Just how "Scottish" is the "Scottish" symphony? Thoughts on form and poetic content in Mendelssohn’s opus 56

Thomas Schmidt-Beste

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy's Third Symphony in A Minor, Op. 56 is-and always has been-the 'Scottish' Symphony: this idea seems to be one of the eternal truths of Mendelssohn scholarship, so obvious that any discussion about it would appear superfluous. Until very recendy, every study dealing with the work has taken the tide and all its associations for gran ted, not only as a label but as a starting point for any number of theories concerning the programmatic or poetic content of the piece-some rather generic, others quite detailed, treating the piece movement by movement.

It may come as something of a surprise, therefore, that Mende1ssohn never authorized the tide and that the work was published and long performed simply as the 'Third Symphony in A Minor, Op. 56'. In fact, during Mendelssohn's lifetime and for years after his death, no mention was made of any supposed association with Scotland in the literature concerning the symphony. To put it quite simply, no one seems to have been aware of it. Even Robert Schumann, very elose to Mendelssohn especially in the late 1830s and early 1840s, did not refer to the work as 'Scottish'-on the contrary, his review contains the famous error of treating the 'Scottish' as the 'Italian', according to information which he had reportedly received 'third hand'.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationMendelssohn
EditorsBenedict Taylor
PublisherTaylor and Francis
Number of pages20
ISBN (Electronic)9781351558525
ISBN (Print)9781472435392
Publication statusPublished - 28 Nov 2015


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