Movement 1: Adagio – Allegro
Movement 2: Larghetto con moto
Movement 3: Scherzo: Allegro
Movement 4: Finale: Allegretto
Anyone hearing Spohr’s symphony for the first time will immediately recognize the influence of his great symphonic predecessors. The Adagio introduction, with its powerful opening and upward-rushing string passages, along with the relaxed 3/4 main theme of the Allegro, point right away to Mozart’s Symphony No 39, K543, in the same key.
However, Spohr balances the influence of his hero with many examples of his burgeoning Romantic individuality, such as the harmonic richness of the introduction and the march-like second subject, a definite import from Spohr’s concerto style. In a dramatic stroke this theme’s return in the recapitulation is pianissimo and in the unexpected key of C major; it then reaches C minor before its repeat, forte, in the tonic of E flat major. The development section is characterized by its fugal treatment of the main theme, driven by three repeated notes, while the trumpet and drum fanfares of the tuttis serve as a reminder of Haydn’s London symphonies.
The Larghetto con moto—like the slow movement to Mozart’s K543 in A flat major—is in other respects closer to Haydn as it features one of those ‘nursery-rhyme’ tunes of which Haydn was so fond. It opens attractively with the cellos presenting the tune accompanied by pizzicato basses before the violins take over the lead. A contrasting idea is eventually combined with the main theme and the material is enveloped by delicate filigree decoration in the later stages. The brusque opening of the scherzo shows that Spohr was familiar with Beethoven’s style, but again he stamps his own harmonic mark on this movement. Metrical changes from 3/4 to 2/4 are also characteristic of Spohr, while the C minor trio is dominated by triplets and a descending chromatic bass.
A light-hearted theme starts the Allegretto finale but the music opens out with colourful harmonies as the second subject is fashioned from part of the opening tune. After a contrapuntal development there is a poetic lead-back to the reprise in which the main theme is this time presented on the wind instruments. Spohr avoids a lengthy coda, preferring a brief winding-up of the movement, and in his review Hoffmann found this to be rather abrupt though he preferred it to many contemporary works which ‘seem almost incapable of reaching their conclusion for they pile ending upon ending which is fatiguing for the listener’.
from notes by Keith Warsop © 2007
Chairman, Spohr Society of Great Britain