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Hyperion Records

CDA66906 - Mendelssohn: Songs and Duets, Vol. 1
CDA66906

Recording details: February 1997
Rosslyn Hill Unitarian Chapel, Hampstead, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Oliver Rivers
Engineered by Antony Howell & Julian Millard
Release date: February 1998
Total duration: 64 minutes 31 seconds

'An exceptionally engaging disc' (Classic CD)

'The most attractive programming of the Mendelssohn duets yet devised' (Fanfare, USA)

Songs and Duets, Vol. 1

The latest research indicates that at least one hundred-and-six lieder, thirteen vocal duets and sixty part-songs by Mendelssohn have survived. Yet even during an age characterized by an apparently insatiable desire for the musically obscure and neglected, these impeccably crafted microcosms are rarely encountered in the concert hall where Schubert, Schumann, Brahms and Wolf (even Liszt by musical association) continue to form the backbone of the Austro-German Romantic lieder tradition.

The main reason for this neglect is Mendelssohn's comparatively narrow emotional range. Whereas the aforementioned composers all fearlessly probed the dark side of the human psyche, for the peaceable, broadly contented and self-contained Mendelssohn such concerns simply lay outside his experience. Equally, his songs were above all intended to be sung and enjoyed around the piano at home rather than subjected to public scrutiny. It is hardly Mendelssohn's fault that (with the notable exception of Mozart) commentators generally share an irrational tendency to upgrade the value of music in which laughter emerges only through tears rather than the other way round.


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Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
Felix Mendelssohn was without doubt the most precociously gifted composer the world has ever known; not even Mozart produced ‘mature’ masterpieces whilst still in his mid-to-late teens. He composed his masterly String Octet in 1825 when he was still only sixteen, by which time he had also proved himself a double prodigy on the violin and piano, an exceptional athlete (and a particularly strong swimmer), a talented poet (Goethe was a childhood friend and confidant), multi-linguist, watercolorist, and philosopher. He excelled at virtually anything which could hold his attention for long enough, although it was music which above all activated his creative imagination.

Although Mendelssohn possessed a talent which was almost inexhaustible in terms of its promise and potential, he nevertheless lacked the inner determination to develop his powers to their full extent. He was a sensitive man who was ultimately destroyed by his constant and caring attempts to counterbalance his extraordinary gifts with the need for a small number of intimate relationships away from the exhausting demands of being an idolized musical celebrity. As he once put it: “The thoughts which are expressed to me by music that I love are not too indefinite to be put into words, but on the contrary, too definite.”

The latest research indicates that at least one hundred-and-six lieder, thirteen vocal duets and sixty part-songs by Mendelssohn have survived. Yet even during an age characterized by an apparently insatiable desire for the musically obscure and neglected, these impeccably crafted microcosms are rarely encountered in the concert hall. Schubert, Schumann, Brahms and Wolf (even Liszt by musical association) continue to form the backbone of the Austro-German Romantic lieder tradition, while Mendelssohn appears to have become increasingly sidelined.

The main reason for this gross neglect is Mendelssohn’s comparatively narrow emotional range. Whereas the aforementioned composers all fearlessly probed the dark side of the human psyche, for the peaceable, broadly contented and self-contained Mendelssohn such concerns simply lay outside his experience and therefore, by extension, his expressive armoury. Equally, his songs were above all intended to be sung and enjoyed around the piano at home rather than subjected to public scrutiny in the concert hall. It is hardly Mendelssohn’s fault that (with the notable exception of Mozart) commentators generally share an irrational tendency to upgrade the value of music in which laughter emerges only through tears rather than the other way round.

Julian Haylock © 1998


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