Our Featured Work, Spring 2016 - Elijah
On April 24, 2016, The Friends of the Rockbridge Choral Society is proud to underwrite the highlight of the Rockbridge Choral Society's 2015/2016 performance season with Mendelssohn's extraordinary oratorio, Elijah.
Elijah was given its premiere in Birmingham, England in 1846 to an ecstatic audience of 2,000 people. The work had taken the composer some ten years to prepare, including penning most of the libretto himself. Just imagine! For a quarter of his brief, yet musically brilliant life, Mendelssohn thought on and worked on Elijah! It was very much the 'Messiah' of its day. Hugely popular, this work cemented Mendelssohn's position as one of the greatest composers of sacred music.
Mendelssohn loved England and England loved him. He received high acclaim at the Birmingham Festivals of 1837 and 1840, when he conducted respectively his "St. Paul" and the "Hymn of Praise. The Festival Committee again looked to Mendelssohn for the composition of a work which would give distinction to their Festival of 1846. They successfully secured, as an extra attraction, the presence of the composer as conductor. "Elijah" had occupied Mendelssohn's mind for many years previous to 1846. It can scarcely be said that he composed the oratorio "expressly for Birmingham" as is commonly believed. Considering the composer's untimely death a year later, it may reasonably be assumed that had it not been for the Birmingham Festival of 1846, Mendelssohn's "Elijah" might never have been completed.
For the first performance, Mendelsohn had an orchestra of 125 players and a chorus of 271 singers. He wrote the soprano role for Jenny Lind, whom he had met in 1844 and with whom he had a warm friendship. He knew her voice well, and Lind's biographer claims that Mendelssohn especially loved her high F-sharp. It is for her that the F-sharp rings in "Hear ye, Israel." In the end, Lind decided that she would prefer to make her English debut in an operatic role, and Elijah premiered without her. The soprano who sang the role demanded that Mendelssohn transpose "Hear ye" a whole tone lower. He declined and threatened to find another soprano. The composer did not need to make good his threat.
Who Was Elijah?
Mendelssohn's libretto is based on the life of Elijah ( Hebrew: Eliyahu, meaning "My God
God Is Jah")
a prophet and a wonder-worker in the northern kingdom of Israel during the reign of Ahab (9th century BC). According to the biblical books of Kings, Elijah defended the worship of Yahweh over that of the Canaanite idol Baal. God (Yahweh) performed an array of miracles for Elijah. These are portrayed in the oratorio and included raising the dead, bringing fire down from the sky, and having Elijah taken up, "by a whirlwind".
In the Book of Malachi, Elijah's return is prophesied "before the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord", making him a harbinger of the Messiah and the eschaton in various faiths that revere the Hebrew Bible. References to Elijah appear in the Talmud, the Mishnah, the New Testament and the Qur'an.
Featured Composer - Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy
Ludwig V. Beethoven heard him play in 1821 and made a prophetic entry in one of his conversation books: "Mendelssohn -12 years old - promises much." His 'Wedding March' from Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream is heard as brides walk down the aisle all over the world. What else is there to know about Felix Mendelssohn?
Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy
Jakob Ludwig Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy was born in 1809 into a wealthy Hamburg family and during his youth he mixed with many of Germany's leading artists and musicians. A child prodigy, the young Felix excelled as a painter, poet, athlete, linguist and musician. When he was 6, he began taking piano lessons from his mother and continued after the family moved to Berlin. He made his public debut at the pianoforte at the age of nine. By the time Felix was 12, he had produced four operas, 12 string symphonies and a large quantity of chamber and piano music.
Mendelssohn's early musical progress had been nothing short of phenomenal. At 14, he delivered an astonishingly accomplished string octet, and a year later, the magical overture to A Midsummer Night's Dream, arguably two of the most stunning displays of youthful talent in western music.
In 1829, Mendelssohn organized and conducted an acclaimed performance of Bach's St. Matthew Passion, which had, by then, been quite forgotten. The success of the performance - the first since Bach's death in 1750 - played an important role in reviving Bach's music in Europe. Felix was 20.
In 1837 Felix married Cécile Charlotte Sophie Jeanrenaud, the daughter of a French clergyman. It was an inspired partnership, one which - to Felix's great relief - gained the approval of his beloved sister and talented musician, Fanny. The couple had five children.
In 1842 Felix met the young Queen Victoria and her consort, Prince Albert, during one of the composer's many trips to the British Isles. He later dedicated his 'Scottish' Symphony to the Queen. The British people quickly took Felix Mendelssohn into their hearts. Such was the 37-year-old Mendelssohn's impact in England that in 1846 he directed the first performance of his new oratorio, Elijah, as the chief attraction of the Birmingham Festival.
In March 1847 Mendelssohn's sister, Fanny, died prematurely dealing an incalculable, emotional blow to the composer. Mendelssohn had suffered from poor health in the final years of his life and in November of that same year and following Fanny's death, he died at age 38 after a stroke. Mendelssohn once described death as a place 'where it is to be hoped there is still music, but no more sorrow or partings'. Queen Victoria was distraught upon learning of his death. She declared, "We were horrified, astounded and distressed to read in the papers of the death of Mendelssohn, the greatest musical genius since Mozart and the most amiable man."
Click here to listen This link is to a beautiful recording of a chorale for women's voices.
Click here to listen This one is accompanied by some of Mendelssohn's own art work.
Did you know?
Mendelssohn, an accomplished conductor, was one of the first to use a baton to beat time when he stood in front of the orchestra.
An excellent watercolorist and a prolific correspondent, Mendelssohn would often draw sketches and cartoons in the text of his letters.
Mendelssohn was a brilliant keyboard player at the pianoforte and the organ.
Take a fun quiz on the life of Felix Mendelssohn here.
Click here for quiz