Felix Mendelssohn music from A Midsummer Night’s Dream

You might wonder why I chose Mendelssohn’s music from A Midsummer’s Night Dream for today’s post.   The reason is simple: that’s where the “Wedding March” comes from. You know, the one that is played at almost every wedding.  Here’s a link to the Overture, which is delightful.  The beginning violins always makes me think of the faeries running around in Shakespeare’s play.

It reminds me of my parents, who were married for 68 years.  My mom passed away in 2008 , and dad passed away three year ago around this time at the age of 96.

In 1999, my siblings and I hosted a dinner at a local restaurant in Mishawaka, Indiana for my parents on their 60th wedding anniversary. Sixty. Six. Zero! Can you imagine? Nowadays with a national divorce rate of one in two, it’s astounding when you meet someone who stuck with it for the long haul.

I believe I know the secret to their success. It was their shared interest in dancing. They met back in the late 1930s at a dance hall which stood on the shore of Hudson Lake, which lies west of South Bend near the town of La Porte. The dance hall was close to the South Shore commuter train line that ran from South Bend all the way to Chicago. My father used to go with his friend, Johnny Peci, and try to find cute girls to dance with. Dad once told me that when he met my mom, they were so taken with each other that they never went into the dance hall that night. Instead they stayed out necking in the rumble seat of Johnny’s car.

When I was in high school, my parents started taking square dancing lessons, which became the focal point of their social life for over twenty five years. Mom used to make her own western-style dresses that flared way out from a special under-lining. Dad started wearing western shirts with turquoise cuffs and buttons and bolo ties. They had always loved camping and bought a series of recreational vehicles–campers, motor homes, and trailers–which they pulled all over the country every year to attend square dance conventions. Dad had always loved the Southwest from the western movies and pulp fiction he had grown up on, and they eventually ended up moving to Tucson back in the early 1980s.

I actually liked them taking lessons. During my sophomore through junior years of high school, they spent nearly every Thursday evening at their square dance lessons. I would do my homework and then feel like I had the whole house to myself. Sometimes I would sneak a beer, or drive to the local book store and look at girlie magazines, or just call friends (sometimes girlfriends) on the phone without having anyone looking over my shoulder.

My parents were always a very active couple. They loved camping, but also the water, and at one time we also had three canoes, a small used speedboat for water skiing, and another row boat for fishing. Most of the year we’d be canoeing somewhere or other, and in the summer we’d go down to the river and hot dog on water skis. When my oldest brother Al moved to Denver, Colorado in 1965, that gave us the excuse to make yearly excursions out west and into the Rocky Mountains where we would camp, fish, and backpack. These activities brought us close together as a family.  It gave us a cooperative activity which brought us a lot of happiness and that is an important foundation for instilling a sense of emotional well being in children.

My parents danced well into their 80s.  When they were 82, I went to my niece’s wedding in Colorado. My mother and father danced just about every song the band played-from Polka to Rock. I left the next day and later that afternoon, my mother fell down and broke her hip. She had to undergo replacement surgery and stay in the hospital undergoing therapy for several weeks. My father called and told us how lonely he was. He said he got a pair of my mother’s pajamas and held onto them, like a security blanket, when he went to sleep at night. That was such a touching image.  She recovered, though she started developing signs of Alzheimer’s after that, and she continued to swim and dance.  The last time I saw my parents dance together was in 2006, at another niece’s wedding, two years before my mom died.  Even though she had dementia and it was hard to communicate with her, when she got on the dance floor with dad, they looked lovingly into each other’s eyes.  They could have been back at Hudson Lake, falling in love again.

Biography

Download MP3s or buy CD of Mendelssohn: A Midsummer Night’s Dream from Amazon

 

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Felix Mendelssohn: “Spring Song in A Op. 62, No.2” from Songs Without Words

Before moving to Washington, DC 7 years ago, our family lived in the Maryland suburbs.   It fell to me to take our dog for morning walks rain or shine, hot or cold, summer or winter. During winter, the days were so short that I had to stay on the well-lit, open paths, because it was too dark. With the coming of spring, the days would lengthen and I could walk through the woods that lay at the bottom of our development and along the creek that ran through it.

In last Sunday’s post, I wrote about how–once spring starts–every day a new flower, bush or tree seems to come into bloom.  My daily walks in the woods also attuned me to the comings and goings of birds as well, and it seemed like every day, I would notice a different bird’s song.  The beautiful melody of the American robin.  The harsh call of the blue jay. The whistles, squeaks and croaks of the grackle, its iridescent blue-black flashing in the early morning sun.  Later in the season goldfinches would come and I also noted the slate juncos, king birds, and if lucky, a Baltimore oriole or a blue bird. On one of my walks, I heard a metallic banging and espied a crazed flicker hammering away at the wood-sheathed chimney on one of the town houses. The cardinals never left. Nor did the sad sounding mourning doves.

For about a two or three week period, there would be a riot of bird calls down by the creek. The males would be frantically trying to attract the attention of the females. Once they mated, it would become oddly silent in the mornings as they went about building their nests. Sometimes in summer I would hear a male mocking bird–which imitates all other bird songs–singing its heart out. This was sad: it meant he had not found a mate. His misfortunes however would mean I continued to be serenaded on my walks.

I was born in Indiana, which has roughly the same set of birds as here below the Mason Dixon line. My older brothers all liked to hunt and we had several rifles and shotguns. My father once told us that as a boy he had received a slingshot as a present. He took it out one day and aimed it at a robin that was sitting on a fence and let fly a pebble. The stone reached its mark and he ran over to pick up the bird. As he scooped it up, he looked down at it, the bird opened its eyes, and then died. From then on he never shot birds and he forbid us to do so as well. But that did not apply to blue jays, which he believed were marauders. Whenever we heard a group of them come into our yard, one of my brothers would grab our .22 calibre rifle and run outside.

My father could identify and whistle the call of most of the birds in our area, and he taught me them as well. One day years later, as I sat eating my lunch outside a factory where I had a summer job, I heard a beautiful bird’s song that I didn’t recognize. I looked around and saw a blue jay sitting on a telephone wire. I continued to listen for the source of the song, and suddenly I saw the blue jay open its mouth and out it came. This was astounding to me, since I had only heard them screech before.

A piece of music that makes me think about birds is Felix Mendelsohn’s piece, Spring Song in A. This piece pops up in many Bugs Bunny cartoons where a character gets a head injury and sees stars and birds flying around his head. It comes from a collection called Songs Without Words that Mendelssohn wrote when he was about 21.

Today in preparing for this entry, I listened to the Spring Song probably for the first time in its entirety. It’s only about a minute and a half long, and the twittery tune extracted in the cartoons is only stated once. For the rest of the piece the left hand plays a rolling up and down continuo that makes me think of a a walk along a stream. The right hand takes the melody and varies it in interesting ways.

So like with the song of the blue jay, what for me was once a hackneyed, trivial piece, I now find a work both subtle and evocative.

Mendelssohn Biography

Download MP3s or purchase CD of Mendelssohn: Songs Without Words from Amazon

Felix Mendelssohn: Symphony Number 3 in A Minor

Must artists suffer in order to produce great works? If life deals you one bad card after another, does that necessarily lead to high achievement? If so, does degree of suffering determine how great? For example, how many points do you get for being an orphan or bipolar? What if you had an alcoholic father who beat you up? How much do you get for being born into crushing poverty? If pain and suffering guarantees great art, then you could envision someone with a torn toenail claiming victim-hood, writing a book, and ending up on Oprah. But surely, wouldn’t good taste would dictate against that?

How about the flip side: what if you were born to luxury, had loving parents, given the best tutors and went to the best schools? Would that guarantee superficiality? Guess not.  Look at John Stuart Mill, whose parent hired servants who spoke Latin so that the boys first language would be that of Virgil. He is considered a great philosopher. And what about Mendelssohn?

Mendelssohn was the grandson of a Jewish philosopher whose personal mission was to try to reconcile the Jew and the Christians. His father was a very successful banker in Hamburg who converted to Christianity. Mendelssohn was schooled early in violin and piano and was quickly recognized as a prodigy. When he was twelve, he began writing a string symphonies, racking up a total of 12 by the time he was 15. The next one was first labeled Number 13, but he later changed it to Number 1.

Mendelssohn had a meteoric career as a composer, performer and conductor travelling frequently between Leipzig, Berlin, and Dresden. On a trip to England and Scotland, he was inspired by the tower where Queen Mary was kept at Holyrood, and the theme for the Hebrides Overture and Symphony Number 3 came to him on that visit. He soon finished the overture but he put aside the symphony for about twelve years. In the meantime, he wrote the Fourth Symphony called The Italian.Some prodigy: he obviously wasn’t too good at math.

What he was good at was bridging the gap between classicism and romanticism. The first movement of the Scotch Symphony, starts out with a brooding melody that eventually turns lush and romantic, foreshadowing much of the music of the rest of the 19th century of Brahms, Tchaikowsky, and Grieg. The second movement, marked Vivace non troppo (fast, but not too) starts out almost like a quick movement from a symphony by Mozart. It seems to be based on a Scottish tune, but it has a non-characteristic joy to it. In the third movement, the Adagio Mendelssohn goes back to his Germanic musical roots, especially to Beethoven–complete with gentle tympani accompanying a bucolic melody. A big crash wakes us up as the fourth movement takes off, leaping off the page with trumpet blasts. For the last movement, we return to the Scottish feel of the second movement for a while, but Mendelssohn is in his full mature style here, deftly mixing the classical tempo and orchestra with the lush romantic emotions. He brings the whole symphony to an end with a swelling, vibrant and almost majestic coda that ties everything together nicely.

So I return to my question: does the artist suffer in order to create great art? I’d have to answer no, but that didn’t exempt Mendelssohn, however. He suffered from his own success. He became so sought after that his constant travelling and performing wore him out. While crossing the Prussian border in 1847, he was arrested for having the same name as a political activist of the time. Being detained took its toll, and a few hours after his release, he learned of the death of his beloved sister, Fanny. The shock cause him to burst a cerebral brain vessel and after a few weeks, he died at the ripe old age of 38.

Download MP3 or Buy CD of Symphony on Amazon

Mendelssohn’s Fingal’s Cave (or the Hebrides Overture)

Love this piece. It was inspired by a visit in 1829 by Mendelssohn to a site in Scotland’s Inner Hebrides Islands. You can read a description of the cave on wikipedia here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fingal%27s_Cave. Mendelssohn was inspired by the echoes in the cave, and his piece brought the site renown, and it’s a popular tourist destination. I first heard it in a cartoon as I describe in my earlier post. Enjoy.

Kurt Nemes' Classical Music Almanac

My two earliest memories of hearing classical music go back to watching the “Bug’s Bunny Show” with my father every Saturday morning back in the 1960s. The musical director for all the Looney Toons was Carl Stalling and he wove classical and popular music together seamlessly. The Bugs Bunny cartoon most famous for its classical music is “What’s Opera Doc?” which spoofs those overblown Wagnerian operas. Bugs appears dressed in Walkyrie drag, complete with horned helmet and a metal bra. I did not see this cartoon until the 70s when I went to college, so I can’t claim it as my earliest memory.There were three other cartoons that I do clearly remember, for they spotlighted the work of three composers whose music I started collecting in high school–Mendelsohn, Rossini and Liszt.


The first piece was by Felix Mendelssohn(1809 – 1847) and was called Fingal’s Cave (or the Hebrides Overture). Stalling…

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Felix Mendelssohn music from A Midsummer Night’s Dream

You might wonder why I chose Mendelssohn’s music from A Midsummer’s Night Dream for today’s post.   The reason is simple: that’s where the “Wedding March” comes from. You know, the one that is played at almost every wedding.  Here’s a link to the Overture, which is delightful.  The beginning violins always makes me think of the faeries running around in Shakespeare’s play.

It reminds me of my parents, who were married for 68 years.  My mom passed away in 2008 , and dad passed away one year ago this past week at the age of 96.

In 1999, my siblings and I hosted a dinner at a local restaurant in Mishawaka, Indiana for my parents on their 60th wedding anniversary. Sixty. Six. Zero! Can you imagine? Nowadays with a national divorce rate of one in two, it’s astounding when you meet someone who stuck with it for the long haul.

I believe I know the secret to their success. It was their shared interest in dancing. They met back in the late 1930s at a dance hall which stood on the shore of Hudson Lake, which lies west of South Bend near the town of La Porte. The dance hall was close to the South Shore commuter train line that ran from South Bend all the way to Chicago. My father used to go with his friend, Johnny Peci, and try to find cute girls to dance with. He once told me that when he met my mom, they were so taken with each other that they never went into the dance hall that night. Instead they stayed out necking in the rumble seat of Johnny’s car.

When I was in high school, they started taking square dancing lessons, which became the focal point of their social life for over twenty five years. Mom used to make her own western-style dresses that flared way out from a special under-lining. Dad started wearing western shirts with turquoise cuffs and buttons and bolo ties. They had always loved camping and bought a series of recreational vehicles–campers, motor homes, and trailers–which they pulled all over the country every year to attend square dance conventions. Dad had always loved the South West from the western movies and pulp fiction he had grown up on, and they eventually ended up moving to Tucson back in the early 1980s.

I actually liked this. During my sophomore through junior years of high school, they spent nearly every Thursday evening at their square dance lessons. I would do my homework and then feel like I had the whole house to myself. Sometimes I would sneak a beer, or drive to the local book store and look at girlie magazines, or just call friends (sometimes girlfriends) on the phone without having anyone looking over my shoulder.

My parents were always a very active couple. They loved camping, but also the water, and at one time we also had three canoes, a small used speedboat for water skiing, and another row boat for fishing. Most of the year we’d be canoeing somewhere or other, and in the summer we’d go down to the river and hot dog on water skis. When my oldest brother Al moved to Denver, Colorado in 1965, that gave us the excuse to make yearly excursions out west and into the Rocky Mountains where we would camp, fish, and backpack. These activities brought us close together as a family.  It gave us a cooperative activity which brought us a lot of happiness and that is an important foundation for instilling a sense of emotional well being in children.

My parents danced well into their 90s.  When they were 82, I went to my niece’s wedding in Colorado. My mother and father danced just about every song the band played-from Polka to Rock. I left the next day and later that afternoon, my mother fell down and broke her hip. She had to undergo replacement surgery and stay in the hospital undergoing therapy for several weeks. My father called and told us how lonely he was. He said he got a pair of my mother’s pajamas and held onto them, like a security blanket, when he went to sleep at night. That was such a touching image.  She recovered, though she started developing signs of Alzheimer’s after that, and she continued to swim and dance.  The last time I saw my parents dance together was in 2006, at another niece’s wedding, two years before my mom died.  Even though she had dementia and it was hard to communicate with her, when she got on the dance floor with dad, they looked lovingly into each other’s eyes.  They could have been back at Hudson Lake, falling in love again.

Biography

Download MP3s or buy CD of Mendelssohn: A Midsummer Night’s Dream from Amazon

 

Felix Mendelssohn: “Spring Song in A Op. 62, No.2” from Songs Without Words

Before moving to Washington, DC 5 years ago, our family lived in the Maryland suburbs.   It fell to me to take our dog for morning walks rain or shine, hot or cold, summer or winter. During winter, the days were so short that I had to stay on the well-lit, open paths, because it was too dark. With the coming of spring, the days would lengthen and I could walk through the woods that lay at the bottom of our development and along the creek that ran through it.

In my previous post, I wrote about how–once spring starts–every day a new flower, bush or tree seems to come into bloom.  My daily walks in the woods also attuned me to the comings and goings of birds as well, and it seemed like every day, I would notice a different bird’s song.  The beautiful melody of the American robin.  The harsh call of the blue jay. The whistles, squeaks and croaks of the grackle, its iridescent blue-black flashing in the early morning sun.  Later in the season goldfinches would come and I also noted the slate juncos, king birds, and if lucky, a Baltimore oriole or a blue bird. On one of my walks, I heard a metallic banging and espied a crazed flicker hammering away at the wood-sheathed chimney on one of the town houses. The cardinals never left. Nor did the sad sounding mourning doves.

For about a two or three week period, there would be a riot of bird calls down by the creek. The males would be frantically trying to attract the attention of the females. Once they mated, it would become oddly silent in the mornings as they went about building their nests. Sometimes in summer I would hear a male mocking bird–which imitates all other bird songs–singing its heart out. This was sad: it meant he had not found a mate. His misfortunes however would mean I continued to be serenaded on my walks.

I was born in Indiana, which has roughly the same set of birds as here below the Mason Dixon line. My older brothers all liked to hunt and we had several rifles and shotguns. My father once told us that as a boy he had received a slingshot as a present. He took it out one day and aimed it at a robin that was sitting on a fence and let fly a pebble. The stone reached its mark and he ran over to pick up the bird. As he scooped it up, he looked down at it, the bird opened its eyes, and then died. From then on he never shot birds and he forbid us to do so as well. But that did not apply to blue jays, which he believed were marauders. Whenever we heard a group of them come into our yard, one of my brothers would grab our .22 calibre rifle and run outside.

My father could identify and whistle the call of most of the birds in our area, and he taught me them as well. One day years later, as I sat eating my lunch outside a factory where I had a summer job, I heard a beautiful bird’s song that I didn’t recognize. I looked around and saw a blue jay sitting on a telephone wire. I continued to listen for the source of the song, and suddenly I saw the blue jay open its mouth and out it came. This was astounding to me, since I had only heard them screech before.

A piece of music that makes me think about birds is Felix Mendelsohn’s piece, Spring Song in A. This piece pops up in many Bugs Bunny cartoons where a character gets a head injury and sees stars and birds flying around his head. It comes from a collection called Songs Without Words that Mendelssohn wrote when he was about 21.

Today in preparing for this entry, I listened to the Spring Song probably for the first time in its entirety. It’s only about a minute and a half long, and the twittery tune extracted in the cartoons is only stated once. For the rest of the piece the left hand plays a rolling up and down continuo that makes me think of a a walk along a stream. The right hand takes the melody and varies it in interesting ways.

So like with the song of the blue jay, what for me was once a hackneyed, trivial piece, I now find a work both subtle and evocative.

Mendelssohn Biography

Download MP3s or purchase CD of Mendelssohn: Songs Without Words from Amazon

Felix Mendelssohn: Symphony Number 3 in A Minor

Must artists suffer in order to produce great works? If life deals you one bad card after another, does that necessarily lead to high achievement? If so, does degree of suffering determine how great? For example, how many points do you get for being an orphan or a manic depressive? What if you had an alcoholic father who beat you up? How much do you get for being born into crushing poverty? If pain and suffering guarantees great art, then you could envision someone with a torn toenail claiming victim-hood, writing a book, and ending up on Oprah. But surely, wouldn’t good taste would dictate against that?

How about the flip side: what if you were born to luxury, had loving parents, given the best tutors and went to the best schools? Would that guarantee superficiality? Look at John Stuart Mill, whose parent hired servants who spoke Latin so that the boys first language would be that of Virgil. He is considered a great philosopher. And what about Mendelssohn?

Mendelssohn was the grandson of a Jewish philosopher whose personal mission was to try to reconcile the Jew and the Christians. His father was a very successful banker in Hamburg who converted to Christianity. Mendelssohn was schooled early in violin and piano and was quickly recognized as a prodigy. When he was twelve, he began writing a string symphonies, racking up a total of 12 by the time he was 15. The next one was first labeled Number 13, but he later changed it to Number 1.

Mendelssohn had a meteoric career as a composer, performer and conductor travelling frequently between Leipzig, Berlin, and Dresden. On a trip to England and Scotland, he was inspired by the tower where Queen Mary was kept at Holyrood, and the theme for the Hebrides Overture and Symphony Number 3 came to him on that visit. He soon finished the overture but he put aside the symphony for about twelve years. In the meantime, he wrote the Fourth Symphony called The Italian.Some prodigy: he obviously wasn’t too good at math.

What he was good at was bridging the gap between classicism and romanticism. The first movement of the Scotch Symphony, starts out with a brooding melody that eventually turns lush and romantic, foreshadowing much of the music of the rest of the 19th century of Brahms, Tchaikowsky, and Grieg. The second movement, marked Vivace non troppo (fast, but not too) starts out almost like a quick movement from a symphony by Mozart. It seems to be based on a Scottish tune, but it has a non-characteristic joy to it. In the third movement, the Adagio Mendelssohn goes back to his Germanic musical roots, especially to Beethoven–complete with gentle tympani accompanying a bucolic melody. A big crash wakes us up as the fourth movement takes off, leaping off the page with trumpet blasts. For the last movement, we return to the Scottish feel of the second movement for a while, but Mendelssohn is in his full mature style here, deftly mixing the classical tempo and orchestra with the lush romantic emotions. He brings the whole symphony to an end with a swelling, vibrant and almost majestic coda that ties everything together nicely.

So I return to my question: does the artist suffer in order to create great art? I’d have to answer no, but that didn’t exempt Mendelssohn, however. He suffered from his own success. He became so sought after that his constant travelling and performing wore him out. While crossing the Prussian border in 1847, he was arrested for having the same name as a political activist of the time. Being detained took its toll, and a few hours after his release, he learned of the death of his beloved sister, Fanny. The shock cause him to burst a cerebral brain vessel and after a few weeks, he died at the ripe old age of 38.

Download MP3 or Buy CD of Symphony on Amazon

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