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Felix Mendelssohn

Tuesday, December 6, 2016


On An Overgrown Path

November 7

There are two sides in every war

On An Overgrown PathToo often we forget there are two sides in every war, and too often the great art works remembering humanitarian tragedies of war are the products of the victorious side. A recent post featuring Wilfred Josephs' Requiem led me back to a work commemorating one of the great tragedies of the Second World War. I first wrote about Rudolf Mauersberger's Dresden Requiem ten years ago, and in the week when we remember the war dead my revised appreciation of that overlooked masterwork is published below. Eleven young choristers from the famous Kreuzchor were among more than 25,000 who died in the British and American bombing of Dresden on February 13th 1945. As well as the terrible human loss of its choristers the famous choir also lost its its Neo-Gothic choir school on the Georgplatz, its library of sheet music and archive, and its very raison d'être, the beautiful Kreuzkirche (Church of the Holy Cross) which dated from the 13th century. The history of the Kreuzchor dates back to the 14th century, and its reputation grew through the Reformation and into the 20th century. In 1932 Rudolf Mauersberger was appointed cantor, and the choir's reputation spread through its acclaimed performances of Bach's choral music in the Mendelssohn-Bartholdy tradition, and the Kreuzchor made two tours of the USA in the 1930s. A year before he died in 1971 Rudolf Mauersberger recorded Bach's Matthäus Passion with the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra. The two choirs were the Kreuzchor and the Thomanerchoir directed by his brother Erhard Mauersberger from Bach's own Thomaskirche and the soloists included Peter Schreier and Theo Adam. The recording by Berlin Classics remains in the catalogue. Some may view it as inauthentic Bach, but for me it is a Desert Island disc. Following the destruction of Dresden, Rudolf Mauersberger was determined that music would literally rise from the ashes of the choir school and Kreuzkirche. His first response was the composition of the heartwrenching funeral motet Wir liegt die Stadt so wüst which was first performed by the Kreuzchor in the burnt-out shell of the Kreuzkirche in August 1945, with Mauersberger using the rubble of the ruined church as a podium. We use the adjective 'moving' so glibly these days, but what must the young choristers have felt as they sang this lament not just for their destroyed city, but also for eleven of their own friends who had been killed only six months before? The photo below shows the Kreuzchor singing in the burnt-out Kreuzkirche in May 1946. The composition of the choral cycle Dresden (RMWV 4/1), from which the funeral motet is taken, was followed by Mauersberger's masterpiece, his Dresden Requiem (RMWV 10). This was completed in 1948, but was revised several times with the final version dating from 1961. Although Mauersberger's reputation was built on his Bach interpretations the Requiem is not re-heated Bach, but is very much a work of the 20th century. Like Brahms' Requiem, which the Kreuzchor sings every year, the Dresden Requiem is sung in German. It draws heavily on Luther's translation and includes six Lutheran chorals which provide links back to Bach. The imaginative scoring is for three choirs (all SATB) in different locations in the church. Spatial effects are used with a distant choir of young voices representing the departed in a dreadfully moving way. The Agnus Dei is an alto solo written for the young Peter Schreier who was a chorister with the Kreuzchor at the time of the first performance. Much of the singing is a capella, but the score also uses a small ensemble of organ, celeste, trombones, double basses and percussion. These days war horse Requiems are trotted out for so many routine performances, but Rudolf Mauersberger's Dreden Requiem remains unknown. Which is unjust as it is a magnificent and poignant work which ranks alongside Britten's War Requiem in its use of music to reflect on the horrors of war. Perhaps its unjustified neglect is simply because it commemorates the bombing of Dresden, an episode that many on the victorious side would prefer to be written out of history. Fortunately there is a first class modern recording from 1994 by the Kreuzchor under its then cantor Matthias Jung. The recording, which is seen above, is on the Carus-Verlag label, and can be bought from the Carus website or Amazon Germany, and the Carus site has audio samples. Below is a session photo from the Requiem recording in the Lukaskirche in Dresden; the Lukaschirche was the venue for many celebrated recordings including EMI's 1970 Die Meistersinger with Karajan conducting the Dresden State Orchestra and Opera Chorus. The Kreuzkirche was rebuilt and reconsecrated in 1955. Every year since then the Dresden Requiem has been performed in the restored church. Following the performance a long procession of local people carrying lighted candles walks to the Frauenkirche. As well as remembering the dead the candlelit procession became a symbol of silent protest against the repressive East German regime until democracy returned in 1989. Rudolf Mauersberger was cantor of the Kreuzchor for forty years. Thirty-eight of these were under the tyranny and dictatorship of the Nazis and Communists, and during this time he successfully saved the choir from secularisation in the face of ideological and political pressures. Mauersberger lived to see the reopening of his beloved Kreuzkirche; but he died in 1971 some years before the fall of Communism and that other event which marked the final triumph of light over darkness in Dresden, the reconsecration of the Frauenkirche. The Dresden Requiem is preceeded in performance (and on the superb Carus recording) by Rudolf Mauersberger's motet Wir liegt die Stadt so wüst. This is a setting in German of the Lamentations of Jeremiah. Here are the words which are so horribly relevant to the tragedy that befell Dresden on the 13th February 1945. How lonely sits the city that was full of people. All her gates are desolate. The holy stones lie scattered at the head of every street. From on high he sent fire; into my bones he made it descend. Is this the city, which was called the perfection of beauty, the joy of all earthThe exact death toll from the bombing of Dresden will never be known due to the large numbers of refugees in the city; but official estimates put the figure at more than 25,000. In the whole of the Second World War the death toll on the UK mainland from bombing of cities was 60,595, and in North America it was six. As well as the tragic loss of life in Dresden our cultural heritage suffered terrible loss. Among the buildings destroyed in the city by the British and American bombs were the Semper Opera House where eight of Richard Strauss' operas were given first performances, including Salome, Elektra, Der Rosenkavalier and Intermezzo, and where Wagner's Rienzi and Flying Dutchman were premiered. Also destroyed were the Königlich Sächsisches Hoftheater where Wagner's Tannhauser was first performed, and the Frauenkirche where Johann Sebastian Bach played in an organ recital in 1736, and where Wagner conducted the first performance of his Biblical scene Das Liebesmahl der Apostel in 1843. The human and cultural loss caused by the bombing of Dresen was terrible. Rudolf Mauersberger's forgotten Dresden Requiem serves as a poignant reminder that in war there is no winning side, just two losing sides. No review samples or other freebies used in this post. Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use" for critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Also on Facebook and Twitter.

All the conducting master class

November 15

1st Felix Mendelssohn Conducting Competition dedicated to M° Cosmas Galileas M° Panagiotis Diamantis, General Director City of Thessaloniki Symphony Orchestra

1st Felix Mendelssohn Conducting Competition dedicated to M° Cosmas Galileas M° Panagiotis Diamantis, General Director City of Thessaloniki Symphony Orchestra Studiomusica Hungary Artistic Consultant PRESS RELEASE We are proud to share with the international press the results of the First Mendelssohn Conducting Competition which was held in Thessaloniki from the 5th until the 11th November […]




Classical iconoclast

November 2

Perfumed Schumann Der Rose Pilgerfahrt

In Robert Schumann's Der Rose Pilgerfahrt op 112 , one can swoon. A rose falls in love and wants to become human. But she cannot be what she is not, and sacrifices herself , rewarded by being wafted to heavenly bliss on a  cloud of angels. Die Frühlingslüfte  bringen den Liebesgruß die Welt" Beidermeyer images, yes, but beautiful.  Once we get past the cynicism the last 150 years have forced upon us, perhaps we can escape into idealized fantasy, and become intoxicated with the heady perfumes of Der Rose Pilgerfahrt., refresh ourselves for the moment in innocence and purity. In Schumann's choral works, older traditions hybridize, flowering in new form. Was Schumann developing a new approach to music drama, nipped in the bud by Wagner's revolution in opera ? What might have been had Schumann not fallen in and died young  ? Der Rose Pilgerfahrt isn't as ambitious as Das Paradies und die Peri (more here and here), Genoveva (more here) and Szenen aus Faust, but it's worth knowing as a bridge connecting song, oratorio and music theatre.  While  Das Paradies und die Peri is exotic, fuelled by Persian legend and vaguely religious heroism, Der Rose Pilgerfarht is simpler, a Märchen, or fairy tale. "Johannis war gekommen. der Erde Hochzeitzstag" : Images of spring,rebirth and fertility.   Elves dance in sprightly chorus.delicate, dotted rhythms, with just enough kick to brighten the night time darkness.  The Queen of the Elves warns the Rose that: one cannot want what one is not, but transforms the Rose into a young girl, who wakes, alone in a meadow. Rejected by the first humans she meets, the Rose wanders into a graveyard when an old man us digging a grave for a miller's daughter. Yet the choir aren't mournful. The chorus is quite earthy "Wie Blätter im Baum, wie Blumen vergeh'n" Nature's way, death and regrowth.  Now we hear solemn brass and woodwinds, for the Rose is homesick. Magical, sparkling chords : the Chorus of Elves sing "Hoff' nicht auf Glück, komm' zurück !"  She can't hear, though. She's found  new home. she resembles the  dead miller's daughter so closely that the family take her in as their own. Everyone's happy. calm, joyful music, bucolic folk-like dance though, refines : Schumann doesn't do crude.  The tenor part is so lovely that he could be singing Lieder.  But, echoes of Der Freischütz surface. A men's chorus, illustrated by hunting horns, sings of the forest, and the mysteries therein. Who is this strange Rose-child, and where did she come from  ? The narrative continues, the alto (the Queen) describing events as they unfold, followed by bass  alto and soprano and choir : different "voices" describing events as they unfold, from different musical perspectives.   Max, a huntsman, falls in love with The Rose and she with him.   They marry, and  in a year, as the tenor tells us, economizing on scene changes, they have a lovely baby son.  He thrives, but the Rose knows she cannot stay.  She leaves a rose, "ihr ebenspfand, und gibt's dem Kindlein".  Grateful for having had such happiness, she hands on to her child a symbol of eternal protection. "Zun End ist mein' Pilgerbahn". Her pilgrimage was to experience love and happiness. Having found it, she's obliged to go home, as pilgrims do.  She's been human for over a year, not bad for a bloom.  The poet, Moritz Horn, who sent Schumann the text after having heard Das Paradies und die Peri, wanted a maudlin ending. Schumann, who know Paradies better than Horn did, wasn't having that. Der Rose Pilgerfahrt thus ends with a gorgeous chorus of angelic voices. Magical, gossamer textures, more Fairy Land and elfin than angelic in the usual religious sense of "angels".  Schumann, via Mendelssohn, has come a long way from oratorio.  There are at least five recordings, but my go to's are Frühbeck de Burgos from the 1980's and Christoph Spering from1998.   Frühbeck de Burgos conducted the Dusseldorfer Symfoniker and choir, a nod to the fact that the piece premiered in Dusseldorf in 1851, with Schumann himself as conductor. Obviously not the same personnel, and with modern instruments. His soloist were Helen Donath, Brigitte Fassbaender, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Nicolai Gedda and Thomas Moser.   Lovely, sumptuous sound, and great singing.   Christof  Spering conducted Chorus Musicus Köln and Das neue Orchestre with Camilla Nylund, Rainer Trost, Andreas Schmidt and others.  Spering's sound is lighter and brighter which suits the piece well.  He recorded the piece twice but I haven't yet heard the more recent piano song version though it features Christoph Prégardien. There's also a recording which apparently features  Jonas Kaufmann, uncredited,  in the chorus.



Classical iconoclast

October 7

Carnival of Pianos Oxford Lieder Festival Schumann

This year's Oxford Lieder Festival is an immersion in Robert Schumann, but any intensive focus on Schumann would feature his music for piano, and his wife, Clara Schumann, one of the first celebrity pianists, and a pioneer in her own right.  Thus the "Carnival of Pianos" on  Friday, 14th October with all day performances and talks, focusing on the music Schumann wrote before the Liederjahre of 1840.  Stuart Jackson, highly regarded and much loved, sings the earliest of Schumann's songs for voice and piano at the Holywell Music Room, followed by the piano works Schumann concentrated upon at this time in his career : the virtuosic Piano Sonata no 1, the Etudes symphoniques, the Kreisleriana,  Carneval, Faschingsschwank aus Wien, culminating in an evening recital at the Sheldonian Theatre with Christian Gerhaher and Gerold Huber in an all-Schumann programme. Lots more : On 17th the Piano Quartet in E Flat with Sholto Kyncih, Festival Director and the Gildas Quartet who will also be playing music for string quartet and voice on 20th October.  There's a special event, led by Natasha Loges, on Clara Schumann on 19th October, followed by a performance of Clara's only Piano Trio, paired with Robert's Piano Trio no 2 with The Pheonix Piano Trio.  In the evening, songs by both Robert and Clara on the "Clara Piano", an instrument bought from Clara herself in the 1860's and carefully preserved in Donegal ever since.  It was made by W Wieck, Clara's cousin who had a business in Dresden.  It's being brought to Oxford to be played by David Owen Norris at the Holywell Music Room. The photo at right is Robert Schumann's piano in Zwickau.  Graham Johnson is givingbtwo Study Days into Schumann, extending the focus bneyond Schumann himself, and into the composers and writers who so inspired him: Bach, Mendelssohn, Heine, Eichendorff, part of the canon now but relatively new in Schumann's time. This aspect of Schumann's work is impoirtant for it places what he did in context. Although nearly all Schumann's songs will be included in this year's Oxford Lieder festival, performed by great singers like Wolfgang Holzmair, Christoph Prégardien, Mark Stone, Juliane Banse, Benjamin Appl, Roderick Williams, Sarah Connolly, James Gilchrist,  Bo Skovhus, Mark Padmore and others,  there will be more esoteric fare, like the Der Rose Pilgerfahrt, the Pilgrimage of the Rose, (26/10) Schumann's cantata for full orchestra, heard here in the original scoring for piano and voices. There's also a talk on Schumann and opera, and another, with concert, on Schumann's late style, which is often under rated.  The Oxford Lieder festival, now in its 15th year is unique in that ut is far more than just as series of concerts. It's total immersion : detailed focus on the subject and its wider background,:concerts complemented by talks, films, art exhibitioins, and this year a play.  Lieder is, as Mark Stone and Sholto Kynoch have often said, an art of the mind as werll as of the ear. Read Mark Stone's interview on the differences between opera and Lieder HERE in Opera Today, and  Julius Drake also HERE in Opera Today.   Furthermore, a key tenet of the Oxford Lieder philosophy is its emphasis on performance experience, with its masterclasses and innovative performance workshops, young artist schemes and engagement with the singing public. Oxford Lieder represents the best It's a beacon of excellence this country should cherish.  

Felix Mendelssohn
(1809 – 1847)

Felix Mendelssohn (3 February 1809 - 4 November 1847) was a German composer, pianist, organist and conductor of the early Romantic period. Felix Mendelssohn was recognised early as a musical prodigy, but his parents were cautious and did not seek to capitalise on his abilities. Early success in Germany, where he also revived interest in the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, was followed by travel throughout Europe. Mendelssohn was particularly well-received in Britain as a composer, conductor and soloist. His essentially conservative musical tastes however set him apart from many of his more adventurous musical contemporaries such as Franz Liszt, Richard Wagner and Hector Berlioz. The Leipzig Conservatoire which he founded, became a bastion of this anti-radical outlook. Mendelssohn's work includes symphonies, concerti, oratorios, piano music and chamber music. His most-performed works include his Overture and incidental music for A Midsummer Night's Dream, the Italian Symphony, the Scottish Symphony, the Hebrides Overture, his Violin Concerto, and his String Octet. After a long period of relative denigration due to changing musical tastes and anti-Semitism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, his creative originality has now been recognised and re-evaluated. He is now among the most popular composers of the Romantic era.



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