Mendelssohn: Symphonies 4 & 5

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Performing Mendelssohn’s fourth and fifth symphonies: problematic or self-explanatory? There is a saying: “Copy one book, and it’s plagiarism. Copy two, and it’s a doctoral dissertation”. The same is true of descriptions and commentaries on music of the past. Certain opinions are copied, translated, rehashed, or inflated, and subsequently go on to lead a life of their own as quasi-legends. Some of these illegitimate offspring are immediately recognisable for the music-lover: the ‘Diary of Anna Magdalena Bach’ has lost any credibility it ever might have had, and the beginning of Beethoven’s Fifth no longer inspires visions of Fate Knocking at the Door. But there are smaller leaks and deformations in the transmission of information, and these are more difficult to expose for what they are. In addition, a quotation is only rarely left in its original context, a positive invitation to a runaway sense of imagination….

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