The tour of Europe that Mendelssohn took between 1829 and 1832 was a very fruitful one: landscapes of Nordic countries and islands inspired the Scottish Symphony and The Hebrides. Just the same, the vitality of Italy sparked Mendelssohn’s imagination for the Italian symphony.
Portrait of Mendelssohn by the German painter Eduard Magnus, 1846
This symphony is often referred to as a musical postcard from Italy. However, it’s not until the last movement that we hear an authentic Italian musical folk tune. The other 3 movements are the fruit of Mendelssohn’s musical imagination. They are the depiction of how Italy made him feel, in all its various aspects: from the market to a religious procession, from a courtly dance to a peasant dance.
Should you need a score you can find one here.
The first movement is full of energy and optimism. It’s a scene from an Italian piazza, full of spirit, with people talking everywhere, and, of course, being loud: the motor is provided by the chatter of the horns and woodwinds – minus the oboes – with sharp staccato repeated eight notes. The initial fortepiano is accentuated by a single pizzicato of the strings
The first theme enters 2 bars later. These could very well be sellers in a market. Notice how the only strings playing are the violins in octaves, preserving a certain lightness and freshness. We’ll have to wait till bar 10 to hear the lower strings where the head of the theme turns out to be a very important motivic element