Movement 1: Largo – Allegro
Movement 2: Andantino – Allegro – Andantino
Movement 3: Tempo di Marcia – Andante maestoso
Movement 4: Larghetto – Allegretto
The second movement handles sounds associated with a domestic and social setting in three separate sections, two marked Andantino representing a lullaby and a lover’s serenade with solo cello separated by an Allegro dance. To unify the movement Spohr brings back all three sections simultaneously as a coda in which time signatures of 2/8, 3/8 and 9/16 are combined. Spohr was no doubt inspired by a similar feat in the dance scene from Act I of Mozart’s Don Giovanni, an opera he greatly admired.
Verses six and seven picture war and battle, and these provided the opportunity for a march movement, thereby being both descriptive of the poem and—following Rochlitz’s advice—an infrequently used symphonic form. (Of course, two years earlier, in 1830, Berlioz had composed a march movement in his Symphonie fantastique, but Spohr appears not to have known this work at the time he conceived his own symphony.) After the march proper there are contrasting sections covering the strife and the anxious feelings of those left at home before the march storms back to an exalted victory. The tempo broadens to Andante maestoso and Bach-like contrapuntal string figurations accompany a chorale theme which Spohr identifies as the Ambrosian Hymn of Praise or Te Deum, with the melody (1540) by Johann Kugelmann (1495–1542).
In the finale, funeral music—Larghetto in F minor—starts up with drum rolls and sighing appoggiaturas from the wind instruments. A gravely beautiful chorale, Begrabt den Leib in seiner Gruft, on cellos and clarinets with a halting pizzicato accompaniment, mourns the dead; not, presumably, just those who were slain in the third movement’s battle but also those close to Spohr who had died the previous year. The music reaches F major as the tempo notches up to Allegretto; now comes ‘Consolation through tears’, a gentle theme bringing the symphony to a final state of resigned acceptance. Spohr requested that this finale should be performed very softly and restfully, so that even the fortissimos ought not to be rough or hard.
Spohr conducted the symphony’s premiere in Kassel on 4 November 1832 and this work was very quickly acclaimed as his symphonic masterpiece, remaining in the core repertoire for many decades. If we except the last section of Haydn’s ‘Farewell’ Symphony (No 45) there is no precedent among Spohr’s great predecessors for closing a symphony with a slow finale. This therefore was definitely an ‘infrequently used form’ and this finale of Spohr’s proved an important example to future composers, including Tchaikovsky (Symphony No 6) and Mahler (Symphonies Nos 3 and 9).
from notes by Keith Warsop © 2008
Chairman, Spohr Society of Great Britain