“Without any real purpose, just for my enjoyment,” Felix Mendelssohn travelled around the Scottish islands after a guest performance in London in 1829. Their wild nature, still to a large extent pristine, which Mendelssohn also recorded in drawings in his travel journal, and his encounter with evidence of Scottish history inspired the young composer to two of his best-known orchestral works.
With his concert overture The Hebrides op. 26, Mendelssohn paid musical tribute to a group of islands off the northwest coast of Scotland; his visit to Edinburgh provided the impetus for him to compose his Third Symphony: “We went in the deep twilight to the palace where Queen Mary lived and loved,” Mendelssohn wrote to his parents on 30 July 1829. “The chapel next door is lacking a roof; grass and ivy grow abundantly on it; and before the altar, now in ruins, Mary was crowned Queen of Scots. Everything around is broken and mouldering, and the bright sky shines through. I believe I found today the beginning of my Scottish Symphony.”
For this 2014 concert with the Berliner Philharmoniker, Alan Gilbert combines this work by Mendelssohn with Symphony No. 3 by the Dane Carl Nielsen, premiered with the composer conducting in 1912. The work, which he gave the enigmatic title Sinfonia espansiva, is a perfect example of symphonic traditions beyond the German-speaking cultural sphere – and thus worth discovering time and again!