Tone, or Symphonic, poems are single movement works that attempt to depict a scene, landscape, theme or the content of a written piece such as a novel or poem. Although the idea was not new (thinking of Vivaldi’s The Fours Seasons for example) it particularly developed in the nineteenth century and there is an argument for considering Mendelssohn’s “The Hebrides” an early example.
Mendelssohn, from a well-off Berlin family, could afford to have his European travels and travelled to Scotland. A boat trip to the island of Staffa inspired his depiction of Fingal’s cave, and only hours later he had written the opening theme and sent them in a letter to his sister, with the comment “How extraordinarily the Hebrides affected me”. He originally named the piece ‘To the Lonely Island’ before deciding upon ‘The Hebrides’ - though some confusion was caused when a publisher produced an edition named ‘Fingal’s Cave’ a little later, a title which stuck.
For those of us that haven’t had the pleasure of a visit to Fingal’s Cave, the cave itself is over 60 metres deep and stormy tides cause the sounds of the rumbling waves inside it to reverberate for miles. Mendelssohn’s music beautifully captures the drama of the sea with intense and mysterious rolling melodies full of crescendos and crashes, and calmer passages conveying stiller waters.
New Forest Orchestra will be performing this beautiful piece at their upcoming concert in Milford on Sea on Saturday 30 March.