Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Celebrating Mendelssohn’s Bicentennial!

Felix Mendelssohn was born on February 3rd, 1809, 200 years ago. His music “breathes goodness and happiness. He was a gifted person and he used his gifts to glorify God.” [1] He made his first public appearance as a pianist when he was nine and began composing at ten years of age. In speaking of Mendelssohn, Goethe said he bore “the same relation to the little Mozart that the perfect speech of a grown man does to the prattle of a child.” Mendelssohn was undoubtedly one of the most amazing child prodigies in musical history.

He loved the music of Bach and Handel and studied it enthusiastically. When he was only twelve he became so excited about Bach’s oratorio, St. Matthew’s Passion, that his mother had a copy made for him and gave it to him for his birthday.

Eight years later, when he was 20, Mendelssohn performed St. Matthew’s Passion in Berlin, and it is considered one of the greatest musical events in history.

Perhaps his 5th Symphony is the greatest reason I love Mendelssohn. Symphony No. 5, The Reformation Symphony, was written for the tercentenary of the Protestant Augsburg Confession. Listen to the video at the end of this post. It begins with the music of Luther’s hymn, “A Mighty Fortress is Our God”.

During Hitler’s reign in Germany, Mendelssohn’s music was quickly banned in favor of Richard Wagner’s, mostly because of his Jewish heritage but partly because of the religious tone of his music. He never wrote an opera after his music style matured but preferred to write oratorios including his famous St. Paul and the Elijah.
In 1837, he married Cecile Jeanrenaud and had five children. Cecile was an oil painter and the best of wives for Mendelssohn.
Mendelssohn was also very fond of his sister Fanny (also a composer) whose abrupt death took a toll on his own health. He died six months later at the age of 38, in 1847. “All Europe sorrowed over the loss of this amazing man and musician. It was almost like an international calamity, because Mendelssohn with his personal charm and shining Christian purity had left his mark. Some of Mendelssohn’s music has faded, and some lacks depth, but the best is on a high level and fills us with admiration.”[2]
Though his bicentennial year is not quite as prominent as Mozart’s was in 2006, many groups are performing Mendelssohn based concerts. The Minnesota Orchestra will be performing his Reformation Symphony in September.
There is so much more I could say of Mendelssohn, his love for the sea, his legacy of conservativism, his melodiousness, high spirits, unfailing good manners and his modesty in spite of his giftedness and high-standing in society. His delicious music is a reflection of these qualities! Go here to listen to He Watching Over Israel from the Elijah

1. The Gift of Music by Smith and Carlson p.96
2. The Gift of Music by Smith and Carlson p.96
Remember to scroll to the bottom of our page to pause the playlist there before listening to this clip!

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