Movement 1: Andante – Allegro
Movement 2: Larghetto
Movement 3: Scherzo
Movement 4: Presto
In the fifth symphony Spohr seems to have poured out the pent-up emotions of his losses in the 1830s with real expressive power. For the first movement he revised a fantasy-overture he had written in November 1836 on Ernst Raupach’s adaptation of the mythical tragedy The Daughter of the Air by the Spanish dramatist Calderón (1600–1681) about the Assyrian princess Semiramis, though the composer did not assign any programme to the symphony. The work opens with a slow introduction in C major featuring a lyrical theme over a pedal point. All seems serene at first but gradually the music becomes more animated and then the full orchestra erupts with a powerful Allegro motif in C minor. This is extended with considerable impetus before the mood relaxes somewhat for the second subject in E flat, but tension quickly returns until the development. Here an oboe brings back the lyrical theme from the slow introduction, but this period of repose is interrupted by development of the second subject. The lyrical theme tries again, this time on the violins in a relaxed G major with a pizzicato accompaniment, but soon an undertow of the Allegro material appears and the recapitulation bursts in. In the coda the mood is restless and uncertain, but finally brightens up to C major after seeming to head for a minor key conclusion.
The Larghetto in A flat major is one of Spohr’s finest slow movements. It is the heart of the symphony with an elevated, aspiring theme leading to instrumental ‘sighs’ as three trombones add gravity to the orchestration. A more active contrasting section works with a dotted fugato figure, and when the main material returns to build up to the movement’s climax this fugato phrase is incorporated into the texture, and is then recalled by the horns to permeate the coda.
A horn call opens the C major Scherzo which works with a short motif full of energy, and is contrasted with a trio in D flat major which is dominated by delicate interweaving of the wind instruments while the strings play pizzicato, before the coda combines both scherzo and trio. This Scherzo was encored at the Vienna premiere.
The Presto finale brings a return of conflict and the key of C minor in a stormy, contrapuntal outpouring which drives forward without let-up, while trombones in their highest register emphasize the drama. The lyrical theme from the first movement returns to do duty as the second subject with its rhythm adapted to the restless energy of the finale. This lyrical theme starts the coda in A flat major, but the mood of restlessness is not really resolved despite a modulation back to C major as the final chords are punched out.
from notes by Keith Warsop © 2008
Chairman, Spohr Society of Great Britain