Part 1 No 1: Winter. Allegro maestoso
Part 1 No 2: Transition to Spring. L'istesso tempo
Part 1 No 3: Spring. Moderato – Presto – Moderato
Part 2 No 1: Summer. Largo
Part 2 No 2: Introduction to Autumn. Allegro vivace
Part 2 No 3: Autumn. L'istesso tempo
The symphony is scored for a large orchestra, including four horns, three trombones and a bass horn (serpent or ophicleide), and has an unusual construction with its division into two parts, the first linking winter and spring and the second summer and autumn. Part One seems to reflect Spohr’s own January misfortunes, for most other works based on the seasons—Vivaldi’s four violin concertos, Haydn’s oratorio, Raff’s cycle of four symphonies and Glazunov’s ballet—open with spring and close in winter. By contrast, Spohr’s symphony starts in the depths of winter, with powerful outbursts alternating with icy interludes on the wind instruments and pizzicato strings, while a trudging second subject which reaches B major in the recapitulation is blown aside by the insistent main theme and a return to B minor. Eventually winter’s motif seems to melt away and the sound of birdsong heralds the emergence of spring, a scherzo and trio. A languorous dance, Moderato, still accompanied by the birdsong, is contrasted with a much livelier Presto before this first section returns.
Summer begins Part Two, Largo, with the evocation of sultry heat achieved through dividing muted strings into nine separate parts. A central section dominated by a theme on horn and woodwind brings sounds of distant thunder before the heat returns, the music rises to a climax and then slowly dies away. Horn calls announce the arrival of autumn with their hunting rhythms, and Spohr also celebrates the season of wine festivals by quoting a then-popular drinking song, the Rheinweinlied ‘Bekränzt mit Laub’ (‘Decorate with a garland of leaves’) from the Lieder im Volkston (1782) by J A P Schulz (1747–1800). This undergoes fugal treatment in the development in combination with Spohr’s own main motif. The positive and joyful conclusion to the symphony suggests that Spohr had put his unfortunate wintry experiences firmly behind him. The work had its first performance at a Leipzig Gewandhaus concert on 24 October 1850, followed swiftly by a London outing under the baton of Michael Balfe (composer of The Bohemian Girl) on 25 November.
from notes by Keith Warsop © 2012
Chairman, Spohr Society of Great Britain