When Gioacchino Rossini heard Mendelssohn play his Capriccio
in F sharp minor Op 5 (1825), he mused ‘Ça sent la sonate de Scarlatti’ (‘That has the feeling of a Scarlatti sonata’). Indeed, with its quirky leaps, twisting figurations and register displacements, the Capriccio
traces a lineage extending back to Domenico Scarlatti, whose zesty sonatas had been favoured by Muzio Clementi, the teacher of Ludwig Berger, with whom the young Mendelssohn studied piano and, for a while, composition. Formally, the work unfolds in two contrasting sections, alternating as ABAB. The A section features a series of awkwardly expanding leaps and jolting diminished-seventh harmonies, betraying why Mendelssohn referred to Op 5 as his ‘verrücktes Capriccio’ (‘madcap capriccio’). In contrast, the B section is studiously contrapuntal, and pits a sturdy, fugue-like subject against a rushing counter-subject. With Bachian ease, Mendelssohn later manipulates the subject by presenting it upside down in mirror inversion, and eventually in combination with its original form.
from notes by R Larry Todd © 2013