Friday, January 16, 2015

Felix Mendelssohn: Lobgesang

No. 181 of the ongoing ITYWLTMT series of audio montages can be found in our archives at

The third in our series of “Mad for Mendelssohn” podcasts considers two works that have in common the “number 2”.

The first work is an early “string symphony” – one of 12 composed as student works between the years of 1821 and 1823 by the teenage Mendelssohn. Within two years of completing the twelth of these works, Mendelssohn composed his Octet and the Midsummer Nights Dream overture, launching his mature phase as a composer.

I retained the second symphony for the podcast – all twelve were assembled in the following YouTube playlist (performed by Concerto Köln and the Northern Chamber Orchestra)

The bulk of today’s podcast is dedicated to an ambitious work – Mendelssohn’s Second symphony. The 'Lobgesang' (or 'Hymn of Praise') was commissioned by the city of Leipzig from its Kapellmeister Mendelssohn to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the invention of printing in 1840, and has elements of the symphony, cantata and oratorio. The composer's description of the work was "A Symphony-Cantata on Words of the Holy Bible, for Soloists, Chorus and Orchestra". It requires two sopranos and a tenor as soloists, along with a chorus and orchestra. It lasts almost twice as long as any of Mendelssohn's other four symphonies.

At the opposite pole from Beethoven’s Ninth, we have here a symphonic miniature in three movements, intended to act as the overture to the sung part of the work, which is twice as long. Thus this splendid ‘Symphony-Cantata’ expands into a sweeping vocal and choral epic.

The performance I retained for this week’s podcast is one by the Leipzig Gewandhaus orchestra, wguch likely was involved in the work’s première.
The orchestra's origins can be traced to 1743, when a society called the Grosses Concert began performing in private homes, and later at a local tavern. In 1780, because of complaints about concert conditions and audience behavior in the tavern, the mayor and city council of Leipzig offered to renovate one story of the building used by textile merchants for the orchestra's use – thus Gewandhaus (Cloth or Textile Hall).

In 1835, Felix Mendelssohn became the orchestra's music director, with the traditional title of Gewandhauskapellmeister, and held the position with only one year's interruption until his death in 1847. Mendelssohn concentrated on developing the musical life of Leipzig, working with the orchestra, the opera house, the Choir of St. Thomas Church, and the city's other choral and musical institutions. Mendelssohn's concerts included, in addition to many of his own works, three series of "historical concerts" and a number of works by his contemporaries. Mendelssohn also revived interest in Franz Schubert. Robert Schumann discovered the manuscript of Schubert's 9th Symphony and sent it to Mendelssohn, who promptly premiered it in Leipzig on 21 March 1839, more than a decade after Schubert's death.

The post of Gewandhauskapellmeister was held between 1970 and 1996 by Kurt Masur (who is today one of the orchestra’s two laureate conductors) leads today’s performance.

I think you will love this music too.

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