Thursday, at Davies Hall is an all Mendelssohn program. Born Jakob Ludwig Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy, Felix Mendelssohn, as he is known in English-speaking countries, was another of the great German composers. He was also a pianist, organist, and conductor in the early Romantic period. He was born into a Jewish family, though later became a Lutheran Christian. Like most of his colleagues, he was a child prodigy. His early success in Germany sparked new interest in Johann Sebastian Bach. He was well received in England, through ten visits there, where he premiered many of his major works. Most of you already know his most famous piece!!
He was more conservative than most of his contemporaries, such as Franz Liszt, Richard Wagner, and Hector Berlioz. He founded the Leipzig Conservatoire, which became a beacon of his conservative, anti-radical outlook. His many works include symphonies, concerti, oratorios, chamber music, and piano music. His most well performed piece is his Overture, along with music for A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the Italian Symphony, the Scottish Symphony, the Hebrides Overture, his Violin Concerto, and his String Octet.
His family fled Hamburg in 1831, for Berlin. His parents tried to provide the best possible education for their four children. His sister Fanny became a well-known pianist and composer. Though she was talented, it was not proper for a woman to be a musician back then. His father, Abraham renounced the Jewish religion, and the children were baptized as Lutherans in 1822. He began taking lessons from his mother at the age of six. Moving to Berlin, all four children studied piano under Ludwig Berger. Felix and Fanny studied counterpoint and composition under Carl Friedrich Zelter. Zelter, a music conservative, was a big admirer of Bach tradition. He played a key role in developing Mendelssohn musical tastes. His fugues and chorales reflect a tonal clarity and counterpoint similar to J.S. Bach, whose music he admired.
His first public concert was at age 9. Between the ages of 12 and 14, he wrote 12 string symphonies. He published his first work, a piano quartet at the age of 13. At 15, he wrote his first symphony for a full orchestra. At 16, he wrote his String Octet in E flat major, considered by many as his first work of genius. In 1842, he wrote his famous Wedding March. Besides music, Mendelssohn studied classical literature, and was published in 1825 for a translation of Andria.
In 1821, he met Goethe, and set several of his poems to music. In 1829, he conducted Bach’s St. Matthew Passion. Along with his visits to England, he visited Vienna, Florence, Naples, Rome, and Milan. He met many locals artists and musicians that proved to be inspiration for many of his works. On future visits to England, he met Prince Albert and Queen Victoria, both ardent admirers of his music. In 1835, he was named conductor of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra. In 1843, he founded a music school, now the University of Music and Theatre Leipzig.
He died in Leipzig after a series of strokes on November 4, 1947. He was only 38. Upon his death, he was described as a man of happiness and placidity. But he had a temper, and it often led to collapse. Such fits are related to his early death from strokes. He was known as witty with his numerous humorous sketches and cartoons. He remained proud of his Jewish heritage, by his less than conforming Lutheran beliefs. He stayed on friendly terms with his more radical contemporaries. He was cautious of this, as well as the music of Paris. He married and had five children. He worked with opera star, Jenny Lind, and purportedly wanted to elope to America with her.
Today, the San Francisco Symphony will perform Symphony No. 4, Italian, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream (in English). Kurt Masur conducts, with Susannah Biller, soprano, and Maya Lahyani, mezzo-soprano. Maestro Masur is known for his Mendelssohn interpretations. The Dream piece is a hallmark of the romantic period to Billy Shakespeare’s comedy. Who would have thought?
Mendelssohn’s Wedding March (1842) is perhaps one of his best known pieces from his suite of incidental music for Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream. It is the most frequently used wedding march, generally played on a church pipe organ, and reserved for only the Bride. It was used for the first time at the wedding of Dorothy Carew and Tom Daniel at St. Peter’s Church in Tiverton, England on June 2, 1847. But it became most popular from the wedding of Victoria, The Princess Royal to Prince William Frederick of Prussia on January 25, 1858. The bride was the daughter of Queen Victoria, who loved Mendelssohn’s music. The inimitable Vladimir Horowitz transcribed the Wedding March into a virtuoso piece for piano, and often played it for encores at his concerts.