Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy- BBC Documentary

Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy- BBC Documentary


Felix Mendelssohn – A Midsummer Night’s Dream Overture – Roll recording C.1908

Felix Mendelssohn – A Midsummer Night’s Dream Overture – Roll recording C.1908

This is charming! It has a good sound for an antique too.

Here is one of Mendelssohn’s best known works which was played and recorded on a piano roll around 1910. The four hands arrangement (presumably by Mendelssohn) was performed by two pianists, Josef Weiss and Emerich Stefaniai who together made a number of rolls in duet at Leipzig for Hupfeld AG before WW1. Both pianists have unfortunately been long forgotten.

The Austro – Hungarian pianist Josef Weiss had a very distinguished career – he was not only a ‘pupil’ of Liszt, but friend and colleague of both Mahler and Busoni. A technically gifted pianist, his style of playing although somewhat eccentric was brilliantly effective. He recorded many piano rolls but very few gramophone records, all show an interesting interpretative approach.

For those who think piano rolls are not a valid recording medium, it is worth pointing out that longer piano works such as this could not in the 1900’s be recorded on to gramophone records without either making huge cuts or the pianist playing beat the clock. The roll recordings therefore in many ways are a more faithful record of the overall performance but not necessarily of the dynamics.

Felix Mendelssohn, artist

Felix Mendelssohn, artist

Felix Mendelssohn wasn’t just a musical genius, oh no..he was an artist as well! Some people are just that talented..

If all the music he wrote wasn’t enough- he produced over 300 artworks!

Just look at this masterpiece he painted of a view of Leipzig in 1838:

What beautiful use of colours and shades!

One wonders how he found the time to create all this art and music! I suppose not having tv and internet they had more time to devote to art…

Here is a nice website-Mendelssohn in Scotland, which shows some of his artworks  he did whilst in Britain- his watercolour of Durham Cathedral is beautiful!


And another website exploring his artworks, The Mendelssohn Project:

Mendelssohn’s artistic imagination was by no means limited to the world of music; from an early age he expressed his ideas in drawings, watercolors, and even oil paintings that reflect a remarkable level of accomplishment and expertise.  In particular, his sense of visual structure was compelling, and his proclivity for gracefully nuanced renderings of line and details compares favorably with that of most artists of his time.  Continuing his work in this medium throughout his life, Felix Mendelssohn produced more than 300 artworks.

The Mendelssohn Project anticipates, for the first time anywhere, to bring together the two most vital expressions of Mendelssohn’s artistic imagination in several ways.

I think this is a marvellous project- exhibitions of his work planned, a virtual tour:

Coming soon, this website will enable users, while examining one, two, or more visual artworks, to play selected compositions by Mendelssohn simultaneously, and thus to experience vicariously the multidimensional appeal of his aesthetic imagination.

And a book!

The Mendelssohn Project anticipates a release of the complete artworks by Felix Mendelssohn in book-form.


Fingal’s Cave- music and poetry

Fingal’s Cave- music and poetry

Fingal’s Cave is a magical cave on the uninhabited island of Staffa in the Inner Hebrides. It sits amongst the Sea and has natural acoustics, caused by echoes of waves; this gives it the atmosphere of a natural cathedral. Its Gaelic name is An Uaimh Bhinn, meaning “the melodious cave.”

From wikipedia:

It became known as Fingal’s Cave after the eponymous hero of an epic poem by 18th century Scots poet-historian James Macpherson. It formed part of his Ossian cycle of poems claimed to have been based on old Scottish Gaelic poems. In Irish mythology, the hero Fingal is known as Fionn mac Cumhaill, and it is suggested that Macpherson rendered the name as Fingal (meaning “white stranger”) through a misapprehension of the name which in old Gaelic would appear as Finn. The legend of the Giant’s Causeway has Fionn or Finn building the causeway between Ireland and Scotland.



The German composer Felix Mendelssohn visited Fingal’s Cave in 1829 and was spellbound by it, so much so that he wrote a beautiful overture inspired by its mysterious echoes. He named it The Hebrides (Fingal’s Cave). He wrote to his sister Fanny:

In order to make you understand how extraordinarily the Hebrides affected me, I send you the following, which came into my head there.

Below is  Mendelssohn’s  initial sketch for the theme of the Hebrides Overture, found in a letter dated August 7, 1829 to his sister Fanny (original in the Music Division of the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts).

This is a work of genius- the music perfectly evokes the waves crashing around the Cave, its atmosphere; the feeling of awe of the power of Nature and its majestic beauty. I love this Overture. Mendelssohn was just 21 years old when he composed this masterpiece!


Listen to it here:

The Daily Kos has a great essay on The Fingal’s Cave Overture:

Here we have one of the most beautiful of Romantic overtures ever composed, and it was dedicated to A CAVE.

Mendelssohn composed this when he was 21.  Before you say that that was too young, the fact is, many of his greatest works were composed when he was young, even though he had a long career.  His greatest composition might be the Midsummer’s Night Dream Overture, which he composed when he was all of 17 years old.  I once started to write a diary on his Midsummer’s Night Dream but abandoned it when I realized just how complicated a task it would be.  Mendelssohn was brilliant, and his musical brilliance expressed itself early.  He has been compared to Mozart in this regard, but unlike Mozart, his music didn’t really grow by the same leaps and bounds as he aged.  

So I’m quite pleased exploring the “early” works of Mendelssohn.  Composed in 1830, this is about contemporary with Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique and Schubert’s Ninth Symphony, making it early or middle period Romanticism.  The harmonic vocabulary isn’t as wild as some things that were yet to come with the later Romantics.  But unlike some of those other Romantics, Mendelssohn excelled at something they must have envied: Counterpoint.  The ability to have many different musical things going on all at the same time without them stumbling over each other.  That’s what I wait for when I listen to Mendelssohn.  The Fingal’s Cave overture begins relatively simply, with a clear transparent main theme carried by the deeper voice of the cellos.  That relative simplicity will give way to greater complexity as the work progresses.

Full essay here:


Here is my collaged painting Of Fingal’s Cave with an overlay of Felix Mendelssohn (one of his portraits I found online, superimposed using pic monkey) – here he is composing the music..

Fingals cave2

The English Romantic poet John Keats  visited the island of Staffa in July 1818, accompanied by his friend Charles Brown.  Keats was just as captivated by the wild beauty of the island and Fingal’s cave, as  Felix Mendelssohn was  11 years later.


Keats wrote to his brother Tom describing Staffa and enclosed the following poem:


Not Aladdin magian
Ever such a work began;
Not the wizard of the Dee
Ever such a dream could see;
Not St. John, in Patmos’ Isle,
In the passion of his toil,
When he saw the churches seven,
Golden aisl’d, built up in heaven,
Gaz’d at such a rugged wonder.
As I stood its roofing under
Lo! I saw one sleeping there,
On the marble cold and bare.
While the surges wash’d his feet,
And his garments white did beat.
Drench’d about the sombre rocks,
On his neck his well-grown locks,
Lifted dry above the main,
Were upon the curl again.
“What is this? and what art thou?”
Whisper’d I, and touch’d his brow;
“What art thou? and what is this?”
Whisper’d I, and strove to kiss
The spirit’s hand, to wake his eyes;
Up he started in a trice:
“I am Lycidas,” said he,
“Fam’d in funeral minstrely!
This was architectur’d thus
By the great Oceanus!–
Here his mighty waters play
Hollow organs all the day;
Here by turns his dolphins all,
Finny palmers great and small,
Come to pay devotion due–
Each a mouth of pearls must strew.
Many a mortal of these days,
Dares to pass our sacred ways,
Dares to touch audaciously
This Cathedral of the Sea!
I have been the pontiff-priest
Where the waters never rest,
Where a fledgy sea-bird choir
Soars for ever; holy fire
I have hid from mortal man;
Proteus is my Sacristan.
But the dulled eye of mortal
Hath pass’d beyond the rocky portal;
So for ever will I leave
Such a taint, and soon unweave
All the magic of the place.”
*  *  *  *  *  *
So saying, with a Spirit’s glance
He dived!


Child Prodigy Meets Great Master: Mendelssohn & Goethe

Child Prodigy Meets Great Master: Mendelssohn & Goethe.

Dr Dick’s Mendelssohn’s World.

In November, when Mendelssohn was 12, Zelter his composition teacher took him to meet the poet, Goethe (pronounced GER-teh), who was a friend of his.

It’s difficult to describe how significant this would have been for a German child. There is no equivalent in today’s world to explain what it would be like to meet Goethe. He wasn’t just a  poet: he was THE Poet, the greatest living German writer who is still regarded as one of the most important writers in the world – of all time. That sounds like over-the-top marketing in today’s world, but what Shakespeare is to people who speak English, Goethe is to people who speak German. His drama, Faust – the story of a man who sells his soul to the devil – is regarded as one of the greatest works of the 19th Century. There was probably no more highly regarded man in Germany – and he had agreed to meet a 12-year-old composer.

In addition to being a poet, dramatist and novelist, Goethe was also a philosopher and scientist, and also wrote about theology and humanism. His interest in music was primarily scientific – the science of sounds – though he enjoyed music. He had played the cello and the piano in his younger days but was puzzled by Beethoven and not at all interested in Schubert. In fact, in 1816 Schubert had sent Goethe a package that included 16 songs he’d written setting some of Goethe’s best-loved poems to music but Goethe didn’t even bother opening it.


Mendelssohn’s teacher had no sooner gotten past the introductions when Goethe opened the lid over the piano keys and asked him to play something.


His composition teacher, Zelter, hummed a tune he had suggested but the boy said he didn’t know that one. So the teacher played it for him. Mendelssohn then played it back to him note perfect, then improvised a fantasy on it – as another person there described it, a wild, surging, torrential fantasia “that poured out like liquid fire.”

Everyone was amazed. Then he played some Mozart, played at sight something by Beethoven that was in manuscript (“looking like it had been written with a broomstick [not a pen] and then he smeared his sleeve over the ink”) but Felix figured it out without too many problems.

Some musicians from town were brought to Goethe’s house. They didn’t know the name Mendelssohn which they saw on the music in front of them. Zelter told them they would meet a boy who so far hasn’t heard much praise or criticism so he hoped they would not go over-board one way or the other and just accept him as a young child beginning his career. “Up to now, I have been able to protect him against vanity and conceit, these two enemies of artistic progress.”

Read on:


Felix Mendelssohn – Concerto for Violin, Piano and Orchestra, period performance

Felix Mendelssohn – Concerto for Violin, Piano and Orchestra, period performance.

Concerto for Violin, Piano and Orchestra in d-minor (1823), MWV 04.

Freiburger Barockorchester, on period instruments. Gottfried von der Goltz, violin and direction. Kristian Bezuidenhout, fortepiano. Composed by F. Mendelssohn (1809-47).

I. Allegro (0:00)
II. Adagio (18:20)
III. Allegro molto (28:03)

A brilliant piece by Mendelssohn! And he was 13 when he composed this…13!!!