New Release: Mendelssohn Symphonies, Yannick Nézet-Séguin and the Chamber Orchestra of Europe

This is Italy! And now has begun what I have always thought… to be the supreme joy in life. And I am loving it. Today was so rich that now, in the evening, I must collect myself a little, and so I am writing to you to thank you, dear parents, for having given me all this happiness. Felix Mendelssohn wrote these word from Venice in October, 1930 around the time he …

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Music For Midsummer’s Eve

Today is Midsummer’s Eve in Sweden. Held each year around the summer solstice, Midsummer festivities have roots in ancient pagan rituals. With countryside bonfires and maypole dances, Swedes and other Scandinavians mark the beginning of a brief period of warmth and extended daylight after many dark, cold months. This time of year, in northern Sweden the sun never sets, while in the south it sets for only an hour or two. Midsummer’s Eve in …

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Mendelssohn’s Second String Quartet: Beyond Teenage Love

We don’t know any of the details- not even her name. But in 1827 the 18-year-old Felix Mendelssohn seems to have fallen head over heels in love. In June of that year, Mendelssohn was inspired to write the words and music for a love song called Frage, Op. 9 (“Question”). The short song is full of teasingly hesitant questions which find contented resolution in a plagal cadence which evokes the serene, dreamy final bars of …

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Composers on Holiday: Five Pieces Written on Summer Vacation

Summer is here. For professional orchestral musicians, that means a brief respite from the weekly routine of the main concert season. Soon it will be time for summer seasons and music festivals, many featuring outdoor concerts in such idyllic locations as Chautauqua, Vail, and the Tetons. Summer has typically been a productive time for composers. Gustav Mahler, one of the most prominent conductors of his time, retreated to isolated rural settings in …

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3 Musical Allusions to Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus”

And He shall reign forever and ever… It’s one of the most recognizable passages in all of music…ten downward-stepping pitches which somehow evoke the ultimate sense of joy and triumph. The Hallelujah Chorus closes Part II of Messiah, Handel’s most famous oratorio, with a burst of D major combined with trumpets and drums. George II was so moved when he heard the opening introduction that he rose to his feet and remained standing for the …

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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 …

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Mendelssohn’s Orchestra Plays Melusine

Felix Mendelssohn’s overture, The Beautiful Melusine, was inspired by a legend which Max Derrickson describes: The legend of the half-mermaid, Melusine, appears to date back over nearly twelve centuries.  The arrestingly beautiful Melusine, born of a mortal father and water sprite mother, is cursed to take the form of a serpent from her waist down (a mermaid) one day each week.  This was done by her mother, furious with Melusine for entombing her father …

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