Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847)

Episodes

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01Mendelssohn in Mozart's shadow20190107

Donald Macleod delves into the impact of Mozart upon Mendelssohn’s life and music

In Composer of the Week, Donald Macleod journeys through the life of Felix Mendelssohn, exploring in particular a number of influences upon the composer’s works. Mendelssohn was a leading figure of German music in his day, and became something of an international celebrity. He was at the very forefront of music making during the 1830s and 1840s, as a composer, conductor, pianist and organist. He began as a highly gifted and versatile prodigy, and rose to become one of Germany’s first rank composers of the early romantic period. He composed music in many genres including concertos, oratorios, symphonies, songs and chamber music. Amongst some of his most famous works are the highly evocative and dramatic overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and his mature and richly romantic Violin Concerto.

Felix Mendelssohn’s early life has many similarities with the early life of Mozart. Both were brilliant performers on the piano and the violin. They both started writing music at a very young age. Mozart and Mendelssohn both had hugely talented sisters, but their fathers played very different roles. Whereas Mozart’s father was very much the driving force in his son’s life and career, for Mendelssohn this authority largely came from his teacher Carl Friedrich Zelter. Zelter encouraged his pupil to learn from the music of Mozart, and so many of Mendelssohn’s early compositions have a distinct trace of Mozart. The famous writer Goethe had met Mozart, seeing him perform a number of exercises as a young boy. When he met Mendelssohn some years later, he put the lad through many similar tests to compare the two. This comparison with Mozart would continue throughout Mendelssohn’s life and beyond. Many years after his death, the conductor Hans von Bulow said that if you want to perform Mendelssohn correctly, you must first play Mozart.

Die beiden Padagogen (Overture)
Munchner Radio Orchestra
Heinz Wallberg, conductor

Die beiden Padagogen (Probatum est, dies ruf ich mir)
Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, baritone (Bogy)
Munchner Radio Orchestra
Heinz Wallberg, conductor

Duo Sonata in G minor
Duo Lontano
Babette Hierholzer, piano
Jurgen Appell, piano

Piano Quartet No 2 in F minor, Op 2 (Allegro molto vivace)
Domus
Krysia Osotowicz, violin
Timothy Boulton, viola
Richard Lester, cello
Susan Tomes, piano

Concerto in A minor for piano and string orchestra
Ronald Brautigam, piano
Amsterdam Sinfonietta
Lev Markiz, conductor

Produced by Luke Whitlock, for BBC Wales

Donald Macleod explores the impact of Mozart upon Mendelssohn.

Donald Macleod offers a weekly guide to composers and their music.

02Mendelssohn is inspired by Italy20190108

Donald Macleod journeys with Mendelssohn through his travels in Italy.

In Composer of the Week, Donald Macleod journeys through the life of Felix Mendelssohn, exploring in particular a number of influences upon the composer’s works. Mendelssohn was a leading figure of German music in his day, and became something of an international celebrity. He was at the very forefront of music making during the 1830s and 1840s, as a composer, conductor, pianist and organist. He began as a highly gifted and versatile prodigy, and rose to become one of Germany’s first rank composers of the early romantic period. He composed music in many genres including concertos, oratorios, symphonies, songs and chamber music. Amongst some of his most famous works, are the highly evocative and dramatic overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and his mature and richly romantic Violin Concerto.

Mendelssohn composed a number of works whilst on his Grand Tour of Italy. At the start of the 1830s he visited many of the iconic Italian destinations such as Venice, Florence, Rome, Naples and Milan. This visit to Italy can be heard in a number of his works from the time, including his song of a Venetian Gondolier for solo piano, to his Italian Symphony. Yet, although Mendelssohn found the art, architecture and landscape of Italy to be hugely inspiring, he didn’t rate the quality of music making there. During Holy Week in Rome he enjoyed listening to the Papal choir, but by and large he found musical standards in Italy very low at the time. On one occasion Mendelssohn fled from a church to escape the lamentable playing of the organist.

Lieder ohne Worte, Op 19B No 6 (Venetianisches Gondellied)
Howard Shelley, piano

Psalm 115 Non nobis Domine, Op 31
Annemarie Kremer, soprano
Daniel Sans, tenor
Manfred Bittner, bass
Chamber Choir of Europe
Wurttembergische Philharmonie Reutlingen
Nicol Matt, conductor

Nachspiel in D major
Olivier Vernet, organ

Symphony No 4 in A major, Op 90 (Italian)
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
John Elliot Gardiner, conductor

Produced by Luke Whitlock, for BBC Wales

Donald Macleod journeys with Mendelssohn through Italy.

Donald Macleod offers a weekly guide to composers and their music.

03Mendelssohn, the champion of Bach20190109

Donald Macleod delves into the impact of Bach upon Felix Mendelssohn

In Composer of the Week, Donald Macleod journeys through the life of Felix Mendelssohn, exploring in particular a number of influences upon the composer’s works. Mendelssohn was a leading figure of German music in his day, and became something of an international celebrity. He was at the very forefront of music making during the 1830s and 1840s, as a composer, conductor, pianist and organist. He began as a highly gifted and versatile prodigy, and rose to become one of Germany’s first rank composers of the early romantic period. He composed music in many genres including concertos, oratorios, symphonies, songs and chamber music. Amongst some of his most famous works, are the highly evocative and dramatic overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and his mature and richly romantic Violin Concerto.

Mainly through his teacher Zelter, Mendelssohn had been introduced to the music of Johann Sebastian Bach from a very young age. A number of his early works display a distinct trace of the baroque master. Mendelssohn had a drive and enthusiasm for Bach, and he was determined that as a conductor he should bring Bach’s music to a wider audience. Mendelssohn helped to resurrect Bach’s St Matthew Passion from obscurity, and its performance in the late 1820s led to a regeneration and interest in oratorio. Partly through his work championing Bach, Mendelssohn was hailed as a cultural leader of a nation. His own oratorios demonstrate the influence of Bach and Handel, although one of his friends criticised Mendelssohn for falling into bad habits and involuntarily copying Bach in his work Elijah.

String Symphony No 5 in B flat major (Allegro vivace)
Amsterdam Sinfonietta
Lev Markiz, conductor

Prelude and Fugue No 1 in E minor, Op 35
Howard Shelley, piano

Paulus, Op 36 (Rise! Up! Arise!)
Barry Banks, tenor
Peter-Coleman-Wright, bass (Paul)
BBC National Chorus of Wales
BBC National Orchestra of Wales
Richard Hickox, conductor

Organ Sonata in C minor, No 2 Op 65
William Whithead, organ

Elijah, Op 70 (It is enough)
Willard White, bass-baritone (Elijah)
Rosalind Plowright, soprano (Angel)
Linda Finnie, mezzo-soprano (Angel)
Jeremy Budd, tenor (Youth)
London Symphony Orchestra
Richard Hickox, conductor

Produced by Luke Whitlock, for BBC Wales

Donald Macleod delves into Mendelssohn's association with Bach.

Donald Macleod offers a weekly guide to composers and their music.

04Mendelssohn, the London celebrity20190110

Donald Macleod delves into Felix Mendelssohn’s popularity in London

In Composer of the Week, Donald Macleod journeys through the life of Felix Mendelssohn, exploring in particular a number of influences upon the composer’s works. Mendelssohn was a leading figure of German music in his day, and became something of an international celebrity. He was at the very forefront of music making during the 1830s and 1840s, as a composer, conductor, pianist and organist. He began as a highly gifted and versatile prodigy, and rose to become one of Germany’s first rank composers of the early romantic period. He composed music in many genres including concertos, oratorios, symphonies, songs and chamber music. Amongst some of his most famous works, are the highly evocative and dramatic overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and his mature and richly romantic Violin Concerto.

Felix Mendelssohn made many visits to London during his lifetime. As his travels to the capital progressed, so did his ascending star and status with the British public. Initially he wasn’t recognised as a professional composer on these shores until a performance of his overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream. After this point, commissions started to pour in. During his first few visits, Mendelssohn generally restricted his public appearances to benefit concerts, or concerts given by the Philharmonic Society. With his popularity growing he was soon giving impromptu performances on the organ at St Paul’s Cathedral, where people would flock to hear him play. London society idolised Mendelssohn, and the city became a testing ground for some of his new compositions including his Rondo Brillant. His popularity rose to such a pitch that he was invited to Buckingham Palace to socialise with Queen Victoria on a number of occasions.

Sechs Lieder ohne Worte, Book 1 Op 19b (Moderato)
Daniel Barenboim, piano

A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Overture)
Gewandhausorchester, Leipzig
Kurt Masur, conductor

Rondo Brillant, Op 29
Ronald Brutigam, piano
Amsterdam Sinfoniette
Lev Markiv, conductor

Erntelied, Op 8 No 4
Sophie Daneman, soprano
Eugene Asti, piano

Pilgerspruch, Op 8 No 5
Stephen Loges, baritone
Eugene Asti, piano

Elijah, Op 70 (For the mountains shall depart)
Simon Keenlyside, baritone
Rosemary Joshua, soprano
Sarah Connolly, mezzo-soprano
Robert Murray, tenor
Warsaw Philharmonic Choir
Gabrieli Young Singers Scheme
Gabrieli Consort and Players
Paul McCreesh, conductor

Produced by Luke Whitlock, for BBC Wales

Donald Macleod explores Mendelssohn's popularity in London.

Donald Macleod offers a weekly guide to composers and their music.

05Mendelssohn's muse Cecile20190111

Donald Macleod explores the impact of marriage upon Mendelssohn’s life and music.

In Composer of the Week, Donald Macleod journeys through the life of Felix Mendelssohn, exploring in particular a number of influences upon the composer’s works. Mendelssohn was a leading figure of German music in his day, and became something of an international celebrity. He was at the very forefront of music making during the 1830s and 1840s, as a composer, conductor, pianist and organist. He began as a highly gifted and versatile prodigy, and rose to become one of Germany’s first rank composers of the early romantic period. He composed music in many genres including concertos, oratorios, symphonies, songs and chamber music. Amongst some of his most famous works, are the highly evocative and dramatic overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and his mature and richly romantic Violin Concerto.

During the 1830s, pressure grew on Mendelssohn from his friends and family to find a wife. The lucky girl was Cecile Sophie Charlotte Jeanrenaud, who Mendelssohn first met in 1836 in Frankfurt. Theirs was a blest relationship which would inspire and influence many of his works, including his love duet for solo piano from his Sechs Lieder ohne Worte, or the String Quartet in E minor. As Mendelssohn’s professional life became increasingly busy, including lots of travel both in Germany and abroad, his wife Cecile provided a domestic backdrop which supported her husband in his work. Some went on to criticise Mendelssohn, attributing a loss of artistic integrity to his increased domestic happiness. With Mendelssohn's early death, Cecille was noted to say, life lasts so long, how shall I live it alone?

Sechs Lieder ohne Worte Op 38 No 6 (Duetto: Andante)
Howard Shelley, piano

Ich wollt’ meine Lieb’ ergosse sich, Op 63 No 1
Herbstlied, Op 63 No 4
Sophie Daneman, soprano
Nathan Berg, baritone
Eugene Asti, piano

Prelude and Fugue in C minor, Op 37 No 1
Stefan Johannes Bleicher, organ

Concerto in E minor for violin and orchestra, Op 64
Kyung Wha Chung, violin
Montreal Symphony Orchestra
Charles Dutoit, conductor

String Quartet in E minor, Op 44 No 2 (Presto agitato)
Emerson String Quartet

Produced by Luke Whitlock, for BBC Wales

Donald Macleod explores Mendelssohn's marriage to Cecile.

Donald Macleod offers a weekly guide to composers and their music.