Symphony No.4 in A major Op.90 ('Italian')
Felix Mendelssohn


Listen to this piece at now

The third of 5 entries for Mendelssohn in the Ultimate Hall of Fame. This has appeared in every chart, peaking at number 101 in 1999.

While the nicknames of many musical works were added after their creation (and often not even by the composers themselves), in the case of Mendelssohn the subtitles given to particular pieces of music were both wholly intentional and immediately revealing. Two of his earlier works the 'Scottish' Symphony and the Hebrides Overture were both directly inspired by scenes north of the border, and his Symphony No.4 is a musical postcard home from Italy.

On one level, however, the 'Italian' Symphony is not particularly Italian. Not for Mendelssohn the continuous use of local folk songs or musical traditions; instead, the work is much more an expression of how Italy made him feel. Indeed, it's not until the final movement some twenty minutes into the symphony that we first hear a genuinely Italian music motif, in this case the sound of a national peasant dance.

Canal by Maurice Prendergast (c.1911).