Mendelssohn – Italian Symphony – Part 1 [ANALYSIS]

Last updated Jan 30, 2024 | Published on Mar 11, 2021

Winner of a fellowship at the Bayreuther Festspiele, Mr. Griglio’s conducting has been praised for his “energy” and “fine details”. Mr. Griglio took part in the first world recording of music by composer Irwin Bazelon and conducted several world premieres like "The song of Eddie", by Harold Farberman, a candidate for the Pulitzer Prize. Principal Conductor of International Opera Theater Philadelphia for four years, Mr.Griglio is also active as a composer. His first opera, Camille Claudel, debuted in 2013 to a great success of audience and critics. Mr. Griglio is presently working on an opera on Caravaggio and Music Director of Opera Odyssey.

Table of contents


The tour of Europe that Mendelssohn took between 1829 and 1832 was a very fruitful one: landscapes of Nordic countries and islands inspired the Scottish Symphony and The Hebrides. Just the same, the vitality of Italy sparked Mendelssohn’s imagination for the Italian symphony.

Portrait of Mendelssohn by the German painter Eduard Magnus, 1846

Portrait of Mendelssohn by the German painter Eduard Magnus, 1846

This symphony is often referred to as a musical postcard from Italy. However, it’s not until the last movement that we hear an authentic Italian musical folk tune.

The other 3 movements are the fruit of Mendelssohn’s musical imagination. They are the depiction of how Italy made him feel, in all its various aspects: from the market to a religious procession, from a courtly dance to a peasant dance.


Should you need a score you can find one here.


The first movement is full of energy and optimism. It’s a scene from an Italian piazza, full of spirit, with people talking everywhere, and, of course, being loud: the motor is provided by the chatter of the horns and woodwinds – minus the oboes – with sharp staccato repeated eight notes. The initial fortepiano is accentuated by a single pizzicato of the strings

Mendelssohn Symphony 4 Mov 1 ex 1

The first theme enters 2 bars later. These could very well be sellers in a market. Notice how the only strings playing are the violins in octaves, preserving a certain lightness and freshness. We’ll have to wait till bar 10 to hear the lower strings where the head of the theme turns out to be a very important motivic element

Mendelssohn Symphony 4 Mov 1 ex 2

Technical tip
This is quite a difficult piece for everyone involved: the staccato of the woodwinds to begin with. Everything is at a pace where you cannot afford distracting movements. The bottom line: keep it small and in the wrist

    For a full technical analysis, look up the video in the repertoire section


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    Cover image by Lucas Craig from Pexels

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    Gianmaria Griglio is an intelligent, exceptional musician. There is no question about his conducting abilities: he has exceptionally clear baton technique that allows him to articulate whatever decisions he has made about the music.

    Harold Farberman

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