Felix Mendelssohn  

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“Die Leute beklagen sich gewöhnlich, die Musik sei so vieldeutig; es sei so zweifelhaft, was sie sich dabei zu denken hätten, und die Worte verstände doch ein jeder. Mir geht es gerade umgekehrt. Und nicht bloß mit ganzen Reden, auch mit einzelnen Worten, die scheinen mir so vieldeutig, so unbestimmt, so missverständlich im Vergleich zu einer rechten Musik, die einem die Seele erfüllt mit tausend besseren Dingen als Worten. Das, was mir eine Musik ausspricht, die ich liebe, sind mir nicht zu unbestimmte Gedanken, um sie in Worte zu fassen, sondern zu bestimmte.“

[People usually complain that music is so ambiguous; it is so problematic that they don’t know what to think of it, but that words can each be understood. For me, it is exactly the opposite. And not merely with speech as a whole, but also with single words, they appear to me so ambiguous, so undefined, so misunderstood in comparison to a true music that fills the soul with a thousand better things than words. That which I pronounce in music, that I love, is to me not a thought that is so undefined that it cannot be grasped in words, instead it is too specific.] (Translation mine)[1]

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Jakob Ludwig Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy, born and generally known as Felix Mendelssohn (February 3, 1809November 4, 1847) was a German composer, pianist and conductor of the early Romantic period best-known for his Wedding March from A Midsummer Night's Dream. After a long period of relative denigration due to changing musical tastes and antisemitism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, his creative originality is now being recognized and re-evaluated. He is now among the most popular composers of the Romantic era.


Throughout his life Mendelssohn was wary of the more radical musical developments undertaken by some of his contemporaries. He was generally on friendly, if somewhat cool, terms with the likes of Hector Berlioz, Franz Liszt, and Giacomo Meyerbeer, but in his letters expresses his frank disapproval of their works.

In particular, he seems to have regarded Paris and its music with the greatest of suspicion and an almost Puritanical distaste. Attempts made during his visit there to interest him in Saint-Simonianism ended in embarrassing scenes. He thought the Paris style of opera vulgar, and the works of Meyerbeer insincere. When Ferdinand Hiller suggested in conversation to Felix that he looked rather like Meyerbeer (they were distant cousins, both descendants of Rabbi Moses Isserlis), Mendelssohn was so upset that he immediately went to get a haircut to differentiate himself. It is significant that the only musician with whom he was a close personal friend, Moscheles, was of an older generation and equally conservative in outlook. Moscheles preserved this outlook at the Leipzig Conservatory until his own death in 1870.


The conservative strain in Mendelssohn, which set him apart from some of his more flamboyant contemporaries, bred a similar condescension on their part toward his music. His success, his popularity and his Jewish origins irked Richard Wagner sufficiently to damn Mendelssohn with faint praise, three years after his death, in an anti-Jewish pamphlet Das Judenthum in der Musik. This was the start of a movement to denigrate Mendelssohn's achievements which lasted almost a century, the remnants of which can still be discerned today amongst some writers. The Nazi regime was to cite Mendelssohn's Jewish origin in banning performance and publication of his works. Charles Rosen, in his book The Romantic Generation, disparages Mendelssohn's style as "religious kitsch", such opinion reflecting a continuation of the aesthetic contempt of Wagner and his musical followers.

In England, Mendelssohn's reputation remained high for a long time; the adulatory (and today scarcely readable) novel Charles Auchester by the teenaged Sarah Sheppard, published in 1851, which features Mendelssohn as the "Chevalier Seraphael", remained in print for nearly eighty years. Queen Victoria demonstrated her enthusiasm by requesting, when The Crystal Palace was being re-built in 1854, that it include a statue of Mendelssohn. Mendelssohn's Wedding March from A Midsummer Night's Dream was played as a piece of ceremonial music at the wedding of Queen Victoria's daughter, Princess Victoria, The Princess Royal, to Crown Prince Frederick of Prussia in 1858 and it is still popular today at marriage ceremonies. His sacred choral music, particularly the smaller-scale works, remains popular in the choral tradition of the Church of England. However many critics, including Bernard Shaw, began to condemn Mendelssohn's music for its association with Victorian cultural insularity.

Over the last fifty years a new appreciation of Mendelssohn's work has developed, which takes into account not only the popular 'war horses', such as the E minor Violin Concerto and the Italian Symphony, but has been able to remove the Victorian varnish from the oratorio Elijah, and has explored the frequently intense and dramatic world of the chamber works. Virtually all of Mendelssohn's published works are now available on CD.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Felix Mendelssohn" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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