Felicitations to Felix

I just remembered that today (February 3rd 2009) is the two hundredth anniversary of the birth of Felix Mendelssohn. Rather than sing Happy Birthday, I thought it would better to celebrate with a Song without Words. Mendelssohn wrote eight famous books each containing six Songs without Words for solo piano, but I’ve picked one written for piano and cello (Opus 109) because I think the cello can sing like no other instrument, and also because I found a rare clip that features the wonderful Jacqueline du Pré on cello, with her mother Iris du Pré on piano. Enjoy!

5 Responses to “Felicitations to Felix”

  1. Anton Garrett Says:

    Good stuff. Recently I read a book by a German musicologist and medical doctor, which hung lives of the composers on their medical histories. It’s a better peg than you might guess. Poor Mendelssohn suffred from a hereditary condition of weak blood vessels in the brain that led to increasing minor aneurysms and painful headaches that ground down his equable character and eventually killed him at a not overly advanced age. Today it could be dealt with.

    Darwin’s 200th next week. He was a Shropshire lad (my adopted county), and there will be big celebrations in his home town of Shrewsbury as well as at Cambridge University and in London. He was not the first to propose a theory of natural selection before the (genetic) mechanism of heritability was understood, but he saw and investigated it in magisterial depth compared to the others and established it on a firm footing.


  2. telescoper Says:

    That sounds like an interesting book; Schubert immediately springs to mind as someone whose life was cut short by disease, but I’lm sure there are many other cases where the lack of effective medical treatment had a profound effect on a composer’s life.

    I was very glad to listen to Radio 3’s day long celebration of Mendelssohn on Sunday (no less than 8 concerts). I’ve always had the notion that he isn’t always taken seriously simply because he happened to write lots of lovely tunes and is consequently one of the most accessible composers. Puccini sometimes suffers from the same sort of snobbishness. I think the Songs without Words for piano are truly great, but he also wrote loads of other wonderful things, especially the oratorio Elijah which is one of the best.

  3. Anton Garrett Says:

    It’s by Anton Neumayr and is called Music and Medicine. Vol 1: Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert. Vol 2: Hummel, Weber, Mendelssohn, Schumann, Brahms, Bruckner. Vol 3: Chopin, Smetana, Tchaikovsky, Mahler. The English translation is not inspired but the work is.


  4. Bryn Jones Says:

    The 200th anniversary of the birth of Mendelssohn crept up on me. I had been distracted by the forthcoming 200th anniversary of the death of Haydn (at the end of May), having recently bought a set of recordings of the Haydn piano sonatas.
    Hopefully the Mendelssohn anniversary will raise interest in his music, though I didn’t see any special concerts.

  5. telescoper Says:

    There have been many celebrations of Mendelssohn’s Birthday around the world, including Scotland (where he travelled as a young man, and was inspired to write the Hebrides Overture).

    I didn’t mention them in my post but there are two other things worth pointing out. One is that it was Mendelssohn that was responsible for the burgeoning interest in Bach in the early 19th Century. For example, in 1829 (when he was only 20) Mendelssohn organized and conducted a performance of the St Matthew Passion which was the first since Bach’s death in 1750. Mendelssohn’s devotion to Bach’s music has led to him being labelled a musical conservative, but even if he had left nothing else to the world of music he would have deserved enormous recognition just for recognizing and promoting Bach (who was relatively unknown during his own lifetime).

    The other thing is that, because he was a Jew, Mendelssohn’s music was banned by the Nazis (partly as a result of disparaging comments made by Wagner in his horribly anti-semitic book “Jewishness in Music”). However, Mendelssohn was exceptionally popular in Britain in Victorian times and has remained so for two centuries. I think that says a lot.

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