Related Links

Recommended Links

Give the Composers Timeline Poster



Site News

What's New for
December 2014?

Site Search

Follow us on
Facebook    Twitter

Affiliates

In association with
Amazon
Amazon UKAmazon GermanyAmazon CanadaAmazon FranceAmazon Japan

ArkivMusic, The Source for Classical Music
CD Universe
HBDirect
JPC

Sheet Music Plus


ArkivMusic

Sheet Music Plus Featured Sale

Felix Mendelssohn

Felix Mendelssohn

(1809 - 1847)

Mendelssohn's short life (February 3, 1809 - November 4, 1847) for the most part justified his name, Felix, which means "happy, lucky" and from which we get the word "felicitous." His life showed little of the storms that marked Beethoven's or the stresses of Berlioz's. Born into a wealthy banking family, the grandson of the great German Jewish Enlightenment philosopher, Moses Mendelssohn, Felix (later baptized Jacob Ludwig Felix) showed an early aptitude for music. Fortunately, he had parents willing to let him become a musician, and he received the finest training. His most prominent teacher was Carl Friedrich Zelter, advisor in matters musical to none other than Goethe. Zelter gave Mendelssohn thorough, but very conservative, instruction. Mendelssohn was encouraged to follow Bach and Mozart, but not Beethoven. Nevertheless, the boy found out Beethoven for himself and formed a deep appreciation and love of Beethoven's final period, particularly the middle and late piano sonatas, much to Zelter's puzzlement.

Mendelssohn's really early music (up to roughly 1824) is incredibly accomplished for a kid, but he began writing masterpieces around the age of 15, furthermore in an idiom largely of his own invention. Works of this period include the Harmoniemusik for band (1824), the Octet (1825), and the Overture to A Midsummer Night's Dream (1826). With these three pieces, he became one of the most important early Romantic composers. Mendelssohn's music blended Romantic sentiment and fantasy with a Mozartean economy, clarity, and poise. He became associated with a strand of composers that included Robert Schumann and reached its peak with Johannes Brahms. His exposure to Bach led to a fondness for learned counterpoint as well as to his conducting the St. Matthew Passion in 1829 – an immensely influential performance that took Bach out of the exclusive hands of specialists and into a more general public consciousness. He began to perform throughout Europe as a conductor and as a pianist to great success. In 1829, he made his first trip to England where his composing and playing found a rapturous audience. Indeed, one can say that Mendelssohn dominated English music in the 19th century as completely as Handel had done in the 18th. He made a tour of Scotland as well, where he began work on his Hebrides Overture (1832) and "Reformation" Symphony (1832). A tour of Italy inspired his "Italian" Symphony (1834), usually designated the Fourth Symphony, but actually written second.

However, even a genius needs steady work. Mendelssohn found it in Düsseldorf in 1833 and became director of music for the city. His oversight of sacred music led to performances of large choral works by Handel and Haydn and to an interest in trying an oratorio himself. The result, St. Paul (1836), proved immensely popular and established Mendelssohn firmly in the forefront of contemporary composers. Although less popular today, it is still considered a milestone in the development of the genre.

However, friction in Düsseldorf prompted Mendelssohn to look for other employment. The 1840s found him splitting his time between Berlin and, more importantly, Leipzig. Through his directorship of the Gewandhaus Orchestra and his establishment of a conservatory (1843), he quickly made Leipzig one of the major European musical centers, one which exerted significant influence throughout Europe and even the United States up to the early years of the Twentieth Century. He also continued to conduct, compose, and tour. Major works of this period include his String Quintet in B-flat (1845), the Violin Concerto in e-minor (1845), and the oratorio Elijah (1847), a rethinking in Romantic terms of the Handelian oratorio and one of the monuments of the choral repertoire.

The amount of overwork as well as the death of his beloved sister Fanny led to a series of strokes and finally death at the age of 38. Among the works left incomplete, we find fragments of a third oratorio, Christus, which arguably could have become his greatest, and an opera, Die Lorelei.

During his lifetime, Mendelssohn was regularly compared (with good reason) to Mozart. He won the championship of Robert Schumann. However, by the 1880s, his reputation, after such inflation, predictably began to sink. Wagner singled out Mendelssohn as an icon for decadence in his notorious essay "On Jewishness in Music." George Bernard Shaw, in a classic example of love-hate, made him the poster-boy for Victorian gentility. However, he praised the early music as that "of a very young composer astonishing the world by a musical style at once fascinating, original and perfectly new." In the Thirties the Nazis systematically tried to erase the composer from German music. The fact that Mendelssohn was baptized Protestant and that the family had converted in the 1820s (taking the name "Mendelssohn-Bartholdy," to distinguish themselves from all those lower-class Mendelssohns) made no difference, of course. Ironically, religion wasn't that big a deal to Mendelssohn himself. Despite his many sacred works, he generally approached the subject either as a practical musical matter or as drama. His conversion was more a matter of pleasing his father than anything else.

However, in the past twenty years, the composer has begun to attract new attention. The estimate of the chamber music especially has revised the composer's reputation upward. Writers have begun to see Elijah as an innovative and powerful fusion of oratorio and Romantic opera. Of course, certain works have long enjoyed the status of repertory staples: the octet, the Midsummer Night's Dream music, The Hebrides, Calm Seas and Prosperous Voyage, Ruy Blas and other overtures, Elijah, the "Italian" and "Scottish" symphonies. It's a rare professional violinist who doesn't know the e-minor concerto. Mendelssohn excelled in every genre except opera. Much of his catalogue remains little-known today, but much of it has made it to recording. Digging around a bit will reward the explorer. ~ Steve Schwartz

Mendelssohn's signature

Recommended Recordings

Core Repertoire - Start Here! Andante & Rondo Capriccioso for Piano

CBS MK42401
Sheet Music for this Piece
Andante & Rondo Capriccioso, Op. 14; Piano Concertos; Variations Sérieuses/CBS MK42401
Murray Perahia (piano)
Andante & Rondo Capriccioso, Op. 14; Caprices & Scherzi/Nimbus NIM5069
Martin Jones (piano)
Or Nimbus NI7704:
Andante & Rondo Capriccioso, Op. 14/Chandos CHAN8326
Lydia Artymiw (piano)

Concertos for Piano

Apex 89088-2
Sheet Music for this Piece
Piano Concertos #1, Op. 25 and #2, Op. 40; Andante & Rondo Capriccioso; Variations Sérieuses/CBS MK42401
Murray Perahia (piano), Neville Marriner/Academy of St. Martin-In-The-Fields


Piano Concertos #1, Op. 25 and #2, Op. 40; Concerto for Piano & String Orchestra/Teldec 9031-71104-2
Cyprian Katsaris (piano), Kurt Masur/Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra
Or Teldec 9031-75860-2:
Or Apex 89088-2:


Hyperion CDA66969
Piano Concertos #1, Op. 25 and #2, Op. 40/Chandos CHAN9215
Howard Shelley (piano)/London Mozart Players


Piano Concertos #1, Op. 25; Symphony #4; Violin Concerto/Nimbus NIM5158
Christopher Kite (fortepiano), Roy Goodman/Hanover Band


Piano Concertos #1, Op. 25 and #2, Op. 40; Capriccio brillant; Rondo brillant; Serenade and Allegro giocoso/Hyperion CDA66969
Stephen Hough (piano), Lawrence Foster/City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Core Repertoire - Start Here! Concerto for Violin

London 410011-2
Sheet Music for this Piece
Violin Concerto, Op. 64 w/ Tchaikovsky/London 410011-2
Kyung-Wha Chung (violin), Charles Dutoit/Montréal Symphony Orchestra
Or London/Decca Legends 460976-2:
Or Decca 452325-2:
Violin Concerto, Op. 64 w/ Beethoven/RCA Victor "Living Stereo" Hybrid SACD 82876-61391-2
Jascha Heifetz (violin), Charles Munch/Boston Symphony Orchestra
Or on CD 68980-2:
RCA Living Stereo SACD 82876-61391-2
Violin Concerto, Op. 64 w/ Bruch/Deutsche Grammophon 400031-2
Anne-Sophie Mutter (violin), Herbert von Karajan/Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Reissued on DG "The Originals" 463641-2:
Violin Concerto, Op. 64 w/ Beethoven/Sony 89505
Joshua Bell (violin), Roger Norrington/Camerata Salzburg
Violin Concerto, Op. 64 w/ Saint-Saëns/Sony 89715
Cho-Liang Lin (violin), Michael Tilson Thomas/Philharmonia Orchestra
Violin Concerto, Op. 64 w/ Bruch & Schubert/EMI Angel 749663-2
Nigel Kennedy (violin), Jeffrey Tate/English Chamber Orchestra

Elijah (oratorio)

Chandos CHAN8774/5
Sheet Music for this Piece
Elijah, Op. 70/Chandos CHAN8774/5
Rosalind Plowright (soprano), Linda Finnie (mezzo soprano), Arthur Davies (tenor), Willard White (bass), Jeremy Budd (boy soprano), Richard Hickox/London Symphony Orchestra & Chorus
Elijah, Op. 70/Philips 432984-2
Thomas Allen (baritone), Yvonne Kenny (soprano), Anne Sofie von Otter (soprano), Anne Dawson (soprano), Jean Rigby (mezzo soprano), Anthony Rolfe Johnson (tenor), Kim Begley (tenor), John Connell (bass), Jamie Hopkins (boy soprano), Neville Marriner/Academy of St. Martin-In-The-Fields
Elijah, Op. 70/Telarc CD-80389
Barbara Bonney (soprano), Henriette Schellenberg (soprano), Marietta Simpson (mezzo soprano), Florence Quivar (mezzo soprano), Jerry Hadley (tenor), Richard Clement (tenor), Thomas Paul (baritone), Thomas Hampson (baritone), Tim Gunther (baritone) Reid Bartelme (boy soprano), Robert Shaw/Atlanta Symphony Orchestra & Chorus
Elijah, Op. 70/Carus-Verlag Hybrid Multichannel SACD 83.215
Letizia Scherrer (soprano), Werner Güra (tenor), Renee Morloc (alto), Michael Volle (bass), Frieder Bernius/Stuttgart Classical Philharmonic Orchestra & Chamber Choir

Core Repertoire - Start Here! Midsummer Night's Dream, Incidental Music

Sheet Music for this Piece
Midsummer Night's Dream: Overture, Op. 23 & Incidental Music, Op. 61/CBS MYK37760
George Szell/Cleveland Orchestra
Midsummer Night's Dream: Overture, Op. 23 & Incidental Music, Op. 61/Philips 420653-2
Colin Davis/Boston Symphony Orchestra
Midsummer Night's Dream: Overture, Op. 23 & Incidental Music, Op. 61/Philips 420653-2
Colin Davis/Boston Symphony Orchestra
Midsummer Night's Dream: Overture, Op. 23 & Incidental Music, Op. 61/Philips 420653-2
Colin Davis/Boston Symphony Orchestra

Core Repertoire - Start Here! Octet for Strings

Sheet Music for this Piece
String Octet in E Flat Major, Op. 20/Philips 420400-2
Academy Chamber Ensemble
String Octet in E Flat Major, Op. 20/Sony SK48307
L'Archibudelli
String Octet in E Flat Major, Op. 20/Hyperion CDA66356
Divertimenti
String Octet in E Flat Major, Op. 20/London 421093-2
Academy Chamber Ensemble

Quartets for Strings

Sheet Music for this Piece
String Quartets (Complete)/Deutsche Grammophon 415883-2
Melos Quartet
String Quartets, Op. 12 & 13; Andante, Op. 81 #1 and Scherzo, Op. 81 #2/Hyperion CDA66397
Coull String Quartet
String Quartets, Op. 44 #2, Op. 80 and in E Flat Major (1823)/Hyperion CDA66579
Coull String Quartet
String Quartets, Op. 44 #1 & 3, Capriccio, Op. 81 # 3 and Fugue, Op. 81 #4/Hyperion CDA66615
Coull String Quartet

Quintet for Strings #2

Sheet Music for this Piece
String Quintet in B Flat Major, Op. 87/Philips 420400-2
Academy Chamber Ensemble
String Quintets, #1 Op. 18 and #2 Op. 87/Musicales Actes Sud M210001
Quintette Mendelssohn

Sonatas for Organ (1, 6)

Sheet Music for this Piece
Organ Sonatas, Op. 65 #2, 3 & 6/Argo 414420-2
Peter Hurford (organ)

Songs Without Words for Piano

"Lieder ohne Worte" (Complete)/Hyperion CDA66221/2
Lívia Rév (piano)
"Lieder ohne Worte" (Selections)/London 421119-2
András Schiff (piano)

Core Repertoire - Start Here! Symphonies (3, Core Repertoire - Start Here!4, 5)

Sheet Music for this Piece
Symphony #3 "Scottish", Op. 56/Telarc CD-80184
Christoph von Dohnányi/Cleveland Orchestra
Symphonies #3 "Scottish", Op. 56 and #4 "Italian", Op. 90/Deutsche Grammophon 415670-2
James Levine/Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Symphony #4 "Italian", Op. 90/Deutsche Grammophon 410862-2
Giuseppe Sinopoli/Philharmonia Orchestra
Symphony #4 "Italian", Op. 90/Virgin CDC59135
Charles Mackerras/Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment
Symphonies #1-5/RCA Eurodisc 69237-2-RV
Celestina Casapietra, Peter Schreier, Adele Stolte, Kurt Masur/Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, Leipzig Radio Chorus

Core Repertoire - Start Here! Trios for Piano, Violin & Cello

Sheet Music for this Piece
Piano Trios, Op. 49 & 66/Vox Unique or Vox Box CD3X3029
Laredo-Robinson-Kalichstein Trio
Piano Trios, Op. 49 & 66/Arabesque Z6599
David Golub (piano), Mark Kaplan (violin), Colin Carr (cello)
Piano Trios, Op. 49 & 66/Deutsche Grammophon 410862-2
Giuseppe Sinopoli/Philharmonia Orchestra
Trumpet