“Adventure is worthwhile.” – Aesop
What do you bring back from vacation: souvenirs, a tan, perhaps a renewed sense of purpose? When artists go on holiday, they are often inspired to create by their new surroundings. Here are some examples of composers who went “en vacances” (on holiday) and brought back inspired masterworks.
“We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us.” – Anonymous
After a series of successful performances in London, Felix Mendelssohn embarked on a walking tour of Scotland. Mendelssohn visited the ruins of a chapel at Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh, where he had his initial idea for the Symphony No. 3, “Scottish”. He described the experience in a letter, in which he included a draft of the symphony's opening theme. Mendelssohn later visited Staffa, which inspired the composer to write his concert overture, “The Hebrides” also known as “Fingal's Cave”. Mendelssohn sent a postcard to his family with the opening phrase of the overture written on it. In a note to his sister, Fanny Mendelssohn he said: "In order to make you understand how extraordinarily the Hebrides affected me, I send you the following, which came into my head there."
“Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore.”- André Gide
Tchaikovsky’s Capriccio Italien, was inspired by a trip to Rome in 1880 during Carnival time. The work is full of references to Italian folk music and street songs. Tchaikovsky even uses a bugle call that he overheard from his hotel, played by an Italian cavalry regiment in the introduction.
“The world is a book, and those who don't travel only read one page.” – St. Augustine
Aus Italien, Op. 16 (From Italy) is a tone poem for orchestra composed by Richard Strauss in 1886. It was inspired by the composer's visit to Italy in the summer of the same year, where he travelled to Rome, Bologna, Naples, Sorrento, Salerno, and Capri. He began to sketch the work while still on the journey. The work incorporates various Italian songs, most famously, the Neapolitan song, “Funiculì, Funiculà”.
“Not all those who wander are lost” – J.R.R. Tolkien
Lennox Berkeley and Benjamin Britten attended the International Society for Contemporary Music Festival in Barcelona, Spain in 1936. Later they visited Montjuïc, the hill that dominates the Barcelona landscape and attended a Festival of Folk Dance on the Exposition Grounds on Montjuïc, while there they heard various Catalan folk tunes. Later that day Berkeley and Britten jotted down some of the melodies in a Barcelona café. The following year, back in England, they decided to jointly write an orchestral suite based on some of the dance melodies they had heard. They named it simply “Mont Juic”, a suite of Catalan dances.
“A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.” - Oliver Wendell Holmes
“An American in Paris”, the jazz-influenced symphonic poem by the American composer George Gershwin, was written in 1928. Inspired by the time Gershwin had spent in Paris, it evokes the sights and energy of the French capital in the 1920s and is one of his best-known compositions, (he even brought back some Parisian taxi horns for the New York premiere of the composition, which took place on December 13, 1928 in Carnegie Hall.) Gershwin wrote, "My purpose here is to portray the impression of an American visitor in Paris as he strolls about the city and listens to various street noises and absorbs the French atmosphere." When the tone poem moves into the blues, "our American friend ... has succumbed to a spasm of homesickness." But, "nostalgia is not a fatal disease." The American visitor "once again is an alert spectator of Parisian life" and "the street noises and French atmosphere are triumphant."