Work: Midsummer Night's Dream Overture, in E major Op. 21
About This Work
Inspired by William Shakespeare's comedy A Midsummer Night's Dream, Felix Mendelssohn completed his famous eponymous Overture in 1826. The stunning accomplishment the Overture represents testifiies not only to the creative maturity of the
seventeen-year-old composer, but also to Mendelssohn's music as the embodiment of the Romantic ideal of the marriage of music and poetry. A passionate literary scholar, Mendelssohn was particularly bewitched by the works of Shakespeare, whose collected plays had been translated into German in 1801. In fact, this translation, the work of Ludwig Tieck and August Wilhelm Schlegel, quickly became one of the great literary monuments of German Romanticism. The Overture exemplifies Mendelssohn's ability to create extraordinarily imaginative and atmospheric music while remaining within the context of traditional harmonic and formal structure. Mendelssohn masterfully translates the three worlds (one of which is supernatural) of the comedy's universe into music of singular distinction.
The abode of Titania and Oberon is introduced by gossamer, almost breathless, violin figures in E minor, the key which defines the fairy world. With a facility fully equal to Shakespeare's, Mendelssohn moves back and forth from the fairy kingdom to the realm of humanity, piercing the misty atmosphere of E minor with chordal themes in E major (the key of Duke Theseus' court) that evoke columns of light. The earthy province of Bottom and his primitive cohorts is depicted by a drone of open fifths, along with realistic representations of sounds such as a donkey's braying. Like Shakespeare, Mendelssohn identifies the ducal court as the safe, intelligible, radiant realm that human beings long for, life as it should be: inspired, but not spectral; tangible, but not primitive. The essence of the middle world, in which the contradictory forces of spirit and earth are reconciled in civilized tranquility, surfaces as a characteristic theme based on a descending scale motion. This motion, though apparently simple, nonetheless releases intimations of many joyful sentiments sparked by an overwhelming wave of life energy. Seventeen years after the compostion of the Overture, Mendelssohn rounded out the entire incidental score, adding the famously sprightly Scherzo, the Intermezzo, Notturno, and the celebrated Wedding March for a production of the play at the Royal Theater in Berlin in 1842. Although composed only four years before Mendelssohn's death, these numbers emanate a truly youthful energy, complementing the Overture's musical narrative with scenes of exceptional charm.
-- Zoran Minderovic
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