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A Choral Work as Symphony
Felix Mendelssohn was a musical prodigy from a very young age. Mendelssohn’s family helped cultivate his talents beyond music, including lessons in literature and painting. He studied piano, which included some travel to Paris with his sister where he took piano lessons. During his boyhood, he composed 5 operas, 11 symphonies for string orchestra, concerti, and sonatas.
Mendelssohn wrote the 5th symphony, the “Reformation” Symphony, in 1830 to celebrate the 300-year anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. As a devout Protestant, Mendelssohn wanted to compose a piece that symbolized the Reformation not with a choral work, which may have been expected, but with a four-movement symphony.
The Reformation Symphony has fiery string passages, a beautiful flute solo, and soaring brass in an exciting finale. You may even recognize six softly played rising notes, based on the Dresden Amen, which can be heard in some church services. Light-hearted themes come to life resembling a dance shared by various sections of the orchestra. Hear what sounds like a vocal aria played beautifully by the talented ESO violins.
A thrilling finale is based on the Lutheran hymn “Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott,” or “A Mighty Fortress is our God.” This section lives up to its name! With increasingly faster variations, the excitement builds to a spectacular finish with the orchestra playing the triumphant ending to Mendelssohn’s celebration of the Reformation.