Mendelssohn wrote the magnificent Hebrides Overture when he was only 21 (though revisions were made a few years later). It was upon a visit to Scotland (the Romantic view of which was much in vogue at the time) and more specifically, the Hebridean Islands off the Scottish west coast, that the first mysterious theme came to his head, which he quickly wrote down. He was also inspired by a visit to Fingal’s Cave, a natural structure of pillars of basalt, hence the subtitle for the composition.
The waters around the Hebrides are famously rough and stormy, and navigation can be difficult even today, let alone in Mendelssohn’s time. Throughout the overture, Mendelssohn evokes the sense of the great, mysterious power surrounding the islands, as well as the tumbling ocean (bass activity at around 00:19 – 00:35, for example) and lonely cries of seabirds (3:54?)
The Hebrides Overture is not meant to be a narrative – it is more of a scene/mood setter. Nevertheless, it is perhaps the earliest example of what could be described as a tone poem, and is a fascinating, riveting work written with great maturity by a man barely out of his teens.