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 breaks his promise and Melusine returns to the water for eternity.

Mendelssohn’s Overture begins with gently rippling currents which suggest a sense of sunny, blissful serenity and effortless forward motion. This flowing motif, which we first hear bubbling up in the solo clarinet, anticipates the music of Wagner’s Das Rheingold, which premiered nearly forty years later. Soon, this fluid dreamscape is interrupted by music which takes an abrupt turn towards stormy passion. Mendelssohn’s music gives us a sense of two worlds colliding. The drama comes to a sudden end as the music seems to sigh with nostalgic lament. The Overture’s final bars fade into watery depths.

Recordings

  • Mendelssohn: Overture “The Fair Melusine”, Op. 32, Claudio Abbado, London Symphony Orchestra Amazon

Featured Image: a stone carving of Melusine at the church of Notre Dame et Saint Junien in Lusignan, France

About Timothy Judd

A native of Upstate New York, Timothy Judd has been a member of the Richmond Symphony violin section since 2001. He is a graduate of the Eastman School of Music where he earned the degrees Bachelor of Music and Master of Music, studying with world renowned Ukrainian-American violinist Oleh Krysa.

The son of public school music educators, Timothy Judd began violin lessons at the age of four through Eastman’s Community Education Division. He was a student of Anastasia Jempelis, one of the earliest champions of the Suzuki method in the United States.

A passionate teacher, Mr. Judd has maintained a private violin studio in the Richmond area since 2002 and has been active coaching chamber music and numerous youth orchestra sectionals.

In his free time, Timothy Judd enjoys working out with Richmond’s popular SEAL Team Physical Training program.

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

  1. It starts somewhat like Smetana’s “Moldau” -a story of “a river’s travels” from a spring to a wide, slow moving, majestic river. Being a “water person” it inspires me to once again “dip into my larger stream of consciousness” and float w/ the Fluid Dreamscape.

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