The Full Works Concert - Wednesday 14 August: Mendelssohn

Tonight, Jane Jones presents three great works by the composer described by Queen Victoria as the 'greatest musical genius since Mozart and the most amiable man.'

Felix Mendelssohn

Tonight Jane Jones ' Great Composers Full Works Concert focusses on the genius that was Felix Mendelssohn, one of the most popular composers of the Romantic era.

The Symphony No. 5 was composed by Mendelssohn in 1830 in honour of the 300th anniversary of the Presentation of the Augsburg Confession, a key document of Lutheranism. But the work had an unfortunate start. Ill health delayed the composition and Mendelssohn completed it too late for the Augsburg commission to recognize the work for the celebrations. It was then turned down by an orchestra in Paris as being 'too learned'. He revised the symphony in the summer of 1832 and a performance finally took place. But Mendelssohn dismissed his composition as a piece of juvenilia and it was not performed again until 1868, more than 20 years after his death.

Mendelssohn’s first piano concerto was literally knocked out in 1831. He even described it to his father as 'a thing quickly thrown off'. He devised the work as a vehicle for his own piano-playing talents, but he dedicated it to a young lady pianist in Munich whom he admired. In the concerto, Mendelssohn plays fast and loose with the accepted concerto form of the day, making the three movements roughly equal in length, instead of putting most of the ideas into the first movement. He also made the form within each movement more fluid. The work had a profound influence on the development of the concerto in the 19th century.

In 1840, when he was 31, Mendelssohn was commisioned to compose a work for a grand celebration commemorating the invention of the printing press by Gutenberg. Mendelssohn's contribution was the Symphony No. 2. He called it a symphony-cantata for orchestra and chorus bearing the title 'Lobgesang' (Hymn of Praise or Song of Praise). Some thought Mendelssohn's symphony a bit pretentious in the shadow of Beethoven's Ninth which was still fresh in people's minds. But Mendelssohn was not bothered; indeed, he was more than pleased with his grand, inspiring work.


Mendelssohn: Symphony No.5 in D major (Reformation)

John Eliot Gardiner conducts the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra

Mendelssohn: Piano Concerto No.1 in G minor
Piano: Jean-Yves Thibaudet
Herbert Blomstedt conducts the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra

Mendelssohn: Symphony No.2 in B flat major (‘Hymn of Praise’)
Soloists: Anne Schwanewilms, Petra-Maria Schnitzer, Peter Seiffert
Riccardo Chailly conducts the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra and Chorus and the Leipzig Opera Chorus

The Full Works Concert