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Many commentaries on this work tend to focus on the fact that Mendelssohn wrote his Overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream when he was only seventeen, in contrast to the rest of the incidental music, composed many years after.
And while that’s certainly true, it’s easy to marvel only at that one fact instead on focusing on how exquisite the rest of the work actually is.
Aside from the Overture, A Midsummer Night’s Dream was written in 1842. Mendelssohn’s challenge was, essentially, the nineteenth- century equivalent of composing a film score: to write music that reflected, enhanced and enlightened the acting, while never detracting from it. He was initially inspired to compose music for the play because it was a childhood favourite; to quote Mendelssohn’s sister, Fanny, "We were entwined with A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Felix particularly made it his own. He identified with all of the characters. He recreated them, so to speak, every one of them whom Shakespeare produced in the immensity of his genius".
From the triumphant Wedding March to the impish Scherzo, via the shimmering Intermezzo and the enchanting Nocturne, this is music of which Shakespeare would surely have approved.
Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra; Riccardo Chailly (conductor). Decca: 4756939.
Illustration: Mark Millington