Symphony No. 5 in D minor, Op. 107, “Reformation” – Felix Mendelssohn
That’s right, it’s Felix Mendelssohn’s “Reformation” Symphony! Now I know what you’re thinking: how is this a Halloween piece? Well, it’s not. But it is very fitting for the other October 31st holiday – Reformation Day, the day when Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-five Theses to the door of All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg! Just think of this final seasonally-appropriate inclusion as both a trick and a treat – a trick because, well, I assume you thought this would be something scary, and a treat because this symphony is an utter delight.
Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847) wrote his Fifth Symphony in 1830 in honor of the 300th anniversary of the Augsburg Confession. The work wasn’t performed as part of the June festivities, however. In fact, it wasn’t performed at all until two years later, and even then, Mendelssohn decided not to officially publish it (as he did with several other of his large-scale works, including the “Italian” Symphony). It was published posthumously in 1868. Mendelssohn used several well-known tunes and styles in this symphony in order to tie the work more clearly to its Reformation theme, quoting a couple of Catholic tunes, for example, to represent that which Martin Luther was protesting. The most recognizable (and central) example, though, comes in the final movement, which is based heavily on Ein’ feste Burg, Martin Luther’s chorale tune better known in English as the hymn “A Mighty Fortress is our God.”
– Henry Michaels
Resonance editor, Audience Services and Community Access Manager, Music Academy of the West