In the field of orchestral music, Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy created works that are rightly considered classical examples of the art of music. However, this does not apply with equal force to each of them. The reason for some “creative failures”, if they can be called so, is the fact that the forms and means used by the composer for the development of classical symphony do not always correspond to his musical images, which are essentially lyrical. Mendelssohn had achieved good results whenever he embodies his ideas based on the peculiarities of his subject matter and of his artistic and poetic thinking.
Typical examples of this are his symphonies, five in number. The first of them, written at the age of 15, is a testament to the early mastery of compositional techniques. The second, the so-called the “Reformation” Symphony and the Cantata symphony “Praise Song” were written “on the occasion”: “The Reformation” (1829-1830) is associated with the celebration of 300 years of the Reformation, and the Symphony-cantata “Song of Praise” (1840) is dedicated to the 400th anniversary of the invention of book printing.
Mendelssohn himself considers his “Reformation” symphony a failure. It was never published during his lifetime and only after the composer’s death did it enter a posthumous edition. “Song of Praise” (whose structure with a choral finale resembles Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony) sounds quite solemn and monumental, but this is a purely external quality and is not enough to classify the work as a significant musical phenomenon. The other two symphonies – Scottish and Italian – belong to the best pages of Mendelssohn’s work. Their artistic design is based on rich and vivid impressions from the two countries visited: the artistic and sunny nature of Italy and the romanticized history and nature of Scotland. The successful internal merging between a specific creative task and its embodiment in a certain form determines the high artistic quality of these two works.
“Song of Praise ” Lobgesang Opus 52 is a 13-part Symphony-Cantata based on Bible tests for soloists, choir, organ and orchestra. Composed in 1840, together with the lesser-known Gutenberg Cantata, after Mendelssohn’s death it was published as Symphony II in E flat major, but neither the numbering nor the title is copyrighted. Two years later, in 1842, the Scottish Symphony appeared under number 3, although in practice the Second Symphony had not yet been published. It is possible that the composer intended to keep this number for The “Italian” Symphony he had written earlier, which premiered in 1833, but at the end it was the work that was left for reworking that was never completed – The “Italian” Symphony was published posthumously as Symphony IV. Decades after Mendelssohn’s death, the publishers of his work, for their own publishing reasons, referred to the “Song of Praise” opus 52 as Symphony II. However, there is no concrete evidence that the composer had exactly such an intention. Mendelssohn’s new catalog of works, published in 2009 by the Saxon Academy of Sciences and Arts, no longer classifies “Song of Praise” as a symphony, but ranks it among his sacred vocal works.
“Song of Praise” was composed for 2 sopranos, tenor, organ, choir and orchestra. Structurally, the symphony contains three entirely instrumental parts, followed by 10 parts for choir, soloists and orchestra. The work lasts almost twice as long as the other purely instrumental symphonies of the composer – it is about 65-70 minutes.