Reformation Symphony No. 5, in D Major/D minor, Op. 107 by Felix Mendelssohn
The Reformation Symphony No. 5, in D Major/D minor, Op. 107 by Felix Mendelssohn, was composed in 1830 when the young Felix was only 21 years old. Though the composer himself wanted it to be a non-pictorial work, as one listens to it, one can’t help but hear the beautiful descriptive orchestral sonority that takes one’s imagination back to the strenuous fighting, persecutions, deaths, sorrows, conflicts; but also the prayers, laments, assurances, victorious battles, and final triumphant of the Protestant Reformation.
In fact, this “Masterpiece” is the end product of a commissioned task given to the young composer to celebrate the 300th Anniversary of the presentation of the “Augsburg Confession,” a key document of the Reformation Protest. This symphony was written in four movements for a full orchestra.
The 1st movement opens with a very harmonious prayer (Dresden Prayer) featuring the string section, that is interrupted by battle-cries from the brass section. Surely, we need prayers to face the daily conflicts of our Christian life today as did the reformers during the dreadful persecutions of the Dark Ages of the Reformation. It is not meaningless that Mendelssohn brings that prayer back two times before diving into the very storm-like strong sequencies of harmonic, melodic and rhythmic frenzy “Allegro con fueco” (Fast with fire) tempo is quieted one more time by that prayer… Prayer has power to stop conflicts! This movement really represents the battle between good and evil and the determination of the reformers against the deadly persecution of the “false believers.”
The 2nd movement presents a lighter atmosphere in contrast with the first. This movement places the listener through its dance-like rhythm, clear harmonic and almost cantabile melody into the pleasant nature of the “Alpes” set up… We can even hear the birds singing and the fresh and calm breeze that the Waldenses enjoy as they happily spread portions of the Bible during rare times of peace.
The 3rd movement is a wonderful portray of the real martyrdom sadness of the protestant reformation. It is mainly played by the string section of the orchestra with an outstanding melancholic line by the first violins. But thanks to God, though it is composed in the minor key of G minor, Mendelssohn genially finishes it in G Major (Di Piccardia), as a positive anticipation of total victory of the protestant reformation over the “Dark Ages” persecution of the dominant religion over true Christianity.
So, begins the 4th movement, when right at the beginning we hear the flute evoking the famous Christian hymn composed by Martin Luther, himself a singer and flutist, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” Throughout this last movement we will continue to hear echoes of the big struggle of the great controversy. However, as we approach the end, victory is assured when Mendelssohn brings this Masterpiece to a great finale as we hear the most powerful and wonderful orchestra sounding of Martin Luther’s chorale, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.”
Laurel Heights Seventh-Day Adventist Church is honored to invite you to this magnificent event where, besides Mendelssohn’s Reformation symphony, you will also be treated to some beautiful excerpts from his Elijah oratorio. All will be rendered by an orchestra of 35 chosen San Antonian musicians, conducted by Dr. Mazias de Oliveira.