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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Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto: “The Heart’s Jewel”

In 1906, on the occasion of his 75th birthday, the great Hungarian violinist Joseph Joachim offered an assessment of what remain four major pillars of the solo violin repertoire: The Germans have four violin concertos. The greatest, most uncompromising is Beethoven’s. The one by Brahms vies with it in seriousness. The richest, the most seductive, was written by Max Bruch. But the most inward, the heart’s jewel, is Mendelssohn’s. Indeed, Felix Mendelssohn’s …

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Mendelssohn’s Stormy Sixth Quartet: The Schumann Quartet at Banff

We often associate the music of Felix Mendelssohn with light, sparkling effervescence (as in the scherzos from A Midsummer Night’s Dream and the Octet) and a unique fusion of Romanticism with backward glances at the crystalline, contrapuntal classicism of J.S. Bach. The String Quartet in F minor, Op. 80, Mendelssohn’s final composition, inhabits a shockingly different world. Completed two months before the composer’s premature death at the age of 38 at a time when he was mourning the loss of his beloved …

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