Symphony No. 3 (Mendelssohn)

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The Symphony No. 3 in A minor, Op. 56, known as the Scottish, is a symphony by Felix Mendelssohn, composed between 1829 and 1842.



Mendelssohn claimed to have been inspired to write the symphony during his first visit to Britain in 1829.[1][2][3] After a series of successful performances in London, Mendelssohn embarked on a walking tour of Scotland with companion Karl Klingemann.[4][3] On 30 July, Mendelssohn visited the ruins of a chapel at Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh, where he had his initial idea for the piece.[1][2] He described the experience in a letter, in which he included a draft of the symphony's opening theme.[3] Mendelssohn and his companion later visited Staffa, which inspired the composer to write the Hebrides, a task which occupied him until its completion in 1830.[3]

After completing the Hebrides, Mendelssohn continued to work on his initial sketches of what would become Symphony No. 3 while touring Italy.[3] However, he struggled to make progress, and after 1831 set the piece aside.[3]

Mendelssohn returned to the symphony in 1841 and completed it in Berlin on 20 January 1842.[2][5] Although it was the fifth and final of Mendelssohn's symphonies to be completed, it was the third to be published, and has subsequently been known as Symphony No. 3.[3]


The premiere took place on 3 March 1842 in Leipzig Gewandhaus.


The work is scored for an orchestra consisting of two flutes, two oboes, two clarinets in B flat and A, two bassoons, two horns in C and A, two horns in E, F and D, two trumpets in D, timpani, and strings.


It is in four movements, marked as follows:

  1. Andante con moto — Allegro un poco agitato (A minor)
  2. Vivace non troppo (F major)
  3. Adagio (A major)
  4. Allegro vivacissimo — Allegro maestoso assai (A minor → A major)

The emotional scope of the work is wide, consisting of a grand first movement, a joyous and fairly brief second movement, a slow movement maintaining an apparent struggle between love and fate, and a finale that takes its components from Scottish folk dance. The lively second movement is melodically and rhythmically in the style of Scottish folk music, although no direct quotations have been identified. A peculiarity lies in the coda of the finale, where Mendelssohn introduces a complete new German majestic theme to close the work in a completely different manner from the rest of the finale. The conductor Otto Klemperer disliked this coda and wrote his own ending in a vein similar to the general character of the movement.[6] Recordings of him conducting both endings are available.[7][8]


Symphony No. 3 in A Minor, op. 56; 1st movement: Andante con moto – Allegro un poco agitato

Symphony No. 3 in A Minor, op. 56; 2nd movement: Scherzo: Vivace non troppo

Symphony No. 3 in A Minor, op. 56; 3rd movement: Adagio

Symphony No. 3 in A Minor, op. 56; 4th movement: Allegro vivacissimo – Allegro maestoso assai

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