What Mendelssohn did on the road

What Mendelssohn did on the road


norman lebrecht

June 14, 2019

From the Lebrecht Album of the Week:

… I’m inclined to think that Mendelssohn, in common with today’s air-miles musicians, loses much of himself on the road, never settling long enough to form meaningful relationships outside of his immediate family. But his best works are the travel pieces — the Hebrides Overture, and Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage — short, sharp, Sunday-magazine length …

Read on here


  • Ned Keene says:

    Maybe they are among his best-known works, agreed. But his best? Surely the Octet must be a strong contender? 🙂

  • Rottweiler says:

    I’m sorry; Norman but you seem to speak for the musically illiterate. I (* 1954) grew up with the Italian and Scottish -performed as often as any Brahms or Schumann symphony. Elias was presented in our Southern German provincial town as often as the Christmas Oratorio or the Bach Passions, not to speak of the Violin Concerto. As a student I took part in many performances of Paulus. One of my elder colleagues at the Stuttgart Radio station told me that even between 1933 and 1945 most musically educated people were appalled that his music was banned and more musicians than just a few became opponents to the Nazi’s cultural doctrines. Mendelssohn’s involvement in the rediscovery of Bach (which should neither be under- nor overestimated) got nearly ideological status in Germany. And the overture to a Midsummer Night’s Dream was for generations THE overture of the repertoire.
    I agree, there is such to discover in his vast oeuvre and masterpieces like “Walpurgisnacht” are not often performed – but, in general, Mendelssohn is one of the most acknowledged composers.

  • Greg Bottini says:

    “But his best works are the travel pieces — the Hebrides Overture, and Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage — short, sharp, Sunday-magazine length pieces. The depth lies elsewhere and it’s not easy to find.”
    I must respectfully disagree with you, Norman. I enjoy those pieces you mentioned very much, but surely there’s more greatness (and depth) in the e min. violin concerto, the Midsummer Night’s Dream music, the Eb maj. Octet, and the oratorio Elijah – not to mention that longer “travel piece”, the Italian symphony.

  • fflambeau says:

    I would put his Italian Symphony at the head of his travel works along with Fingal’s Cave (Hebrides Overture). But in my own opinion, his works for smaller forces, his chamber and piano music is even better. His string octet in E, opus 20, is a masterpiece, and perhaps his best work. Here’s a link to a Heifitz, Primrose, Piatigorsky, plus rendering of the latter. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KrITNrgQHuE

    Let’s not forget that he also excelled as a conductor/orchestral leader and that he brought about the revival of esteemed composers (like Bach).

  • Nijinsky says:

    Although I might find that his sister Fanny’s music has more depth in it’s lucidity, I still love Mendelssohn. And the amazing cleansing there is in the effervescence of his scherzos I don’t think classical music could do without, in ways. His melodies also have a depth of purity where a few other composers, I won’t mention, seem to be nurturing inner turmoil they might have let the music resolve and wash away, but for the marketing effect of such “depth.”

  • steven holloway says:

    Well, for passion, look, e.g., at his pursuit of Jenny Lind and his astonishing outbursts of anger. For lasting relationships, his wife and five children and his friends: Hiller, Moscheles, David, Schumann, et al. For his finest music, I would suggest works of ‘absolute’ music such as his sublime Octet, the Violin Concerto, the ‘Italian’ Symphony and more. The ‘travel’ works are lovely stuff, but I suspect only deemed his “best works” by those who need imagery to go with music, i.e., programme music.

  • Reg Malgrove says:

    “The depth lies elsewhere and it’s not easy to find.” Uh . . . the F minor Quartet Op.80 ??

    • David K. Nelson says:

      Absolutely Reg, the op. 80, composed after the death of his sister and pretty much devoid of the “negative” attributes his critics tend to dwell on; I’d add all the op. 44 quartets as also containing much highly dramatic and passionate music. Heck we might as well mention all the quartets.

      There is so much of Mendelssohn’s music that is relatively underplayed or ignored, yet also so much of it that is almost played to death, that summing up his compositional traits comes at the risk of under-sampling.

  • Bruce says:

    I heartily agree with including the Hebrides Overture as one of his best works. But to leave out so many of his best works from the list of his best works? (See multiple examples from previous commenters) Baffling.