We know relatively little about Mendelssohn’s Fantasia in E major on ‘The last rose of summer’, Op 15, based on the popular Irish song. It was probably composed earlier than 1830, when it appeared in London as 'Fantasia (on a favourite Irish melody)'. The poem was written by Thomas Moore in 1805, and set to music by the Irish composer John Stevenson, who collaborated with Moore on the publication of his Irish Melodies
. The melody was the basis of some variations for flute and piano by Beethoven, and also featured in Flotow’s opera Martha
(1847). Mendelssohn’s composition begins with a sustained, harp-like, arpeggiated chord, as a brief prelude before we hear a simple setting of the melody. The main portion of the Fantasia is then given to a Presto agitato in E minor. Its frenetic, agitated motion is interrupted midway by a free series of recitative-like passages, and later by a shortened recall of the melody. In the final portion of the Fantasia Mendelssohn adds a coda that quietly ruminates on the theme, as if freely reminiscing on it in retrospect.
from notes by R Larry Todd © 2014