RECENT: Defining Our Field - what is 'classical music' to us, why are we involved and what can we learn from our differences? Read John Dante Prevedini's essay, watch the panel discussion and make your own comments.
Felix Mendelssohn's huge and neglected second symphony, Op 52, in B flat, was commissioned in 1840 for a festival in Leipzig to celebrate the four hundredth anniversary of Johannes Gutenberg's invention of the mechanical printing press. The work, first performed in J S Bach's Thomaskirche on 25 June 1840, is basically a journey from darkness to light. The first three movements are for orchestra alone, grouped as a sinfonia.
The symphony is generally called Lobgesang ('Hymn of Praise') due to it's extended vocal and choral finale which consists of a further nine separate numbers featuring three vocal soloists - two sopranos and a tenor - mixed choir, organ and orchestra. The words are taken from the Lutheran bible, and sung in German, and the whole work, which plays for well over an hour, is really a symphonic cantata.
Mendelssohn modelled his work on Beethoven's Choral Symphony, leaving himself vulnerable to his enemy Richard Wagner's quip that it was a pale imitation of Beethoven's more famous work. The Hymn of Praise Symphony was initally very popular, but has been seldom performed since its composer's death.