Felix Mendelssohn 2009
Mendelssohn: Symphony No. 3 in A Minor, op. 56
BBC Proms – Royal Albert Hall, London Aug 25th, 2009
Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment – Sir Roger Norrington conductor
Felix Mendelssohn is regarded by classical music aficionados and critics alike, as one of the most prolific and gifted composers the world has ever known. Even those who could not name any of his works have heard it, as his “Wedding March” from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, which has accompanied many a bride down the aisle.Whether he was born with his incredible talent or was the product of an artistically and intellectually-inclined family will remain a mystery, but like all prodigies, Mendelssohn showed signs of true genius from childhood.
Regarded by some critics as the 19th century equivalent of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and others as a great composer who’s contribution would have been greater, had his life been marred with more hardships, everyone should agree that he deserves his place amongst the best, and most influential.
Biografia de Felix Mendelssohn (Bartholdy) (1809-1847)
Felix Mendelssohn was born in Hamburg, on February 3rd, 1809, the son of Leah Salomon, and Abraham Mendelssohn, a wealthy banker, and the grandson of Jewish rabbi and philosopher Moses Mendelssohn. Being born in a family of well-to-do intellectuals certainly had it advantages, providing the ideal cultural environment for the artistic and precocious young Felix. In addition to receiving a good education, Felix and his family traveled around Europe.
While Moses Mendelssohn frowned German Jews converting to Christianity in the hopes of gaining social acceptance outside their ghettos, that did not stop Felix Mendelssohn’s parents from baptizing their four children, Fanny, Rebekah, Felix, and Paul, in the Lutheran Church, and from converting to the Lutheran faith themselves in 1816, when they moved from French occupied Hamburg to Berlin, hence the added surname Bartholdy. Oddly enough, Felix resisted the name change, and kept the last name of Mendelssohn.
The move to Berlin proved to be beneficial for young Felix, who had received prior musical instruction from his sister Fanny, as it was there he studied the piano under Ludwig Berger and composition with Karl. F. Zelter. Visiting friends of the family were also a positive influence on the Mendelssohn children, as most of them were intellectuals who were involved in the arts and other cultural activities. From a young age, Felix Mendelssohn showed the true talent of a prodigy, playing both the piano and the violin, painting, and being gifted in languages.
Felix traveled to Paris to study the works of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Johann Sebastian Bach with his sister Fanny. Truly inspired by the masters, particularity Bach, he composed eleven symphonies, five operas, and many other pieces for the piano. This was only the beginning for the young musical genius, who impressed audiences and artists alike with his precocious talent.
In 1821, Zelter took his 12 year-old student to visit German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. The visit was most important to the young Mendelssohn, who remained at the 72 year-old writer’s home for over two weeks. Goethe was fascinated by the gifted young man, and the two would later correspond via a series of letters. Later, when Goethe heard Mendelssohn’s B minor pianoforte quartet, he showed such appreciation that the young composer dedicated the piece to him.
When Felix Mendelsson was 16, he composed his Octet for Strings in E flat major, Op. 20, which wasn’t just impressive because of its composer’s age, but because it was the one of the first works of its kind. Mendelssohn’s piece featured an ingenious interplay between two distinct string quartets.
In addition to the literary works of Goethe, Mendelssohn found inspiration in the works of English playwright William Shakespeare. At the age of seventeen, he composed the overture to “A Midsummer Night’s Dream Opus 21”, based on the Bard’s comedic play. The piece featured lush orchestration, and is considered one of the most beautiful works of the Romantic period of Classical music.
From 1826 to 1829, Mendelssohn studied at Berlin University. It was then he decided on music as his chosen profession.
During the years that followed, Mendelssohn traveled and performed all over Europe, discovering England, Scotland, Italy and France. In 1832, Mendelssohn, Mendelssohn presented his magnificent “Hebrides Overture”, as well as other important works, in London, a city where he greatly enjoyed performing his works. In 1833, he took on the post of conductor at Düsseldorf, giving concert performances of Handel’s “Messiah” amongst others. That same year, he composed many of his own vocal works, including “Lord, Have Mercy Upon Us,”, and the Opera, “Trala. A frischer Bua bin i”, as well as the “Italian Symphony”.
At the age of 26, Mendelssohn moved to Leipzig and he became conductor of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, performing works by Bach and Beethoven amongst others; at the time, there was little interest in Bach’s music, but Mendelssohn changed all that, using his own popularity and the four hundred singers and soloists of the Singakademie to help renew interest in the great composer’s work. Earlier, in 1829, Mendelssohn had made his debut as a Maestro, being the first to conduct Bach’s “St-Matthew Passion” since the composer’s death in 1750, and more importantly, 100 years after Bach’s own premiere performance of the work. Mendelssohn performed the piece
In 1832, Mendelssohn married Cécile Jeanrenaud, the daughter of a Protestant clergyman. It was a happy marriage, and they five children, Carl, Marie, Paul, Felix and Lilli. Over the years that followed, Mendelssohn was very prolific, and in addition to numerous composition, he gave several successful performances of his work, and that of other great composers. Mendelssohn composed several works for the piano, which was highly popular at the time; but he also wrote for many different combinations of instruments and voices.
In 1842, Mendelssohn performed private concerts for Prince Albert, and Queen Victoria, who were both strong supporters of his work. A year later, Mendelssohn founded the and directed the Leipzig Conservatory, where he also sometimes taught when his busy schedule permitted it. Despite being a generally happy and pleasant individual, Mendelssohn was sometimes a little too strict with his pupils; this was perhaps due to the fact that he was so passionate about music, and had a difficult time listening to the beginners mistakes of his pupils. Nonetheless, the Conservatory remained one of the most prestigious music institutions in Germany for half a century.
In addition to his post at the Conservatory, Mendelssohn was named director of the Music Section of the Academy of Arts in Berlin by the by King Frederick of Prussia, but this appointment wasn’t entirely pleasing for Mendelssohn, who was often asked to compose on demand. He was left with little time for his own work, but he still managed to compose such masterpieces as the Ruy Blas overture, stage music for Shakespeare’s ” A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, of which the now world-famous “Wedding March” was a part of, and “The Scottish Symphony”, the third of the five symphonies he composed during his lifetime.
Felix Mendelssohn was very close to his family; from his sister Fanny to his father, to his own wife and children, and he cherished the moments spent with them. When his father died in 1835, Mendelssohn felt he had lost his best friend. seven years later, his mother died, adding to the tragedy, but the worst was yet to come; following a Christmas family reunion , his sister Fanny suffered a stroke while rehearsing for a Sunday concert. She died on May 14th, 1847. Felix Mendelssohn is said to have screamed and fainted upon hearing the sad news, devastated from the loss. Needless to say, Mendelssohn’s mood did not improve following Fanny’s death, and he himself suffered two strokes, the last of which killed him on November 4th, 1847. He was 38 years old. He was buried alongside his sister in in the cemetery of Holy Cross Church in Berlin.
While most of his life was spent in happiness, that final years of his life saw mounting grief and tragedy; however, this did not deter him from composing, and throughout the hardships he maintained the same degree of inspiration and the same quality o work, despite his intensely busy schedule. Some critics may argue that he would have been another Bach or Mozart if he had suffered more in life, as the “tortured artist” cliché dictates. However, it is interesting to note that in death, there were more tragic incidents which marred Mendelssohn. Nearly a hundred years after his death, the Nazis tried to discredit him, taking down his statue in Leipzig, and even going as far as forbidding the study and performance of his music.
Of course, none of their efforts to silence the voice of genius had any success, and Mendelssohn is now considered the 19th century equivalent of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Most critics agree that Mendelssohn’s most vibrant contributions were in the choral and organ music genres, which was probably the result of his deep admiration fro Bach and Handel. Mendelssohn will remain the most successful composer his time, but more importantly, one of the most gifted and talented, surely deserving a place alongside greats such as Mozart, Bach, and Beethoven, in the Pantheon of musical Gods. Via.
Felix Mendelssohn, grandson of the distinguished Jewish thinker Moses Mendelssohn, the additional surname Bartholdy adopted on his conversion to Christianity, was born in Hamburg, the son of a banker. The family moved to Berlin, where Mendelssohn was brought up, able to associate with a cultured circle of family friends. He was associated with the revival of public interest in the music of Johann Sebastian Bach and in the early 1830s travelled abroad for his education, spending time in Italy and also visiting England, Wales and Scotland. He was later conductor of the Gewandhaus Orchestra in Leipzig, where he also established a Conservatory, his stay there interrupted briefly by a return to Berlin. He died in Leipzig in 1847. Prolific and precocious, Mendelssohn had many gifts, musically as composer, conductor and pianist. His style of composition combined something of the economy of means of the classical period with the romanticism of a later age.
Mendelssohn wrote five symphonies, in addition to an attractive series of twelve early symphonies for strings, completed at the age of fourteen. Of the mature symphonies the Italian Symphony, Symphony No.4, completed in 1833 and reflecting the composer’s experiences in Italy during his Grand Tour, is the most popular, closely followed by Symphony No. 3, the Scottish, with its echoes of the Palace of Holyrood in the days of Mary Queen of Scots. Symphony No. 5, the Reformation, written in 1832 to celebrate the third centenary of the Augsburg Confession, is less often heard, as is Symphony No. 2, the choral Lobgesang, written to mark the fourth centenary of the invention of printing in 1840.
The concert overtures of Mendelssohn include the 1826 Overture, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, a work in many ways typical of the composer’s deftness of touch in its evocation of the fairy world of the play for which he later wrote incidental music. The Hebrides, otherwise known as Fingal’s Cave, evokes a visit to Scotland and the sight of the sea surging over the Giant’s Causeway. Meeresstille und glückliche Fahrt (Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage) is based on a poem by Goethe, a writer who had received the young Mendelssohn at Weimar and prophesied for him a successful career. The Overture Ruy Blas, completed in 1839, is based on the play by Victor Hugo.
The best known of Mendelssohn’s concertos must be the Violin Concerto in E minor, the third to make use of the solo violin. The E minor Concerto was written in 1844 and first performed in Leipzig the following year. Two piano concertos, the first written in 1831 and the second in 1837, are heard less frequently.
Anne Akiko Meyers – Violin Concerto in E Minor, de Mendelssohn
Mendelssohn wrote his first chamber music at the age of ten. One of the most delightful works is the Octet, for double string quartet, written to celebrate the 23rd birthday of a violinist friend in 1825. Evidence of earlier precocity is heard in the equally fine Sextet for violin, two violas, cello, double bass and piano, written in 1824. The two string quintets and six string quartets may enjoy less general popularity, although they contain many felicities, String Quartet No. 4 in E minor offering a characteristic view of the composer’s command of technique and mood, ranging from the fairy world of the Scherzo to the passion of the Finale. The two late piano trios, the Piano Trio in D minor and the Piano Trio in C minor represent the composer at his very best.
Mendelssohn was himself both pianist and violinist. Of his duo sonatas, however, the two Cello Sonatas and the Variations concertantes for cello and piano, with a late Song without Words for cello and piano, make an important part of 19th century cello repertoire.
The 19th century was the age of the piano, a period in which the instrument, newly developed, became an essential item of household furniture and the centre of domestic music-making. Short piano pieces always found a ready market, none more than Mendelssohn’s eight albums of Lieder ohne Worte (Songs without Words), a novel title that admirably describes the length, quality and intention of these short pieces.
Mendelssohn’s music for the theatre includes full incidental music for Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, written for the new King of Prussia and first used at Potsdam in 1843, preceded by the Overture written in 1826. The music typically captures the enchanted fairy world of the play. In connection with the King’s attempts to revive Greek tragedy Mendelssohn also wrote incidental music for the Antigone and Oedipus at Colonus of Sophocles, as well as for Racine’s Athalie. His attempts at opera have not survived in modern repertoire.
Mendelssohn wrote a number of works for possible church use, both Protestant and Catholic. Of these the best known must be Hear my prayer, a favourite with boy trebles. The carol Hark the herald angels sing was adapted by W. H. Cummings from a chorus in a secular cantata. His oratorios Elijah and St. Paul remain traditionally popular with choral societies. In addition to settings of psalms,which include a setting of Psalm 100, Jauchzet den Herrn (Praise the Lord) and sacred and secular cantatas, Mendelssohn wrote a number of choral songs and a larger quantity of solo songs, a pleasing addition to the repertoire of German song, intended for intimate social gatherings rather than the concert hall. Among the most exciting of songs is Hexenlied (Witches’ Song), a setting of verse by Hšlty, one of an early set of twelve songs written in 1828. A second dozen, published two years later, includes the contrasting Im Frühling (In the Spring) and Im Herbst (In the Autumn). Mendelssohn wrote his last songs in the year of his death, 1847. Via.