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8.553358 - MENDELSSOHN: Sonata in G Minor / Fantasia, Op. 15 / Variations, Op. 83
Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy (1809–1847)
Born in Hamburg in 1809, eldest son of the banker Abraham Mendelssohn and grandson of the great Jewish thinker Moses Mendelssohn, Felix Mendelssohn, who took the additional Batholdy on his baptism as a Christian, Heine's ticket of admission to European culture, was brought up in Berlin, where his family settled in 1812. Here he enjoyed the wide cultural opportunities that his family offered, through their own interests and connections.
Mendelssohn's early manhood brought the opportunity to travel, as far south as Naples and as far north as the Hebrides, with Italy and Scotland both providing the inspiration for later symphonies. His career involved him in the Lower Rhine Festival in Düsseldorf and a period as city director of music, followed, in 1835, by appointment as conductor of the Gewandhaus Orchestra in Leipzig. Here he was able to continue the work he had started in Berlin six years earlier, when he had conducted in Berlin a revival of Bach's St Matthew Passion. Leipzig was to provide a degree of satisfaction that he could not find in Berlin, where he returned at the invitation of Kind Friedrich Wilhelm IV in 1841. In Leipzig once more, in 1843, he established a new Conservatory, spending his final years there, until his death at the age of thirty-eight on 4 November 1847, six months after the death of his gifted and beloved sister Fanny.
Mendelssohn started composition lessons at the age of eight with Carl Zelter and it was with him that, four years later, he travelled to Weimar to meet the old poet and polymath Goethe. Having amazed Goethe and his guests by his improvisations and sight-reading of manuscripts by Mozart and Beethoven, four days later he played Goethe his new Sonata in G minor, assuring his parents, in a letter home, that Goethe had liked it very much. The work shows the influence of Haydn, with first and second subjects derived from the same very simple thematic material. Elements of this are very properly used in a development section and then brought back again in a recapitulation. The central Adagio shows greater freedom and is followed by a classical copy-book Finale.
The Fantasia on The Last Rose of Summer, Opus 15, was written in 1827 and published in 1883. The sing was one of those included, in 1813, in an installment of Thomas Moore's Irish Melodies, and became one of the most widely known of songs for amateur sentimental performance in the Victorian drawing-room. It had, of course, a particular attraction in its seemingly exotic provenance. Mendelssohn's Fantasia on the song starts with an introductory E minor Presto agitato, variously interrupted by moments of relaxation, the theme itself, soft-pedaled, and, when the Presto is over, by a final remoter variant of the song.
The Étude in F minor was written in 1836 at the invitation of Mendelssohn's friend, the pianist Ignaz Moscheles, then living in London, and was published by him in his Méthode des méthodes, a collaboration with the musicologist Fétis, together with studies by Chopin, Liszt and others. The study is marked Presto agitato.
Mendelssohn's Capriccio in E major, Opus 118, was written in 1837 but published posthumously. It consists of an introductory Andante and a sonata-form Allegro, followed by a coda. The Two Pieces, a B flat major Andante cantabile and a G minor Presto agitato, make no great technical demands. The first offers a gentle, singing melody in 6/8, while the second, with its arpeggio figuration divided between left and right hand, offers an opportunity for innocent display.
The Variations in B flat major, Opus 83, have been dated to 1841, after Mendelssohn's uneasy return to Berlin, one of three such sets of variations written at this time. The work was posthumously in 1850. A characteristic singing Andante theme is followed by five variations, the fourth in the relative minor, followed by a less inspired final Allegro assai.
Mendelssohn's Scherzo a capriccio in F sharp minor is in a mood familiar enough from the fairy delicacy of music for A Midsummer Night's Dream, here tinged by an element of melancholy. It was written in October 1835 and published in L'album des pianistes.
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