Diary

Celebrating Mendelssohn's (200th) Birthday

Last week, we celebrated the birth anniversaries of Mozart and Schubert.

Today is another celebration, but this one is extra-special – because today we celebrate the 200th anniversary of the birth of yet another giant – Felix Mendelssohn.

Mendelssohn was another one of those amazing geniuses who got an early start. He produced copious works across the entire breadth of types of music – chamber music, piano, voice, string orchestra, orchestral music, complete symphonies – and began doing so while still a teenager; his marvelous and sparkling Octet for Strings was written when he was only 16.

Mendelssohn’s other great contribution was his rediscovery and popularization of the music of a rather forgotten German composer by the name of “J. S. Bach.”

His symphonies are probably his best-known works, and they are a marvelous showcase of his genius – since he was able to compose in so many different styles. His Third Symphony (and its “companion,” the well-known Hebrides Overture) was written based on a voyage to Scotland – and is overall rather stern and forboding (except for the sunshine that breaks out near the end). In contrast, his Fourth Symphony (made famous by its use in the film “Breaking Away”) was written while traveling in Italy, and has a completely different feel – being cheery and sunny.

His final symphony, his Fifth Symphony, was composed to mark an anniversary of the Reformation – and is thusly sub-titled. It is mostly dark, brooding, and full of angst, punctuated by a rather frisky Scherzo. The finale is triumphant:

You’ll probably recognize the main theme Mendelssohn used.

Sadly, shortly after completing his Fifth Symphony, Mendelssohn died suddenly at the far-too-young age of 38.