form of social dance inv ...
. The lively second movement is melodically and rhythmically in the style of
Scottish folk music Scottish folk music (also Scottish traditional music) is music that uses forms that are identified as part of the Scottish musical tradition. There is evidence that there was a flourishing culture of popular music in Scotland during the late Midd ...
, using the notes of the
pentatonic scale A pentatonic scale is a musical with five per , in contrast to the , which has seven notes per octave (such as the and ). Pentatonic scales were developed independently by many ancient civilizations and are still used in various musical s ...
and the characteristic
Scotch snap The Lombard rhythm or Scotch snap is a syncopated Syncopation is a musical term meaning a variety of rhythms played together to make a piece of music, making part or all of a tune or piece of music off-beat. More simply, syncopation is "a di ...
rhythm, although no direct quotations have ever been identified. A novel feature lies in the
coda Coda or CODA may refer to: Arts, entertainment, and media Films * ''Coda'' (1987 film), an Australian horror film about a serial killer, made for television * ''Coda'' (2019 film), a Canadian drama film starring Patrick Stewart, Katie Holmes, a ...
of the finale, where Mendelssohn introduces a new majestic theme in A major to close the work in a contrasting manner to the rest of the A minor finale. Akin to a victory hymn and intended by Mendelssohn to allude to a male-voice choir, this ending returns to the balladic tone of the first movement's introduction, transforming the material of the original inspiration for the piece Mendelssohn had twelve years before. Contemporary musicians such as
Robert Schumann Robert Schumann (; 8 June 181029 July 1856) was a German composer, pianist, and influential music critic. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest composers of the Romantic Romantic may refer to: Genres and eras * The Romantic era, an ar ...

Robert Schumann
found the effect highly poetic, though some later twentieth-century critics have shown aversion to the 'happy ending'. The conductor
Otto Klemperer Otto Nossan Klemperer (14 May 18856 July 1973) was a German-born orchestral conductor and composer, described as "the last of the few really great conductors of his generation." Early life Otto Klemperer was born in Breslau, Province of Silesi ...

Otto Klemperer
, for instance, disliked this coda and wrote his own ending in a vein similar to the general character of the movement. Recordings of him conducting both endings are available. However, removing the maestoso coda destroys the intricate cyclic structure Mendelssohn has created across the symphony's four movements and nowadays critics are more inclined to recognize the composer's original and lasting contribution to the nineteenth-century symphony.Benedict Taylor, ''Mendelssohn, Time and Memory: The Romantic Conception of Cyclic Form'' (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), pp. 263-75.



External links

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Full scoreMendelssohn in Scotland
{{Authority control Symphonies by Felix Mendelssohn 1842 compositions Compositions in A minor