Scherzo from Octet in E flat major, Op. 20 (Mendelssohn’s transcription for Symphony No. 1)

The travels of the young Felix Mendelssohn (1809–1847) began in April 1829 when he went to England. One of the first of his works of his to be performed there was the Scherzo movement of the Octet in E-flat Major, which he had arranged for symphonic orchestra for his concert on 25 May.

At this concert (his London début) he conducted his own Symphony No. 1 at the concert of the Philharmonic Society. In the last moment he decoded to replace the third Minuet movement of the symphony for the third movement of the Octet.

The Scherzo is rightly called Mendelssohn’s “musical calling card” and it in atmosphere and technique it is a forerunner to A Midsummer Night’s Dream Overture. Part of the octet he composed in the autumn of 1825, the Scherzo is the composer’s first indisputable masterpiece. Mendelssohn did not provide a programme but his sister Fanny’s diary tells us that the literary model of the Scherzo was the closing verse of the Walpurgis Night’s Dream from the first part of Goethe’s Faust: “Trailing cloud, and misted trees, / Brighten with the day. / Breeze in leaves, and wind in reeds, / And all have flown away.” Bearing the subtitle “Oberon and Titania’s Golden Wedding,” the passage features fairies, which is perfectly accompanied by the Allegro leggierissimo music which the composer wanted to be played pianissimo and staccato all through.