Mendelssohn Symphonien No 3 und 4I don’t think I’ll ever truly understand tastes in music. Even my own.

My local classical station KDFC has a neat feature where you can look up what’s currently or recently played, click a link, and order the CD from

I heard a classical piece that used to flood our living room when I was a kid. I really like it, but can’t recall having noticed it since. The KDFC website said it was Mendelssohn. As I’m trying to build my classical collection, I ordered it.

Monitoring the CD later, I kept waiting for the “good part”. This thing sounded like proto-Hollywood Romantic: schmaltzy and unfocused. I finally picked up the jewel box and read what I’d ordered.

Symphony No. 3 is known as the “Scottish”; Symphony 4, the “Italian”. I was listening to No. 3. Maybe the “good part” was No. 4. It was.

 It’s not uncommon to be partial to one track of an artist, and indifferent to the next. This is as true for classical as country & western or “jazz”.

Now, it should be pretty obvious I’m not up on my Mendelssohn. But if you take two different symphonies of other well-loved composers, say Berlioz or Beethoven, even if you can’t remember “that’s the Pathetique” or “That’s the Ninth”, you can still say with certainty “that’s Berlioz” or “that’s Beethoven”.

To my ear, Mendelssohn’s third and fourth symphonies sounded like they were written by different composers. It’s not that I’m setting myself up as an “expert” – high school kids carrying a lot of units in Music should be able to run circles around me. I guess I just figured that after 50 years of listening to classical music, I should be able to hear “Mendelssohn” in both symphonies on the same CD by the same composer and conducted by the same conductor (the ubiquitous Claudio Abbado).

Go figure.

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