Heilig, heilig ist Gott, der Herr Zebaoth, Op posth.
The posthumously published Three Sacred Pieces were composed towards the end of 1846, concurrent with the Kyrie eleison
. Mendelssohn was never physically the most robust of men, and the years of constant travelling, performing, composing and conducting were now taking their toll on his fragile frame—he was to pass away the following year, completely burnt out. His letters of the period are brimful of references to his state of exhaustion, and by the time he came to compose these short choral works, he had already pulled out of the Leipzig Gewandhaus winter concert season, leaving Gade to cover most of his conducting engagements. His work at the Conservatory was meanwhile taken on by his old friend, Ignaz Moscheles. These perfectly conceived miniatures are typical both in terms of their sheer mastery of choral writing and effortless command of musical expression and structure.
The relatively brief Heilig, heilig ist Gott, der Herr Zebaoth is an extrovert call to rejoice. The opening, in particular, is unforgettable in its exemplary harmonic control, the overlapping entries combing to produce a glorious suspension at the antepenultimate exhortation of ‘Heilig’. The dotted rhythms which dominate the remainder of the setting help to create a sense of uncontainable forward momentum towards the joyous final cadence.
from notes by Julian Haylock © 2006