Mendelssohn’s “The Hebrides” Overture (“Fingal’s Cave”): Painting in Tones

In the spring of 1829, Felix Mendelssohn embarked on a Grand Tour of Europe. This was a customary educational practice for young men born into affluent families in Europe in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. At the time, Mendelssohn was already a prodigious rising star, having composed works including the Octet, Op. 20 and the famous concert overture inspired by Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Additionally, in March of 1829, Mendelssohn arranged and conducted …

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Nathan Milstein Plays Mendelssohn: 1962 Chicago Symphony Telecast

Nathan Milstein (1903-1992) was one of the most elegant and innately gifted violinists of the twentieth century. The biographer Boris Schwarz called his playing, “a rare combination of classical taste and technical perfection,” adding that “the effortless nonchalance with which he achieves sophisticated technical feats is amazing.” Born in Odessa, Milstein moved to St. Petersburg at the age of 11 where he became one of the last students of the legendary Leopold …

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Mendelssohn’s “The Marriage of Camacho” Overture: Music for a Fleeting Opera

Felix Mendelssohn was 15 when he began work on the two-act comic opera, Die Hochzeit des Camacho (“The Marriage of Camacho”) in 1824. The young composer had already written four previous singspiele operas which received private family performances. The Marriage of Camacho, based on an episode from Cervantes’ Don Quixote, was premiered at the Berlin Schauspielhaus on April 29, 1827. Although the work was well-received by the audience, it was met with a hostile reviews. Mendelssohn was …

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Mendelssohn’s Fourth Symphony, “Italian”: “Blue Sky in A Major”

In October of 1830, the 21-year-old Felix Mendelssohn traveled to Italy. Over the course of ten months, he visited Venice, Florence, Rome, and Naples. With this trip Mendelssohn, who as a child emerged as an astounding musical prodigy and polymath, entered adulthood with the customary Grand Tour, an educational rite of passage for upper-class Europeans in the 17th and 18th centuries. Travels to Britain a year earlier provided the seeds for the …

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Mendelssohn’s “The Fair Melusine” Overture: A Fluid Dreamscape

Felix Mendelssohn’s 1833 concert overture, The Fair Melusine, was inspired by a popular legend from medieval European folklore, first recorded in 1387 by Jean d’Arras. The beautiful Melusine is cursed to take the form of a serpent from her waist down for one day of the week. She agrees to marry a knight and live in the human world on the condition that he does not seek her out on her “serpent day.” Ultimately, the knight …

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Mendelssohn’s Fourth String Quartet: The Passion and Lament of E Minor

The key of E minor seems to have had special significance for Felix Mendelssohn. It opened the door to music filled with quiet anxiety, mystery, and haunting pathos. For example, consider the turbulent, windswept Romanticism of Mendelssohn’s song without words, the Albumblatt In E Minor, Op.117. Here, the pervasive melancholy of E minor is all the more striking when contrasted with the brief, sudden turn to sunny E major in the piece’s transcendent …

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Mendelssohn’s Octet: James Ehnes and the Seattle Chamber Music Society

A few weeks ago, we explored Felix Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E minor, Op. 64 with a 2011 recording featuring James Ehnes. That album also includes Mendelssohn’s famous string Octet, performed by Ehnes and members of the Seattle Chamber Music Society. It’s a great recording by an all-star lineup of musicians. (All the names are listed below with the album link). Mendelssohn was 16 when he wrote the Octet in E-flat Major in 1825. Yet, …

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