Friday, February 03, 2012

Happy Composer

Felix Mendelssohn

"Though everything else may appear shallow and repulsive, even the smallest task in music is so absorbing, and carries us so far away from town, country, earth, and all worldly things, that it is truly a blessed gift of God." -- Felix Mendelssohn

Today is the anniversary of the birth of Felix Mendelssohn.  Regarded by classical music aficionados and critics alike, as one of the most prolific and gifted composers the world has ever known, his first name, Felix, is from the Latin word meaning "happy".  This is a felicitous choice of a name for the composer of the lilting Overture to   "A Midsummer Night's Dream" and the even more famous "Wedding March" from the same group of incidental pieces.  Whether he was born with his incredible talent or was the product of an artistically and intellectually-inclined family will remain a mystery, but like all prodigies, Mendelssohn showed signs of true genius from childhood.

My own favorites among the works of Mendelssohn include Overtures, Symphonies, Choral Works, Chamber Music, works for solo Piano and a concerto for violin and orchestra.  My first experience with his music was when, in my teens, I played the oboe in our high school band.  We played a transcription of the Hebrides Overture and this Romantic gem immediately became one of my favorites.  Mendelssohn wrote the concert Hebrides Overture (Fingal's Cave) in 1830, inspired by visits he made to Scotland around the end of the 1820s. He visited Fingal's Cave, on the Hebridean isle of Staffa, as part of his Grand Tour of Europe, and was so impressed that he scribbled the opening theme of the overture on the spot, including it in a letter he wrote home the same evening.
Throughout his career he wrote a number of other concert overtures. My favorite is  the overture to Ruy Blas, commissioned for a charity performance of Victor Hugo's drama.  In addition to the literary works of  Hugo ,  Mendelssohn found inspiration in both  the works of German poet Wilhelm von Goethe and English playwright William Shakespeare.  At the age of seventeen, he composed the overture to "A Midsummer Night's Dream Opus 21", based on the Bard's comedic play.  The piece featured lush orchestration, and is considered one of the most beautiful works of the Romantic period of Classical music.

I consider Mendelssohn to be an early Romantic composer as did Pablo Casals, who called him, " A romantic who felt at ease within the mould of classicism." (quoted in J M Corredor, Conversations with Casals (1954)).  Regarded by some critics as the 19th century equivalent of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and yet others as a great composer who's contribution would have been greater, had his life been marred with more hardships.  I believe everyone can agree that he deserves his place amongst the best, and most influential of all composers.

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