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From Wikipedia:

Appreciation of Mendelssohn's work has developed over the last 50 years, together with the publication of a number of biographies placing his achievements in context.[200] Mercer-Taylor comments on the irony that "this broad-based reevaluation of Mendelssohn's music is made possible, in part, by a general disintegration of the idea of a musical canon", an idea which Mendelssohn "as a conductor, pianist and scholar" had done so much to establish.[201] The critic H. L. Mencken concluded that, if Mendelssohn indeed missed true greatness, he missed it "by a hair".

What do you think of Mencken's comment at the end? What is this "true greatness" that he might of missed only by a hair? ...

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Anyone who could have written the Midsummer Night's Dream incidental music, The Hebrides overture, the Scottish symphony, the F minor string quartet (to name a few) cannot possibly have been other than great.

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I really like Mendelssohn music. I think he composed some wonderful pieces. The quatuors, the violin concerto, Midsummer night dream, the 2 oratorio, psaume 42, ... i am less interested by his piano music, in particular the songs withput words, and i prefer the opus 7 and opus 35. That said comparing composers at that level is always difficult.

Maybe what can be said is that the music of Mendelssohn is more toward the sun than darkness, a relative lack of drama and intensity sometimes, maybe some shadows are missing. A sort of romantic Mozart but with less tension. Anyway it is very personal. To be more specific, one would need to be more analytical, otherwise as usual it is just a subjective opinion.

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Mendelssohn was a truly great composer. No ifs and no buts.

The only problem with him was that, like Saint-Saëns, he "lacked inexperience" (as Berlioz said of S-S). He was already fully-formed musically in his teens, and - unfortunately for his reputation - his masterpieces of the Octet and A Midsummer Night's Dream Overture were composed then, and critics were all too ready to point out that his style never changed, such that he was able to write all the incidental music for A MSND many years later, as if carrying on where he left off as a kid, and even using some of the same tunes.

Whereas Mozart did 'mature' before our eyes, as we can see when comparing his early piano concertos to his late ones, his early symphonies to his late masterpieces (e.g. the Little G minor v K550), his early operas to his late, great ones. As did Beethoven and almost every other composer except Korngold (whose reputation also suffered, though in his case, also because he was too "Hollywood".....because he actually established the Hollywood sound - from which Rosza, Hermann and Williams et al followed).

And critics conveniently forgot that while his piano concertos sound totally effortless (and were indeed composed very quickly), his violin concerto - the most well-known one of any composer, and one of the greatest - was a mature work and had a long genesis, despite also sounding totally effortless and inevitable. His music is instantly recognizable in whatever form - solo, chamber, orchestral, vocal. His simplest Lied ohne Worte is as obviously Mendelssohnian as his Reformation Symphony.

OK, music obviously came easily to him, and he doesn't break new ground (but his fairy-tale-like lightness in his Scherzi is uniquely his own); and some of his most popular works in his lifetime - like Elijah (a great favorite among the Victorians and Edwardians) - are somewhat looked down upon today, even in the UK. Why? Maybe because they don't exhibit the "struggle" that we want in today's angst-ridden age? Some even accuse him of being "sentimental"......

Well, as Marie A. was reported to have said: "Let them eat cake!" grin
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eQnBvRGPhSo

Leaving aside what JSB's popularity & reputation might have been today if it hadn't been for Felix's advocacy (bringing the Matthäus-Passion out of its long hibernation, for instance) think of what weddings would be like today without his Wedding March smirk .

Incidentally, of all the music I play in my recitals over the years, the piece that generates the greatest interest among my (non-musical) audience is by......Mendelssohn (his Rondo capriccioso), easily trumping Beethoven, Chopin, Schubert, Schumann, Rachmaninov et al. They tell me that no other piece encompasses so many different moods and so many different emotions (from sadness and longing to sheer joie de vivre), and such a variety of tunes and piano textures in such a short space of time. They have a point.......


"I don't play accurately - anyone can play accurately - but I play with wonderful expression. As far as the piano is concerned, sentiment is my forte. I keep science for Life."
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I wouldn't place Mendelssohn among the top 15 and maybe not even the top 20 composers for piano although I think he wrote a few great piano works. This doesn't mean that I don't like his Songs Without Words. It just means I think lots of compositions by other composers are greater. I only know a few of his most famous non-piano works, and if one adds them to the picture my view of his "ranking" would increase a lot.

More than twenty five years ago I attended a lecture recital by a pianist whose name I can't remember but who was giving many lecture recitals at the time. This talk was about Mendelssohn and the pianist began by playing M's Spring Song and possibly another SWW. He then asked the audience whether they thought this was a terrific piece or just a piece of fluff. I can't remember how the audience or I voted. He also played the real ending to M's Serious Variations and Horowitz's much more bombastic ending and asked the audience which they preferred. I voted for the real ending.

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Are you only able to comment on him regarding piano music? ...

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Is a frog's ass water tight?


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Originally Posted by Keith D Kerman
Is a frog's ass water tight?
lol

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A few years ago at the East Neuk Festival in Scotland there was a fine series of recitals covering the complete set of Mendelssohn string quartets. This was the first time I heard the final quartet in F minor and it made the deepest impression on me. It was composed after the death of his sister Fanny, and is shot through with pain from beginning to end, more so than any other piece I know in the classical literature.

I found a fine performance on youtube here, with young players from ChamberFest in Cleveland in 2019.

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Originally Posted by bennevis
...

Leaving aside what JSB's popularity & reputation might have been today if it hadn't been for Felix's advocacy (bringing the Matthäus-Passion out of its long hibernation, for instance) think of what weddings would be like today without his Wedding March smirk .
...
.
this one is enough to make him great.


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Originally Posted by chopinetto
What do you think of Mencken's comment at the end? What is this "true greatness" that he might of missed only by a hair? ...
I profoundly dislike people who think they can judge if other people are truly great or not. It is so arrogant. If someone is obsessed by greatness, well let them strive for greatness themselves. But don't judge others.


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Quote
Do you consider Mendelssohn great?

Yes.

He has written great melodies and his pieces have a certain energy and liveliness which reminds me of Mozart, and sometimes Beethoven, but with a twist which is unique to him. I agree with most of what's written above regarding the character of his pieces. I also find them to be surprisingly addictive after you get to know them.

Last edited by Ido; 01/20/21 11:05 AM.

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Before seeing this thread, I just finished reading these reviews of the 2 concerti and some solo piano pieces, performed by Jan Lisiecki:

http://www.musicweb-international.com/classrev/2019/May/Mendelssohn_PCs_4836471.htm

http://www.musicweb-international.com/classrev/2021/Jan/Mendelssohn-piano-4836471.htm

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Great or not, remember that he was only "discovered" in the first place because he is credited with "discovering" Bach. He piggybacked off that gravy train for sure!

(While this is true, I am saying it half-heartedly.)


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Overall, he was a great composer.

As mentioned above, I think his solo piano output, while not bad, is nothing spectacular. Save the Variations Serieuses and a small handful of the SWW, I find his solo piano works to be decent at best, and not particularly memorable.

However, I think that just about everything else that’s not solo piano is absolutely amazing. I think he was the second-best choral composer of the romantic era behind Brahms. His chamber and orchestra music is incredible, too. His concertos are top-notch, even if not quite “warhorses” like Tchaikovsky or Brahms.

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My favourite piece by Felix Mendelssohn is "Die Erste Walpurgisnacht", op.60, for vocal soloists, choir and orchestra.
There are also plenty of pieces for choir which I like, like some psalms, or "Hör mein Bitten".
His piano music is more or less unknown to me.

Also, it's a pity that he didn't encourage his sister Fanny to study composition in depth and become a serious composer herself. She could have done great things too. As it is, she wrote lots of interesting pieces, but which have a raw, unpolished and less refined energy to them as most works by her brother.

At least that's my opinion.


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Originally Posted by patH
My favourite piece by Felix Mendelssohn is "Die Erste Walpurgisnacht", op.60, for vocal soloists, choir and orchestra.
There are also plenty of pieces for choir which I like, like some psalms, or "Hör mein Bitten".
Hear My Prayer was the first piece by Mendelssohn that I sang after I joined my high school Chapel Choir as a teenager. After the first rehearsal (when we were given the scores by our choirmaster, and all sight-read through the piece - with the chosen girl soprano who had already learnt her part), everyone was humming the tune to 'O for the Wings of a Dove', and half-wishing we could sing that solo ourselves.......

We took that anthem to couple of churches and sang it during one of their Sunday services. Word soon spread, and our choir got invitations to sing in several more churches in the city, always to packed congregations, to the delight of their pastors. On several occasions, we noticed a few of the elderly people in the congregation wiping away tears during our performance. We didn't mind in the least giving up our Sunday mornings in order to perform for appreciative audiences, especially as we were always treated with delicious home-made cakes and pastries afterwards grin.
That was the first time I realized the power of classical music to move people so deeply.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3OvuUecDDE4

Quote
Also, it's a pity that he didn't encourage his sister Fanny to study composition in depth and become a serious composer herself. She could have done great things too. As it is, she wrote lots of interesting pieces, but which have a raw, unpolished and less refined energy to them as most works by her brother.
Fanny was not accorded the adulation that her brother got for his music and music-making, and her musical endeavours were also suppressed by their parents, in accordance with the social conventions then.

However, her music, which had sometimes been passed off as Felix's (and was even published under his name), to his delight when the audience - including Queen Victoria - didn't realize it was actually hers, seems to me to have been influenced by Schumann as much as by her brother, and to that extent, might sound less 'refined' and more impetuous - just as Schumann's music is generally less refined than Felix's.


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Originally Posted by Animisha
Originally Posted by chopinetto
What do you think of Mencken's comment at the end? What is this "true greatness" that he might of missed only by a hair? ...
I profoundly dislike people who think they can judge if other people are truly great or not. It is so arrogant.
So you aren't willing to call anyone great? Ok.

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Originally Posted by bennevis
[...]everyone was humming the tune to 'O for the Wings of a Dove', and half-wishing we could sing that solo ourselves.......
[...]

While I won't weigh in on "greatness" or otherwise, since this is an opinion poll, I have never been able to even moderately warm to "O, for the Wings of a Dove." I have always found it uninteresting to the point of being insipid. (Sorry, Felix!)

That said, there is much in Mendelssohn's music that I both like and admire, including the symphonies, the concerti, the other orchestral works and the chamber music.

Regards,


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Originally Posted by BruceD
Originally Posted by bennevis
[...]everyone was humming the tune to 'O for the Wings of a Dove', and half-wishing we could sing that solo ourselves.......
[...]

While I won't weigh in on "greatness" or otherwise, since this is an opinion poll, I have never been able to even moderately warm to "O, for the Wings of a Dove." I have always found it uninteresting to the point of being insipid. (Sorry, Felix!)
For a teenaged kid whose only exposure to Mendelssohn's music (then) was a Song without Words (an ABRSM grade 6 exam piece, in fact), Hear My Prayer came across as a mini-masterpiece that tugs effortlessly at the heart-strings, even if it is somewhat Victorian in its sentiment and its sweetness smirk (though at that time, I didn't know who Victoria was).

Of course, later on in my singing (& playing) 'career' I got to know a lot more inspiring music like Fauré's Requiem (though that can also sound sweet in the right hands wink ) and Bach's motets and Handel's anthems, and my allegiance shifted to Jesu, meine Freude and Mozart's Ave verum corpus, which remain among my favorites to this day.

But in my old age, I look back wistfully to the time when every new piece I learnt (as pianist as well as chorister) was a new delight and revelation. Alas, I know too much now to be able to re-create those simple pleasures........ cry 3hearts


"I don't play accurately - anyone can play accurately - but I play with wonderful expression. As far as the piano is concerned, sentiment is my forte. I keep science for Life."
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