Olav Audunsson and Undset Translations
Another Liturgical Note

Surprise Symphony

I went to hear the Mobile Symphony on Saturday. There were three works on the fairly short program: Rossini's overture to The Thieving Magpie, Saint-Seans's Violin Concerto #3, and Mendelssohn's Symphony #4, known as "The Italian." I was slightly surprised to find that I recognized the overture--just slightly, not very. I knew it was one of those that gets played fairly often, and figured I had probably heard it on the radio somewhere along the way.

I did not recognize the violin concerto, and I quite enjoyed it. I will no doubt seek it out again. The violinist was Bella Hristova, and all I can say about her performance was that I enjoyed and admired it--there's some tricky stuff in there, as in most 19th century violin concertos, though something I read, maybe in the program notes, said that it's not as difficult as his other violin concertos. As an encore she played what I think was a movement from one of Bach's unaccompanied violin works, and I liked it as much as the concerto.

The surprise was the Mendelssohn. I've never gone out of my way to listen to Mendelssohn very much, though as the parent of a violinist I became very aware of the violin concerto. I figured I had heard the Italian at some point or other, perhaps a broadcast concert or something, but can't remember ever having actively listened to it. So I was very surprised when they struck it up and heard something very, very familiar. If I'd heard it without knowing what it was, I would have thought now which Beethoven symphony is that? I would have bet money that it was Beethoven, and I don't bet. Or perhaps I would have refused to bet, on the grounds that it wouldn't be sporting to bet on something where I was sure I was right.

So I'm puzzled. The rest of the symphony was as unfamiliar as the first movement was familiar. I'm wondering if the opening measures have been used as the theme of some movie or tv show. If anyone has any idea why it might be so familiar, I'd like to hear it.

Here's a performance of the entire symphony:

To tell you the truth, I didn't really listen very well to the rest of it, because I was so preoccupied with wondering about that opening.


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I think that the opening is one of those bits of classical music that has been used in many TV shows and movies, and even commercials, like the beginning of Mozart's Eine kleine Nachtmusik or the opening to the 40th symphony, and of course Beethoven's 5th.

I'm not a huge Mendelssohn fan, but I do like the third, fourth, and fifth symphonies, and also the Hebrides Overture. And some of his solo piano music is very nice. I especially like the "Songs Without Words."

"one of those bits"--yeah, that must be it, but I sure can't think of anything. I like the Songs Without Words, too.

I think that opening was used in the movie, Breaking Away with Dennis Quaid in the late 1970s. Might that be it?

No, I've never seen that. But where there's one such use, there may be others.

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