For a boy who was regarded as one of the greatest musical prodigies after Mozart, the reputation of Mendelssohn in the twentieth century is surely only a fraction of what it should be.
Mendelssohnís story was not one of rags-to-riches; he studied in Paris and Berlin from an early age, and by his teenage years he had his compositions played by hired orchestras in his parentsí private concerts at home. Yet Mendelssohn was not an untalented child spoilt rotten. At 15, he had written his first full symphony, and by 17 had written The Overture to Shakespeareís A Midsummer Nightís Dream, a true romantic masterpiece.
The Hebrides Overture or Fingals Cave, became one of Mendelssohnís most popular works; yet even this pales in comparison to the Violin Concerto and the Italian Symphony, both of which became absolutely entrenched within the classical performing repertoire, the concerto in particular has become an essential part of any violinistís programming.
As well as being a relatively prolific composer, Mendelssohn was multi-lingual, a competent amateur artist and a brilliant conductor. His conducting abilities famously revived public interest and admiration for both the music of J.S. Bach and Schubert, with his performance of the Matthew Passion in Berlin, and Schubertís Ninth Symphony in Leipzig.
What makes Mendelssohnís success and brilliance all the more astonishing is both his style and his religion. As a conservative composer, he rode against the pervading progressive themes of the time, particularly Liszt and Wagner, the latter of which derided him after his death in his anti-semitic polemic Jewishness in Music. Indeed the tide of Anti-Semitism in Europe was so strong, Mendelssohn himself felt it prevented him from furthering his career. A famous example lies with the Berlin Singakademie; even after his gloriously successful performance of the Matthew Passion with the choir, he was still not appointed its conductor, the position instead going to Rungenhagen.
In recent years, Mendelssohnís reputation has been rightly restored. His music is now regarded as among the greatest of the romantic era, and proudly takes its place beside Schumann, Schubert, Brahms and Berlioz.
The Hebrides Overture, Violin Concerto
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