The Mendelssohn Concert
Saturday, June 8, 2019 @ 7:30 pm - 9:30 pm
Min young Bae, Piano
Mary Muddy, ‘Cello
Stephen Westrop, Organ
Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy 1809–47
Songs Without Words, Op.19b
- Andante con moto
- Andante espressivo
- Molto allegro e vivace
- Poco agitato
- Andante sostenuto – Venetianisches Gondellied
Mendelssohn wrote eight volumes of Songs Without Wordswith six pieces in each volume. The first volume, Op.19, was published in London 1832, with the title ‘Melodies for the Pianoforte, later published in Germany as Lieder ohne Worte – the title soon adopted in English too. Interestingly Mendelssohn objected to a friend’s suggestion that the pieces should be set to words and turned into actual songs, commenting “What the music I love expresses to me is not thought too indefinite to put into words, but on the contrary too definite”.
Tonight’s first song is in E Major, formed with a lyrical melody and arpeggio accompaniment containing three sections. The second is in a minor key, also starts with a melody on the right hand – rather a sad melody which becomes duet very quickly. Contrasting to previous two, the third song was entitled Jagdlied(Hunting Song)by Mendelssohn, portraying a very cheerful and joyous character.
The fourth song, in A Minor, features multiple voices, framed by an instrumental introduction and postlude. The fifth, in F sharp Minor is known as ‘The little sonata’ and is a revised version of a piece which Mendelssohn had written for his friend Sophia Louise Dance in September 1829 during a stay in England, entitled ‘A song’.
Mendelssohn entitled tonight’s final song Venezianisches Gondollied(Venetian Gondolier’s Song). It features a melancholy melody with a broken chord accompaniment, mostly in thirds or sixths, and sounding like a duet singing.
Prelude and Fugue in E Minor Op.35 No.1 (1827)
Mendelssohn was heavily influenced by J.S. Bach, as one can recognise from its title Prelude and Fugue. He wrote six Preludes and Fugues Op.35, mainly from 1833 to 1837, except for tonight’s No. 1 Fugue in E minor, written much earlier.
The Prelude Allegro con fuocobrings a very fast demi-semiquaver arpeggio background to the warm melody in the middle register. The Fugue is in four voices. As the piece moves forward, there is a gradual accelerando till we reach the climax, coming with the left hand octaves in E Major, and labelled by Mendelssohn as a ‘Chorale’.
Song Without Words for ‘cello and piano, Op 109 wmv
Despite Mendelssohn’s precocious composition of his Octet for Strings when he was only 16, his interest in string chamber music was then spasmodic, and essentially comprised four ‘cello and piano pieces, seemingly prompted by his brother Paul’s study of the instrument. They were a set of Variationes Concertantecomposed in 1828; the First ‘Cello Sonata in 1838; the Second ‘Cello Sonata in 1842; and the Song Without Words, written in 1845 but published posthumously – the last two compositions of which we hear tonight.
The ‘cello-piano Song Without Words is not related to any of the 48 pianoLieder ohne Worte. Famously recorded and broadcast by the BBC in 1962 by the 17-year old Jacqueline du Pre (presented in a debutante gown and sitting on a sort of wedding cake podium – worth a visit on the web) together with her mother Iris, this tiny masterpiece shows Mendelssohn still at the height of his power right to the end – lyrical but with urgent energy at the core.
Organ sonata No 1 in F Minor, Op 65 No 1 (Published 1845)
Allegro moderato e serioso
Allegro assai vivace
It is ironic that Mendelssohn’s six organ sonatas, published in 1845, came about as the result of a commission from an English publisher, Coventry and Hollier, when only a relative handful of instruments in this country, let alone players, would have been able to cope with their demands. Many organs had either no pedal board or one with only a very short compass and so were not up to the demands of the sonatas’ often virtuosic pedal parts. Mendelssohn’s writing for the instrument was particularly influenced by his knowledge of and performance of the organ works of Bach for which, along with his improvisations, he was particularly noted in this country. On one occasion at St. Paul’s the clamour to hear him was so great that the vergers had to induce the organ blowers to stop pumping in order to be able to shut the cathedral. To capitalise on this popularity the publishers had asked for a set of three voluntaries but this expanded to six works, which he called sonatas, compiled from existing and newly written material.
After a grand, largely chordal opening the first movement contrasts fugal writing, based on a strong four-note figure, with more reflective passages based on the Lutheran chorale Was mein Gott will, das g’scheh’ allzeit (‘What my God wants, may it be for all time’). The second, slow movement, has been variously described as a Song Without Words or a sacred song – it is certainly reminiscent of arias such as If with all your heartand O rest in the Lordfrom his oratorio Elijah, his next major project. The oratorio’s influence can also be felt in the next movement ‘Andante recitando’ where chordal progressions on the full organ punctuate melodic phrases, to which words could easily be attached. This leads directly into the finale, an arpeggio-saturated toccata to which is eventually added a more sustained theme, reminiscent of the first movement. Both the first and last movements contain cadenza-like passages for the pedals, utilising more or less the full compass of the pedal board.
‘Cello sonata No 2 in D Major, Op 58 (1843)
Allegro assai vivace
Molto allegro e vivace
The Cello Sonata in D major Op 58, composed in 1842-43 and dedicated to the Russian/ Polish nobleman Count Mateusz Wielhorski, a talented amateur ‘cellist and owner of a Stradivarius instrument. Also in 1843 Mendelssohn founded the Leipzig Conservatoire of Music and was also the Music Director of the Leipzig Gewandhaus concerts and as such was a “successor of Bach”.
The main theme of the first movement of the sonata is a reworking of an unrealised piano sonata in G major, but also – some suggest – with ideas cleverly and creatively adapted from the first movement of Mendelssohn’s Italian Symphony. This Allegro assai vivaceis joyous and exuberant. It is followed by an Allegretto scherzandowhich contrasts humorous sections with lyrical passages. Mendelssohn was working on A Midsummer Night’s Dreamat the same time, and some creative borrowing between the two pieces can also be detected.
In the Adagio Mendelssohn pays tribute to JS Bach (whom he revered greatly, as already noted) by creating music resembling a choral Fantasia. Some students have suggested a specific connection with Es ist Vollbrachtfrom the St John Passion. The piano opens the movement with solemn spread chords – compare with the Organ Sonata we have just heard – around which the cello weaves a free ‘recitative’.
In contrast the Finale Molto Allegro e vivacebrings the work to a Romantic and lyrical conclusion with much virtuoso writing for the piano – a masterly melding of homage to Bach and writing of great originality.
Min young Bae, now living in New Malden, came originally from South Korea, and started to play the piano aged seven. She moved to Britain in 2002, and in 2005 joined the Yehudi Menuhin School at Cobham. While there she performed at the Wigmore Hall, St John’s Smith Square, the Swiss Ambassador’s Residence and other venues.
Min progressed to the Royal College of Music in 2010, studying under Ruth Nye, and graduating with First Class Honours. Min won a scholarship to continue her studies at the Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, and last year was appointed the Junior Fellow in Accompaniment.
Min has performed in recitals in St James’s Piccadilly, St Alphege Greenwich, the Steinway Hall London, and many other venues. She won the First Prize in the John Longmire Piano Competition.
All Saints’ piano is a vintage Bluthner. Performers enjoy its slightly old-fashioned sound. Contributions towards its planned refurbishment are gratefully welcomed.
Mary Mundy, a New Malden resident, was for many years Sub Principal ‘cellist with the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.
She was a prize-winning graduate of the Royal College of Music, before spending three years in Vienna studying under the French ‘cellist Andre Navarra. She passionately loves chamber music as well as the opera and ballet repertiore, and had a critically-acclaimed debut at the Wigmore Hall. Since then, Mary’s chamber concerts have taken her to France, Italy and Germany.
Stephen Westropgrew up and continues to live in New Malden. He was a pupil at Tiffin School, and has a long association with All Saints dating back to his time as a chorister under David Neild in the 1960s. Stephen was Organ Scholar at Norwich Cathedral while studying at the University of East Anglia before going on to the London Opera Centre. He worked extensively as a repetiteur and conductor becoming Director of the London Symphony Chorus, and then Assistant Chorus Master at the Royal Opera House until his retirement in December 2014. Stephen has also been Assistant Organist and then Director of Music at All Saints.
All Saints’ organ, installed just over 30 years ago, is a outstanding three-manual instrument built by the noted Danish makers Frobenius.