Symphony no. 2 in B flat major, “Hymn of Praise” (Lobgesang), Op. 52

I. Maestoso con moto – Allegro
II. Allegretto un poco agitato
III. Adagio religioso
IV. Finale.

  1. Alles was Odem hat lobe den Herrn! – soprano, chorus
  2. Saget es… Er zählet unsre Thränen – tenor
  3. Sagt es, die ihr erlöset seid von dem Herrn aus aller Trübsal! – chorus
  4. Ich harrete des Herrn – 2 sopranos, chorus
  5. Stricke des Todes hatten uns umfangen – tenor
  6. Die Nacht ist vergangen – chorus
  7. Choral: Nun danket Alle Gott – chorus
  8. Drum sing’ ich mit meinem Liede – soprano, tenor
  9. Ihr Volker! bringet her dem Herrn – chorus

In 1840, Germany celebrated the 400th anniversary of book publishing. The centre for the Gutenberg commemoration was Leipzig. Albert Lortzing (1801-1851) composed an opera for the occasion and Mendelssohn wrote a choral work (Festgesang) and a grand choral symphony Lobgesang (Hymn of Praise). The formal construction of Mendelssohn’s symphony, with its three symphonic movements and finale augmented with a choir and soloists, superficially takes Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony as its model but there is no deeper kinship between the two works. "First the instruments sing their praise, the chorus and soloists then follow" wrote the composer in a letter to Karl Klingeman (1840). The letter indicates that the instrumental movements and the choral finale both inhabit the same intellectual territory. The three movements are essentially an immense prelude to the choral finale: a celebratory introduction launches the symphony, then calms down with one of its central musical ideas, a Gregorian based psalm melody (150th Psalm); the G minor second movement is followed by the Adagio Religioso third movement without a break. We now know that Mendelssohn conceived of the idea for the first three movements in 1838, well before the Gutenberg celebration, as we learn from an 1838 letter to Ferdinand Hiller. Schumann also expressed his impression after the premiere that the vocal finale had been grafted onto an earlier work.


Mendelssohn conducted the symphony at its premiere in Leipzig on June 25th 1840 at the St Thomas church. Mendelssohn had an usually large number of musicians at his disposal (some 500), and they also performed Handel’s Dettingen Te Deum and Weber’s Festival Overture. Mendelssohn’s composition is essentially a cantata symphony. He was not entirely satisfied with the premiere and sat down to revise the work. This second version was first performed in 1841 in Leipzig and the Gloucester Festival. The symphony enjoyed much popularity in the 19th century, particularly in England and Germany but in the 20th century, it slid into relative neglect.

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