Felix Mendelssohn

Biography

Born: Feb 3, 1809; Germany   Died: Nov 4, 1847; Germany   Period: Romantic
Far from the troubled, coarse libertine that has become an archetype of the Romantic composer, Felix Mendelssohn was something of an anomaly among his contemporaries. His own situation -- one largely of domestic tranquility and unhindered career fulfillment -- stands in stark contrast to the personal Sturm und Drang familiar to his peers. Mendelssohn was the only musical prodigy of the nineteenth century whose stature could rival that of Mozart. Read more Still, his parents resisted any entrepreneurial impulses and spared young Felix the strange, grueling lifestyle that was the lot of many child prodigies. He and his sister Fanny were given piano lessons, and he also studied violin, and both joined the Berlin Singakademie. Carl Friedrich Zelter, director of the Singakademie, became Mendelssohn's first composition instructor. Even in his youth, Mendelssohn moved with natural grace among the circles of influence in society, politics, literature, and art. Although he did spend some time at the University of Berlin, most of his education was received through friendships and travel. Mendelssohn's advocacy was the single most important factor in the revival of Bach's vocal music in the nineteenth century, most famously realized in the 1829 performance of the St. Matthew Passion at the Berlin Singakadamie. He did some touring as a pianist with Ignaz Moscheles, then took the position as music director in Düsseldorf from 1833 to 1835, which involved conducting both the choral and orchestral societies, preparing music for church services and later, becoming intendant for the new theatre. Tension with the theater owner caused him to resign some of his duties, and he began looking for a new post. In 1835, Mendelssohn became municipal music director in Leipzig, where he also would conduct the Gewandhaus Orchestra. He would raise the level of the still-thriving ensemble to a new standard of excellence. In 1838, he married Cécile Jeanrenaud, enjoying an idyllic marriage and family life that was quite unlike the stormy romantic entanglements which profoundly affected such composers as Berlioz, Chopin, and Liszt. He was in demand as a conductor, spent some time as royal composer and music director in Berlin, but remained committed to musical life in Leipzig. He was even able to establish a new conservatory in the city, which is still a well-respected institution.
Mendelssohn was a true Renaissance man. A talented visual artist, he was a refined connoisseur of literature and philosophy. While Mendelssohn's name rarely arises in discussions of the nineteenth century vanguard, the intrinsic importance of his music is undeniable. A distinct personality emerges at once in its exceptional formal sophistication, its singular melodic sense, and its colorful, masterful deployment of the instrumental forces at hand. A true apotheosis of life, Mendelssohn's music absolutely overflows with energy, ebullience, drama, and invention, as evidenced in his most enduring works: the incidental music to A Midsummer Night's Dream (1826-1842); the Hebrides Overture (1830); the Songs Without Words (1830-1845); the Symphonies No. 3 (1841-1842) and No. 4 (1833); and the Violin Concerto in E minor (1844). While the sunny disposition of so many of Mendelssohn's works has led some to view the composer as possessing great talent but little depth, his religious compositions -- particularly the great oratorios Paulus (1836) and Elijah (1846) -- reflect the complexity and deeply spiritual basis of his personality. Read less
Johanna Martzy Plays Mendelssohn & Brahms
Release Date: 03/25/2014   Label: Hänssler Classic  
Catalog: 94226   Number of Discs: 1
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Felix Mendelssohn: Overture - Heimkehr Aus Der Fremde; Piano Concerto In E; Frederic Chopin: Grand Concerto
Release Date: 09/09/2014   Label: Fremeaux & Associes  
Catalog: 7312   Number of Discs: 1
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Mendelssohn: Complete Works For String Quartet, Vol. 1 / Maggini Quartet
Release Date: 03/11/2014   Label: Meridian Records  
Catalog: 84618   Number of Discs: 1
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Mendelssohn: Symphony No 2
Release Date: 03/11/2014   Label: Harmonia Mundi  
Catalog: 902151   Number of Discs: 1
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Mendelssohn: Elias / Herreweghe, Chapelle Royale
Release Date: 09/09/2014   Label: Harmonia Mundi  
Catalog: 921463   Number of Discs: 2
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Work: Songs without words: Spring Song

 

About This Work
Only five of Mendelssohn's 36 Lieder ohne Worte received titles from the composer. Mendelssohn hesitated to attach a title to these piano miniatures because he found words " ... so ambiguous, so vague, so easily misunderstood in comparison to Read more genuine music, which fills the soul with a thousand things better than words." Unlike most of the Lieder ohne Worte, the title of Op. 62, No. 6, "Frühlingslied" (Spring Song), is directly attributable to Mendelssohn.

Mendelssohn's fifth volume of Lieder ohne Worte was published in 1844 in Bonn. The set was designated Op. 62. The six pieces were composed over about a two-year period; only four can be dated with certainty. Four of the six are in major keys and there are a variety of song types, including examples of the solo Lied, duet and partsong.

No. 6, in A major, maintains a solo Lied texture. The melody, with its rising and falling eighth-note line peppered with occasional sixteenth-note chromatic passages is perfectly suited to the voice throughout most of the piece. Constant arpeggio graces produce an accompaniment with a delicate, harp-like sound that continues from beginning to end. Aspects of instrumental composition permeate the work, especially in its formal structure. For example, a second section in a contrasting key with melodic material composed of elements from the first section reappears after the return of the first section, but transposed to A major. The predominant feature of the piece is a leaping, then descending figure of five eighth notes that recurs in the manner of a symphonic development.

-- John Palmer
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