Curating Music History: Overture to Midsummer Night’s Dream
When we think of childhood musical prodigies, the name that springs to mind is Mozart. However, there was another… Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847). In fact there were comparisons between him and Mozart by none other than Goethe, in a conversation with Zeller.
> “Musical prodigies … are probably no longer so rare; but what this little man can do in extemporizing and playing at sight borders the miraculous, and I could not have believed it possible at so early an age.” “And yet you heard Mozart in his seventh year at Frankfurt?” said Zelter. “Yes”, answered Goethe, “… but what your pupil already accomplishes, bears the same relation to the Mozart of that time that the cultivated talk of a grown-up person bears to the prattle of a child.”
From the entry “Felix Mendelssohn” in the Groves online music encylopaedia.
Some of his most famous and beloved works, like the String Octet, were written well before the age of 20. His compositional style was one that was more backward looking in comparison to his direct contemporaries (like Liszt, Berlioz and Wagner).
Something for which I would have a great amount of personal gratitude for, is his “rediscovery” of the works of JS Bach. Keep in mind that the performance of music from past eras was not a common thing until relatively recently, and so much of the music of previous generations was lost to archives, potentially never to see the light of performance again. Mendelssohn revived the works of Bach, most notably the Matteus Passion, which is now considered on the of masterworks of Western Music history.
Through this rediscovery, he also indirectly start the trend of rediscovering the past masters. A practice that has survived to the modern times with the canon of symphonic and chamber repertoire being performed in Classical Music concert halls. Later, the Early Music movement would take this one step further and uncover many more gems that were lost to libraries and archives.
This Overture is from the incidental music to “The Midsummer Night’s Dream”, written by a little known playwright called William Shakespeare. The most famous movement from this incidental music is the wedding march, which I’m sure everyone will recognise as soon as they hear it!
In the Overture, it is the scene setting for the play, which is a comedy of interweaving plots, with various marriages and lovers plotlines intersecting with the machinations of the Fairy Kingdom. The Overture portrays the contrast between the human worlds and the fairy twilight world, and along the way, the fool (Bottom) in a donkey’s head can be heard in the musical realisation of the “Hee-Haw”.
For the complete plot synopsis of “The Midsummer Night’s Dream”, I would refer you to the [wikipedia article](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Midsummer_Night%27s_Dream#Musical_versions), as it is not my area of knowledge!
The London Symphony Orchestra is one of the best known orchestras in the world. Perhaps their “biggest” claim to fame is that they are the orchestra that recorded the music (written by John Williams) to the original Star Wars trilogy! However, they are a pillar of the Classical Music community in their own right!
Claudio Abbado was a famed conductor (passing away in 2014) who was the principal conductor of the LSO, however, he was also a leading and highly sought after conductor all over the world.
The partnership between the awesome technical machine of the London Symphony and the musical vision of Abbado, makes for a great rendition of this Overture.
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