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Mendelssohn, the Organ, and the Music of the Past

Mendelssohn, the Organ, and the Music of the Past: Constructing Historical Legacies

Edited by Jürgen Thym
Copyright Date: 2014
Edition: NED - New edition
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 292
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  • Book Info
    Mendelssohn, the Organ, and the Music of the Past
    Book Description:

    By upbringing, family connections, and education, Felix Mendelssohn was ideally positioned to contribute to the historical legacies of the German people, who in the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars discovered that they were a nation with a distinct culture. The number of cultural icons of German nationalism that Mendelssohn "discovered," promoted, or was asked to promote (by way of commissions) in his compositions is striking: Gutenberg and the invention of the printing press, Dürer and Nuremberg, Luther and the Augsburg Confession as the manifesto of Protestantism, Bach and the St. Matthew Passion, Beethoven and his claims to universal brotherhood. The essays in this volume investigate Mendelssohn's relationship to the music of the past from a variety of perspectives, including the pervasive presence of Bach's music within the larger Mendelssohn family, the influence of Beethoven in the Reformation Symphony, and Mendelssohn's compositions for organ and his relationship to English organs in particular. Together, they shed light on the construction of legacies that, in some cases, served to assert German cultural supremacy only two decades after the composer's death. Contributors: Celia Applegate, John Michael Cooper, Hans Davidsson, Wm. A. Little, Peter Mercer-Taylor, Siegwart Reichwald, Glenn Stanley, Russell Stinson, Benedict Taylor, Nicholas Thistlewaite, Jürgen Thym, R. Larry Todd, Christoph Wolff Jürgen Thym is Professor Emeritus of Musicology at the Eastman School of Music and editor of Of Poetry and Song: Approaches to the Nineteenth-Century Lied (University of Rochester Press, 2010).

    eISBN: 978-1-58046-870-1
    Subjects: Music

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
    Jürgen Thym
  4. Introduction: Of Statues and Monuments
    (pp. 1-12)
    Jürgen Thym

    Felix Mendelssohn grew up in an era and in a region of Europe—namely the German-speaking lands—that liked statues and monuments, not so much for their own sake as because they reflected a deep awareness of history. In fact, he contributed to such monuments—aural, semistaged, and in stone—throughout his life, calling attention to, indeed constructing, historical legacies through his activities. He even confessed his fondness for such monuments in England, when he proposed, perhaps in jest, that Dr. Henry John Gauntlett, an influential figure in British organ reform in the nineteenth century, “ought to have a statue.”¹...

  5. Part One: Composition and Tradition

    • Chapter One Mendelssohn and the Contrapuntal Tradition
      (pp. 15-39)
      R. Larry Todd

      We might begin with a statement uncontroversial enough: in matters of counter-point, Mendelssohn was preoccupied with the music of J. S. Bach. The evidence is formidable and irrefutable. It is not just that Mendelssohn was disposed to writing fugues and canons, or to insinuating into his music familiar Lutheran chorales in order to accumulate extra layers of complexity. More to the point, Mendelssohn took the trouble to emulate distinctly Bachian counterpoint—I am thinking here of his preference for rich, involved, chromatic part writing—that was for the time historically remote and learned. Thus, as early as 1827 he published...

    • Chapter Two Mendelssohn and the Catholic Tradition: Roman Influences on His Kirchen-Musik, Op. 23 and Drei Motetten, Op. 39
      (pp. 40-60)
      Siegwart Reichwald

      “Mendelssohn is one of those open characters you don’t often find; he believes firmly in his Lutheran religion, and several times I’ve seriously shocked him laughing at the Bible.”¹ Berlioz seems to have stated the obvious about Mendelssohn’s Lutheran faith. From his performance of theSt. Matthew Passionand his countless remarks about the greatness of Bach’s music to Mendelssohn’s many chorale settings and Bach’s obvious influence onSt. Paul(MWV A14, op. 36), it seems a foregone conclusion that Mendelssohn was a Lutheran composer. Things are, however, never as simple as they seem. Consider, for example, that Mendelssohn’s first...

    • Chapter Three Mendelssohn and the Legacy of Beethoven’s Ninth: Vocality in the “Reformation” Symphony
      (pp. 61-88)
      Peter Mercer-Taylor

      The unhappy story of the early reception of Mendelssohn’s “Reformation” Symphony (MWV N15, op. posth. 107) is a familiar one. While the composer almost certainly embarked on its composition, in 1829, with an eye toward a performance at Berlin’s tercentenary celebration of the June 25, 1530, Augsburg Confession, that celebration went forward without the use of Mendelssohn’s work. In the course of the two-yearBildungsreiseupon which he embarked the day after the symphony’s completion on May 12, 1830, none of Mendelssohn’s several campaigns to secure a premiere for the symphony came to fruition.¹ Perhaps most heartbreaking was the last...

  6. Part Two: Mendelssohn and the Organ

    • Chapter Four Mendelssohn and the Organ
      (pp. 91-110)
      Wm. A. Little

      Felix Mendelssohn’s first personal encounter with the organ, for which we have any evidence, occurred in the summer of 1820, when he was eleven years old. While on vacation with his family along the Rhine, Felix played the tiny organ in the St. Rochuskapelle, a pilgrimage church, high on a hill just outside the town of Bingen.¹ Seventeen years later, in 1837, while on his honeymoon, Felix again climbed the same hill, this time with his bride, Cécile. Unfortunately, the chapel was closed. As Cécile noted in their diary, Mendelssohn was deeply disappointed, since he “would have liked to have...

    • Chapter Five Some Observations on Mendelssohn’s Bach Recital
      (pp. 111-121)
      Russell Stinson

      There can be little question that Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy was the most influential champion of J. S. Bach’s organ works during the early Romantic era. As a performer, editor, composer, antiquarian, and all-around ambassador, he occupied himself with this music his entire life. In so doing, he helped to bring a historical repertory into the mainstream of musical life in the early nineteenth century.

      Of particular importance is the organ recital given by Mendelssohn on August 6, 1840, at the church of St. Thomas in the city of Leipzig, where he had lived since 1835. On that occasion—and for...

    • Chapter Six “He Ought to Have a Statue”: Mendelssohn, Gauntlett, and the English Organ Reform
      (pp. 122-140)
      Nicholas Thistlethwaite

      The reception of the oratorioElijah(MWV A25, op. 70) at the Birmingham Musical Festival in 1846 is a well-rehearsed episode in Mendelssohn biography. Writing to his brother Paul, the composer commented, “No work of mine ever went so admirably at the first time of its execution,”¹ and this impression is largely confirmed by contemporary reviews in the English press. Charles Gruneisen, music critic of theMorning Chronicle, a friend of Meyerbeer and (later) one of the first English critics to champion Wagner, penned a lengthy and ecstatic review, which included the following passage:

      The execution of the new oratorio...

    • Chapter Seven Mendelssohn’s Sonatas, Op. 65, and the Craighead-Saunders Organ at the Eastman School of Music: Aspects of Performance Practice and Context
      (pp. 141-210)
      Hans Davidsson

      Felix Mendelssohn was brought up in a home in which the classical-humanistic education was the ideal and the music of Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750) and his circle, the essence. Mendelssohn’s mother, Lea Salomon, a student of Johann Philipp Kirnberger (1721–83), took care of the musical education of her children, and made sure that theWell-Tempered Clavier(hereafterWTC) was studied and played continuously.¹ When Felix, at age eleven, started studying the organ with August Wilhelm Bach (1796–1869), one of the most influential organists in Germany and the leading organ authority in Berlin during the first decades of...

  7. Part Three: Mendelssohn’s Inherited Legacies in Context

    • Chapter Eight The Bach Tradition among the Mendelssohn Ancestry
      (pp. 213-223)
      Christoph Wolff

      The rediscovery of Johann Sebastian Bach and his music long after the composer’s death in the Romantic period belongs among the most widespread misconceptions and misconstructions in the historiography of music. A statement like the following is symptomatic in this regard: “Bach and his works have met a strange fate at the hands of posterity. They were fairly well recognized in their day; practically forgotten by the generations following his; rediscovered and revived; and finally accorded an eminence far beyond the recognition they had originally achieved.”¹

      Scholarship of recent decades has found it necessary to turn away from a Bach...

    • Chapter Nine Music History as Sermon: Style, Form, and Narrative in Mendelssohn’s “Dürer” Cantata (1828)
      (pp. 224-263)
      John Michael Cooper

      In the spring of 1828 the Royal Academy of the Arts in Berlin commissioned the nineteen-year-old Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy to compose a grand cantata for the official ceremonies commemorating the tercentenary of the death of Albrecht Dürer (1471–1528). The existence of this cantata is hardly a secret; it is mentioned in every major Mendelssohn biography and many minor ones. Yet most biographers, undaunted by the fact that they have neither seen nor heard the music, have dismissed it as an occasional piece based on an inferior text by a mediocre court poet. Indeed, the cantata remained unpublished until 2012,...

    • Chapter Ten Mendelssohn’s “Authentic” Handel in Context: German Approaches to Translation and Art and Architectural Restoration in the Early Nineteenth Century
      (pp. 264-286)
      Glenn Stanley

      Felix Mendelssohn’s efforts to reform the performance style of early music (notably Handel oratorios) have received only some of the attention they rightfully claim: in 1969 Susanna Grossmann-Vendrey touched on the subject in her book on Mendelssohn and historical music; in the 1990s I published a short essay on his Handel performances at the Lower Rhine music festivals against the backdrop of eighteenth-century performance traditions (Mozart’s arrangements of Handel) and their discussion in the musical press; and in 2008 Ralf Wehner presented the most detailed discussion of Mendelssohn’s Handel performances to date.¹ In this study I will broaden the focus...

    • Chapter Eleven Beyond the Ethical and Aesthetic: Reconciling Religious Art with Secular Art-Religion in Mendelssohn’s “Lobgesang”
      (pp. 287-309)
      Benedict Taylor

      It has long been customary to use binary divisions to describe Mendelssohn or divide his oeuvre into two—more often than not with wildly contrasting evaluations attached to each part. Greg Vitercik, for instance, calling upon the imprimatur of George Bernard Shaw and Donald Tovey, speaks of “two Mendelssohns”—the “immensely talented, vigorously original” Mendelssohn of the Octet (MWV R20, op. 20),Hebrides, andMidsummer Night’s Dreamovertures (MWV P7 and P3, opp. 26 and 21); and a “pseudo-Mendelssohn” of the “Lobgesang” (MWV A18, op. 52),St. Paul(MWV A14, op. 36), andElijah(MWV A25, op. 70), those “platitudinous...

    • Chapter Twelve Mendelssohn’s Religious Worlds: Currents and Crosscurrents of Protestantism in Nineteenth-Century Germany and Great Britain
      (pp. 310-326)
      Celia Applegate

      In March 1842, one of Felix Mendelssohn’s oldest friends, the historian Johann Gustav Droysen, wrote to tell him that in Kiel, Felix was the talk of the town—“das Kieler Stadtgespräch.” Rehearsals were in full swing for the Kiel premiere of Mendelssohn’s oratorioPaulus(MWV A14, op. 36). Droysen, a newly appointed professor at the university and a member both of the city’s Liedertafel and Sing-Akademie, described the energy and seriousness with which the choral societies rehearsed, the distance people traveled to rehearsals, and the intense feeling of anticipation among the general public. “You will get a sense of this,”...

  8. List of Contributors
    (pp. 327-332)
  9. Index
    (pp. 333-339)
  10. Back Matter
    (pp. 340-340)