My favorite symphony is Felix Mendelssohn’s “Italian” also known as his 4th Symphony. I discovered it as a 7th grader when my mother put the record she had of it on the old Admiral Hi-Fi with the pull down turntable in the dining room of our apartment at 1933 Holly Drive in Hollywood.
Though at the time I was far more inclined to the music of Queen than the classics, I think the reason I was drawn to it almost immediately was exclusively coincidental. My English teachers (my class was team taught by a pair of wonderful women, Ms. Litzke and Ms. Diamond) had assigned us a novel to read: Richard Adams’ “Watership Down.”
A novel! I remember being handed my paperback copy and admiring its heft and thickness and its lovely illustration of a rabbit on the cover and feeling so grown-up — while cluelessly taking the title quite literally; I thought it was about a shipwreck. Captivated from the first page, I soon discovered otherwise. And to this day it remains my favorite book ever.
Anyway, it so happened that while in the midst of reading Adams’ classic my mother decided to play Mendelssohn’s classic, and I was captivated from the first notes. Not just because the music was beautiful, but moreso because the light and flowing melody of those first few bars painted a picture in my head of rabbits frolicking in a field — something the rabbits in the book that I’d come to know and loveÂ — Hazel and Fiver and Bigwig — had little opportunity to do across their adventures.
Here’s a YouTube video of the opening of theÂ first movement by the Cologne New Philharmonic Orchestra:
I’ve listened to the Italian innumerable times since — on cassette, LP, CD, MP3. And while I can’t recite it entirely from memory I can pretty much sing along with it note for note. In fact, I recall a time as a highschooler working in the dungeon at Hunter’s Books on Rodeo Drive when Arthur, the elderly and most cultured of my co-workers there — always dapper in a bowtie and wingtips — didn’t believe me when I told him I knew the piece and challenged me to sing it to him. So I did and he told meÂ that in a world filled withÂ the likes of Oingo Boingo and the Go Go’s (who I loved!) the fact that a teenager of that day and age not only new of Mendelssohn but could recite his music gave him hope for humanity.
Next Sunday from seats way up in the Disney Concert Hall balcony with my mother on one side and my wife on the other I’m going to hear it performed live for the very first time. It’s been a long 32 years coming, with many of the adult ones spent unsuccessfully scouring the calendars of the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Hollywood Bowl. For what it’s worth I think it helped that this year is the 200th anniversary of Felix’s birthday (which was February 3).
But it’s him and the LA Phil giving the gift. And I’ll tell you what: just as I choked up and shed some tears of joy last year seeing my favorite Broadway musical “Man of La Mancha” for the first time at A Noise Within, I already know I’ll be overcome with similar emotions when Mendelsohhn’s magical music graces my ears.
I may not be able to keep from crying, but I’ll try my best not to sing along.