Mendelssohn: A Life in Music

Mendelssohn: A Life in Music

Mendelssohn: A Life in Music

Mendelssohn: A Life in Music

Synopsis

An extraordinary prodigy of Mozartean abilities, Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy was a distinguished composer and conductor, a legendary pianist and organist, and an accomplished painter and classicist. Lionized in his lifetime, he is best remembered today for several staples of the concert hall and for such popular music as "The Wedding March" and "Hark, the Herald Angels Sing." Now, in the first major Mendelssohn biography to appear in decades, R. Larry Todd offers a remarkably fresh account of this musical giant, based upon painstaking research in autograph manuscripts, correspondence, diaries, and paintings. Rejecting the view of the composer as a craftsman of felicitous but sentimental, saccharine works (termed by one critic "moonlight with sugar water"), Todd reexamines the composer's entire oeuvre, including many unpublished and little known works. Here are engaging analyses of Mendelssohn's distinctive masterpieces--the zestful Octet, puckish Midsummer Night's Dream, haunting Hebrides Overtures, and elegiac Violin Concerto in E minor. Todd describes how the composer excelled in understatement and nuance, in subtle, coloristic orchestrations that lent his scores an undeniable freshness and vividness. He also explores Mendelssohn's changing awareness of his religious heritage, Wagner's virulent anti-Semitic attack on Mendelssohn's music, the composer's complex relationship with his sister Fanny Hensel, herself a child prodigy and prolific composer, his avocation as a painter and draughtsman, and his remarkable, polylingual correspondence with the cultural elite of his time. Mendelssohn: A Life offers a masterful blend of biography and musical analysis. Readers will discover many new facets of the familiar but misunderstood composer and gain new perspectives on one of the most formidable musical geniuses of all time.

Excerpt

In the one hundred and fifty-six years since the composer's death in 1847, history has rediscovered Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy numerous times, with radically different results. Etched into our collective musical consciousness are several vivid images of the man and musician. He was a prodigious polymath/polyglot whose intellectual horizons—embracing music, drawing, painting, poetry, classical studies, and theology—were second to none among the “great” composers, and whose musical precocity, not just in composition but also conducting, piano and organ, violin and viola, was rivaled only by Mozart. Mendelssohn was among the first conductors to adopt the baton and to develop systematic rehearsal techniques that advanced the fledgling art of conducting as an independent discipline. He ranked among the very foremost piano virtuosi of his time and performed feats of extemporization legendary already during his lifetime; in addition, he was probably the most distinguished organist of the century. He was the “prime mover” in the Bach Revival, the stimulating agent behind the posthumous canonization of the Thomaskantor. Mendelssohn was the restorer of the oratorio, who produced two examples judged worthy of Handel: St. Paul (1836), which scored early international successes in Germany, England, Denmark, Holland, Poland, Russia, Switzerland, and the United States; and, second only to Handel's Messiah, Elijah (1846), premiered in Birmingham, England, and performed at every triennial musical festival there until the demise of the institution at the outbreak of World War I. Mendelssohn was a versatile, craftsmanlike composer whose work effortlessly mediated between the poles of classicism and romanticism, and he convinced Robert Schumann to label him the Mozart of the nineteenth century. Mendelssohn composed several undisputed masterpieces still in the standard repertoire—the Octet and . . .

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