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Rethinking Mendelssohn$
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Benedict Taylor

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9780190611781

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780190611781.001.0001

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An Epic Voice with Rhyme and Reason

An Epic Voice with Rhyme and Reason

On Rehearing Mendelssohn’s ‘Scottish’ Symphony

(p.91) 4 An Epic Voice with Rhyme and Reason
Rethinking Mendelssohn

Scott Burnham

Oxford University Press

This chapter considers the particular qualities that make Felix Mendelssohn’s symphonic writing so distinctive, as exemplified in the Third (‘Scottish’) Symphony. Focusing on key features such as sound (the characteristic ‘Scottish’ Nebelstimmung), scenically evocative elements (such as the music’s suggestion of battles, storms, and daybreak), and the ballad-like tone, it sets Mendelssohn’s practice against precedents in the symphonic work of Beethoven, not in order to enact yet again the lopsided binary that defines some composer negatively in terms of Beethoven but rather better to profile what is striking in Mendelssohn’s symphony. A concluding section, comparing the symphonic art of the two composers to the contrasting translations of Homer by Chapman and Pope, asks why reception history has for so long ignored the mastery and skill of Mendelssohn’s own symphonic achievement.

Keywords:   Felix Mendelssohn, ‘Scottish’ Symphony, symphonic tradition, Beethoven, epic

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