Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847)

Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847) was an enormously talented and versatile composer, conductor and performer. He was the grandson of the famous Jewish philosopher MosesMendelssohn, who strongly promoted Jewish assimilation into German culture and society. Mendelssohn’s father converted the family to the Lutheran faith whenFelix was a young boy, adopting the additional surname Bartholdy, which was the name of a family estate.

Surprisingly little attention has been paid toMendelssohn’s smaller sacred works. They include a series of eight chorale cantatas, inspired equally by Mendelssohn’s admiration for the music of Bach whose music had particular meaning for him since childhood. After entering theBerlin Sing Akademie in 1820, he made an intensive study of Bach’s motets, cantatas, and oratorios. His performance of the St Matthew Passion, famously revived in Berlin in 1829 at the age of 20, became the culmination of both his theoretical and practical study of Bach.

Mendelssohn’s hymn setting Verleih uns Frieden was constructed as a song for choir without cantus firmus. While set to a Luther text, the melody is allMendelssohn.  Composed in 1831, the text and melody are presented three times: first sung by the basses alone, the second time by the altos with bass counterpoint, and finally with four-part chorus.  Mendelssohn’s original plan, a“canon with cello and basses,” ultimately required full strings and woodwinds.  

© Ryan Turner

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