Mendelssohn's early symphonies for string orchestra were written between 1821 and 1823, from the ages of twelve to fourteen. They defy simple historical categorisation and illustrate the tension between the state of symphonic writing around 1820 and a pedagogical impulse on the part of Mendelssohn's composition teacher, Carl Friedrich Zelter, who was anxious that his highly gifted pupil should try his hand at ‘cold’ material.
His point of departure from composition of that era, was not Beethoven’s, Mozart’s or Haydn’s symphonies, but a tradition that already seemed antiquated half a century previously, namely Bach, Johann Gottlieb Graun and Georg Benda.
That these string symphonies
have now found a place in the concert hall and in the repertory of chamber ensembles is attributable to the fact that, their historical and stylistic untimeliness notwithstanding, the musical substance of these playful works far exceeds the didactic aim for which they were originally written.
“Vigorous tempi, incisive articulation and buoyant rhythm are the marks of an extremely lively style of performance, distinguished by irresistible verve and dash.” (Kleine Zeitung, Salzburg)
“The musicians … render the works with perfect craftsmanship and virtuosity, bringing out the maturity and genius they hold. … For all its emotion, the playing retains its transparency, exposing the brilliantly composed polyphonic layers and rhythmic shifts to the ear.” (FonoForum)