Composers Datebook®

with host John Zech

Monday, August 6

A dream situation for Mendelssohn

Synopsis

Not many 19th century composers chose their parents as wisely as Felix and Fanny Mendelssohn. Papa Mendelssohn was a wealthy banker in Berlin, and his musically gifted children grew up in a mansion where Sunday afternoon chamber music concerts were regular events. Felix and Fanny would perform their own pieces at the piano, and if young Felix had composed a little symphony for strings, why, it was a simple matter for Papa to hire the necessary musicians and have it performed.

It was an idyllic situation for any young composer, and certainly young Felix put his good fortune to good use. In July of 1826, when he was 17, Felix wrote to a friend: “I have grown accustomed to composing in our garden. Today or tomorrow I am going to dream there ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream.’”

Mendelssohn had been reading a German translation of Shakespeare’s comedy, and on today’s date in 1826, completed a concert overture to that play. Felix and Fanny gave the first performance in a two-piano version at one of the family soirees, and a private orchestral reading at the mansion followed a few months later.

Mendelssohn intended his piece to represent the whole of the drama in miniature: “At the end,” he wrote, “after everything has been satisfactorily settled and the principal players have joyously left the stage, the elves and fairies bless the house, and disappear with the dawn. So the play ends, and my overture, too.”

Music Played in Today's Program

Felix Mendelssohn (1809 - 1847) A Midsummer Night's Dream Overture Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra; Kurt Masur, cond. Teldec 46323

Additional Information

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