You are probably thinking about what time of year it is and looking at the title of this post and seeing no connection between the two. But something happened on October 31st in 1517:

Martin Luther nailing his 95 theses to the door of the church at Wittenburg

So that is what happened on October 31st in history, which was an important part of the Protestant Reformation. Since October 31st is Friday, we will listen to the Reformation Symphony by Mendelssohn, which contains a theme from (guess who?) Martin Luther himself.

Mendelssohn Bartholdy.jpg
Mendelssohn Bartholdy” by James Warren Childe – watercolor painting. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

“But,” you may ask, “who is Mendelssohn?” and understandably so. He is not one of the big names out there when you hear of the most famous composers. But he is an important figure in the history of classical music, because he raised awareness of one of the great composers you do hear about- J S Bach (who happened to be his favorite composer).

Mendelssohn was an early Romantic composer (he never showed up late), which means he composed during the earlier part of the Romantic period (see the Romantic era page for more stuff about it). This is the same time as Chopin, who I discussed in the last few posts. Mendelssohn was a huge fan of J S Bach (who wasn’t very popular in that time), so he held a performance of Bach’s St. Matthew’s Passion, and suddenly people starting getting into Bach’s music. (On a side note, this work by Bach is where the tune for the hymn “O Sacred Head now Wounded” comes from, if you are familiar with that hymn). So anyway, he was a little bit of a hipster since he liked Bach before he was popular.

Let’s get into his Reformation Symphony now, and I will focus just on the last movement (even though the rest of it is pretty good). I have mentioned Martin Luther, who was an important part of the Protestant Reformation, and that Mendelssohn uses one of his tunes in the symphony. The last movement is where he uses the tune. Listen here for the original tune from Martin Luther.

This is the finale of the Reformation Symphony, so he’s gotta use an important theme that embodies the Reformation, and this is it. Notice these important things below as you listen:

00:00- (Translation- Chorale- A Mighty Fortress is Our God) Starts out with a solo flute, and picks up other instruments along the way.

00:32- Time for all the orchestra to play together (sorry your flute solo is over).

01:06- Mendelssohn experiments with the melody

01:37- This is the finale people, we gotta make it big

02:13- Here Mendelssohn goes Baroque on us a little with the more serious mood (notice the serious faces). Gotta get the brass in there to make it loud (03:11)

03:42- There’s the theme again, more people get their turn to play, dude enjoys his turn to play a solo (03:51)

04:28- Let’s go Baroque again

05:18- Conductor is pleased

05:44- Getting ready to build up for the end, hold on tight

06:17- You know how when you really like a song you got to turn it up loud? This is what Mendelssohn does for the end. He’s like “Listen guys this theme is BOSS!” The conductor sings (06:17)

06:47- Clapping, conductor bows

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