Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Mendelssohn: Symphony #1

Mendelssohn was a child prodigy comparable in talent to Mozart. In fact, some of the works he composed in his teens were thought of as superior to Mozart's when he was at a similar age.

We also have Mendelssohn to thank for reviving the world's interest in the works of Bach. In 1829, Mendelssohn conducted a performance of Bach's St. Matthew's Passion, at a time when Bach's music had become nearly completely forgotten. The performance was so powerful and so well-regarded that it kicked off what we now think of as the "19th century Bach revival."
Herbert Von Karajan and the Berliner Philharmoniker
Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847)
Five Symphonies

Deutsche Grammophon, 1973
The disc I have is a three-CD collection of all five of Mendelssohn's symphonies, and with any luck, I'll have a chance to blog about all of them. I've posted a link to this CD below, along with another, similar Deutsche Grammophon collection of Mendelssohn's symphonies with several additional works.

A few quick notes:

1) The First Symphony clocks in at just 30 minutes; yet another classical work that you can get to know without making a major time commitment.

2) In the 2nd movement you can really see why people think Mendelssohn has a profound gift for composing music for strings.

3) Have you ever heard a military waltz? Is there such a thing? That's what the 3rd movement sounds like to me. Also, listen for the two distinct parts of the 3rd movement: The martial-waltz at the beginning of the movement fades (at about the 2:25 mark) into beautiful woodwind melodies layered over rising arpeggios by the strings. Then the movement returns to the original theme at 5:40 or so.

4) In the 4th movement, listen in at around the 3:20 mark for a fugue-like section that is reminiscent of Bach. And finally, what do you think of the Beethoven-style overwrought ending?

One final note: One work by Mendelssohn that everybody should consider owning is his Octet in E-flat Major for Strings. It is on the second CD collection below. I don't own it (yet), but I would recommend anyone wanting to own what is widely considered one of Mendelssohn's greatest works. Amazingly, he composed it at age 16!

1 comment:

XYBORG said...

In May of 1993, Minister Louis Farrakhan staged a recital of the Violin Concerto, Op.64, by the Jewish composer Felix Mendelssohn in what was one of the most politically-resonant artistic displays in classical music history. In a performance manifesting the most dramatic confluence of art and politics since Richard Wagner penned his notorious tract, 'Das Judenthum in der Music' ('Judaism in Music') ~ and at once refuting that screed's main premise and theme ~ Farrakhan instantly established himself as the single most transformative classical musician in American artistic history.

Squarely placing himself at the epicentre of the most controversial event in the classical music world since the tumult sparked by the 'Tristan und Isolde' overture at the Israel Festival in Jerusalem, Farrakhan's rendition of the Mendelssohn violin concerto left the audience aghast. For the eighteen months leading up to his performance, Farrakhan was coached by Elaine Skorodin Fohrman, a Jewish violin virtuoso and member of Chicago's Roosevelt University where she taught classical violin. Farrakhan's choice of the Mendelssohn piece was attributed by some observers to the composer's identity as a Jew ~ a gesture widely viewed as an "olive branch" to the Nation of Islam leader's Jewish detractors.

Farrakhan's first rendition of the violin concerto occurred as part of a three-day symposium, 'Gateways: Classical Music and the Black Musician', at the Reynold's Auditorium in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, on 18 April 1993. The program included a rendition of the Glazunov Violin Concerto with former New York Philharmonic member, Sanford Allen, as soloist and the Saint Sean's Concerto for Violoncello featuring University of Michigan professor, Anthony Elliott. Farrakhan prefaced his recital by declaring that he would "try to do with music what cannot be done with words and try to undo with music what words have done."

Shortly thereafter, Farrakhan reprised his euphonious peace gesture before a Chicago audience of three thousand on May 17 on his eighteenth-century Guadagnini violin...