Mendelssohn was a conductor who held Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven as his ideal composers. But Mendelssohn was working in a different time, and his music demanded different harmonic configurations. Some of his harmonic configurations and modulations are difficult for an orchestra to get the first time (or the second, or the third), and some of his string parts (particularly the viola part of this piece, which I am playing) are downright uncomfortable to play for those same harmonic reasons. As a conductor/composer, and as a gentleman (which we knew he was), and considering the fact that he was working with the finest musicians in Germany, he knew that he couldn't blame the musicians for playing that was less expressive or less pristine than what he had in mind. He also knew from conducting the works of Beethoven and Mozart that it was possible to write music in such a way that everything could be a total pleasure for all the musicians to play.
Playing through this piece from the standpoint of a violist, and keeping Mendelssohn's ideals in mind, I can understand his pain, but before playing the viola part of the piece (I have played the flute parts), I had no idea why he would feel the way he did about the Symphony, which he never published during his lifetime.
It is interesting to contemplate the relationship of this Symphony to Fanny's "Das Jahr" cycle of piano music that I love so much. These few sentences from a letter that Felix from to Fanny make me wonder if he might have been inspired to write an Italian symphony by the quality of her musical impressions of her year in Rome for piano.
“The ‘Italian’ symphony is making great progress. It will be the jolliest piece I have ever done, especially the last movement. I have not found anything for the slow movement yet, and I think that I will save that for Naples.”There is something about the relationship between Felix and Fanny that makes me very sentimental. She was his older sister, and she was his very closest friend, and probably his greatest constant living musical inspiration, from very early childhood, and into their very short periods of adulthood.