Today I'll be continuing on with one of the major romantics, Felix Mendelssohn. Mendelssohn was, compared to some of the other figures I've mentioned here, extremely popular and wealthy during his lifetime, probably the most famous composer during his lifetime. He was the grandson of important Jewish philosopher Moses Mendelssohn, and growing up, converted to Christianity (even having his family adopt the new last name Bartholdy). However, there's a lot of speculation that this was only a technical conversion to get ahead in society and that they really didn't practice. In any case, Mendelssohn was a child prodigy as well, and he had early private concerts for people like Goethe who held tons of clout in German society at the time. When he was 17 he composed his overture to A Midsummer Night's Dream, which is still often performed, and he grew up to become the conductor of the Leipzig Gewandhaus orchestra (which was a huge deal). In that capacity, he led the revival of J.S. Bach's reputation by performing the St. Matthew Passion for the first time since Bach's lifetime.
Mendelssohn was a huge hit in London as well. It was in Britain where Elijah was first performed. He also used the landscape of his travels there, especially in Scotland, as inspiration for his third symphony, as well as one of the works I'm posting today, the "Hebrides" overture, also called Fingal's Cave. This overture basically depicts a seascape - it's very easy to tell how the opening strings motif would represent the waves, for instance. There is no real plot to the music - instead it is programmatic (or specifically depicting something) only as far as just trying to generally describe the mood of the cave.
The other work I am including are excerpts from the "Songs Without Words," which are a large scale collection of short lyrical piano pieces Mendelssohn wrote to try and depict different moods (things like the Spring, or a Venetian gondolier song). A lot of thi stuff is standard repertoire for a decent pianist, and I feel like throwing those folks a bone since the closest I've gotten so far in this blog is a harpsichord piece. My selections are the first entry in his Opus 19, and the 4th, 5th, and 6th entries in his Opus 62 - the sixth one is that Spring song I mentioned earlier. I guarantee you've heard it in old Looney Toons. I'm not sure who is playing the Opus 19, but it's really serene and beautiful I think, but Daniel Barenboim, who is a very highly regarded conductor and pianist of the late 20th century especially, is performing the Op. 62. The Hebrides Overture is performed by Fritz Lehmann with the berlin Philharmonic. He was apparently a conductor who died before stereo made it possible for him to make more widespread record sales, if these youtube notes are to be believed, but in any case, it is a good performance, and I appreciated how he brought out some of the supporting melodies that I have never heard before in other recordings. All of my recordings of these works are collected on general compilation CDs of a bunch of random composers and performers, so I don't have any particular recommendations. Feel free to comment with some of your own.