Notes on Mendelssohn's Evening Song ("Abendlied")
FELIX MENDELSSOHN (full name Jacob Ludwig Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy) was born in Hamburg, Feb. 3, 1809 and died in Leipzig, Nov. 4, 1847. He was the son of a banker, Abraham Mendelssohn. Felix and his sister, Fanny, took their first piano lessons with their mother, Lea Salomon-Bartholdy. He gave his first public performance at the age of eight. Two years later he entered the Singakademie, first as an alto and later as a tenor. In his first year the choir performed a setting of Psalm 19 he had written. He was fortunate to have a father who took interest in his musical development and who had the financial resources to carry it out. In 1825 Felix was taken to Paris to ask Cherubini’s opinion of the suitability of a musical career for him. The elder composer’s response was enthusiastically affirmative. Felix’s talent for composition was fostered by performances of a small orchestra at his father’s house. His career as a pianist, conductor and composer was soon well under way. As conductor, in March of 1829, he performed a great service to the musical world by presenting Bach’s St. Matthew Passion. It was the first performance since Bach’s death eighty years earlier and prompted the lasting resurgence of interest in Bach’s music. Mendelssohn was also responsible for shaping the Gewandhaus Orchestra of Leipzig into one of the world’s greatest. His numerous compositions include symphonies, songs, concertos, piano, instrumental, organ and choral worksnotably the oratorio Elijah. By early 1847 his health, always fragile, had begun to fail. The emotional trauma caused by the death of his beloved sister, Fanny, that year hastened his own death two months later at the age of 38.
HEINRICH HEINE was born in Düsseldorf, Prussia, Dec. 13, 1797, and died in Paris, February 17, 1856. He was the son of a Jewish merchant and a well-educated mother who held high ambitions for him. With the financial power of his uncle he received a law degree, with only minimal achievement, in 1825. That same year he changed his name from Harry to Heinrich and converted to Protestantism in order to open up the possibility of a civil service career, closed to Jews at that time. However, he neither practiced law nor worked in government service. Instead, he became a poet whose international literary reputation and influence were established by the Buch der Lieder (The Book of Songs, 1827), poems from which were frequently set to music by composers including Brahms, Schumann, and Mendelssohn. In 1831 he moved permanently to Paris where he became an advocate for political and social concerns. His critical and satirical writings led to an attempted ban on his work in Germany and surveillance by German police. The last eight years of his life were spent in depression and extreme pain caused by a series of illnesses of the nervous system which led to paralysis and partial blindness. He was buried in Montmarte Cemetery.
EVENING SONG (Abendlied) is the second of three folksongs for soprano and alto voices composed in Berlin; date uncertain; no opus number.
HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVEDuring the period from 1827 to 1833, about the time both the text and music of “Evening Song” were written, Bellini, Donizetti, Rossini, Adolphe Adam (composer of “O Holy Night”), Berlioz, Liszt and Chopin flourished; L. Daguerre developed the first photography; London boasted 26 steam cars on its streets; application was made for patent of first typewriter; Victor Hugo wrote Notre Dame de Paris; the Mormon Church was founded; Andrew Jackson became the seventh United States president; Emily Dickinson, Louisa May Alcott, James Garfield, Horatio Alger, Edwin Booth, Johannes Brahms, and Alfred Nobel were born; Sir James C. Ross determined the position of magnetic North Pole and returned from his second Arctic expedition; London Bridge opened; P.T. Barnum was beginning his circus career; the first horse-drawn trolleys and buses appeared in New York City; author Sir Walter Scott, Beethoven, U.S. President James Monroe and painter Gilbert Stuart died; Davy Crockett was killed at the Alamo; and slavery was abolished in the British Empire and Mexico.
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