Since I was a young man, I have been highly impressionable to opinions of others in shaping my own tastes. Part of my maturing has been and continues to be sorting out my true responses from my bigotry (usually taught). So in the last decade I have attempted to be sure to carefully examine my own response to music, art, poetry and fiction; to notice when I actually like something no matter the context or history.
This led me to a re-appraisal of Mozart’s piano sonatas. I had read somewhere that his violin sonatas were superior to his piano sonatas. At some level I accepted this and can even recall parroting this to other pianists, much their horror. Some years ago, I reassessed and discovered that I love the piano sonatas AND the violin sonatas. Go figure. I could even argue with my previous self on this one with examples of beauty and ingenuity in the sonatas.
I must say that I enjoy music more and more and as I age. I find deeper and increasing satisfaction in the beauty of pieces I rehearse and perform. It’s like the music is suddenly saying something to and through me that I missed before. Some of this is hearing longer lines and having a bit more technique. But experiencing it is wonderful.
Yesterday I took a Mendelssohn CD with me on my trip to Lansing to pick up my Mom. I listened to his Fourth Symphony and the overture to Midsummer Night’s Dream. This music is music I truly enjoy and love these days. Mendelssohn is a composer I do not know well and have always thought of as sort of a secondary type guy. I have played completely through his Songs Without Words and found them not all that interesting. Last night I sat down and played through the first ten or so and discovered that the Mendelssohn who is so easy to appreciate in his scherzos is present in these smaller works as well. The melodies and harmonies seemed to jump off the page and take on new meaning to me.
Now why is this? Some of it, I suspect, is that my piano technique has progressed to the point that I can not only play the notes of the pieces but can render them somewhat musically as I read them. I am listening a bit deeper.
Sitting in the restaurant parking lot yesterday waiting for my brother and entourage I tapped into an unsecured wireless connection and read about Mendelssohn’s Midsummer Night’s dream online. It turns out he was 17 when he wrote the overture which is my favorite movement. This overture was intended to stand alone and was not joined by other music until 16 years or so later.
Now I think that Mendelssohn exhibited the typical prodigy genius, but I also think about the passion I experience and identify with in younger people sometimes. I think I can subjectively hear that in much of his music. After the youthfulness consideration fades what I hear and admire is a “joie de vivre” reminiscent of Mozart.
I read through the entire Wiki article on Mendelssohn this morning and found myself wondering how he fits into the Romantic canon. I have always known he was one of the conservatives (Schubert, Schumann, Brahms) but did not really know that much biographical info about him. In fact I realized this morning I have never read a book length bio of him. Thinking of changing that soon.
I also realized that besides his Midsummer Night’s Dream and Italian symphony there are really quite a few pieces by him I admire. I have played through most of his organ music and enjoy playing it. I like his Reformation Symphony and his choral work. Hmmmm. I think I will explore more of his work both as a performer and a listener.
0 thoughts on “youthful bigotry and mendelssohn (a personal musical blog entry)”
A fellow AGO friend complains that his organ sonatas meander all over the place and never get to the point. I recently played the Allegretto from his Sonata IV at one of our chapter’s “My favorite Things” events. I don’t know if I won him over completely, but, I tried. Great post!