Mendelssohn’s Wee Bit of Irish

Tomorrow is Saint Patrick’s Day, an occasion when everyone seems to claim a “wee bit of Irish” heritage, if only in spirit. So let’s hear what happens when a beautiful Irish folk song ends up in the hands of a composer otherwise unconnected to the Emerald Isle.

Felix Mendelssohn drew upon a popular Irish folk song for his Fantasia on “The Last Rose of Summer”, Op. 15, a piano work written around 1830. It’s a melody which Beethoven had used already in two lighter works: the 20 Irish Songs (listen to the fascinating way the accompanying lines weave together, adding a motivic element to what would have otherwise been a simple song) and 6 National Airs with Variations, Op. 105

Mendelssohn’s Fantasia suggests mystery, nostalgia, and occasional storminess. In the final bars, we hear echoes of the cadential lines of J.S. Bach, who influenced Mendelssohn throughout his life.


  • Find this recording, featuring pianist Benjamin Frith at iTunes, Amazon.
  • Visit this past Listeners Club post to hear more incarnations of The Last Rose of Summer.
  • For more St. Patrick’s Day music listen to Benjamin Britten’s The Salley Gardens  and Fritz Kreisler’s Londonderry Air from The Listeners’ Club archive.

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