Everyone has one’s taste for music, and there’s no reason any particular music should be considered of higher degrees than the others.
Some feel intimate with music of Schumann or Liszt, others prefer Strauss or Shostakovich.
Whether it’s based on “rationality” or pure “instinct”.
For those who find these music “the NORM”, Mendelssohn may be a somewhat distant figure and may probably not be the first composer to think of as their favourites.
What we may not realize is that, there are so much more music written by Mendelssohn out there that we consciously or unconsciously expose ourselves to on a daily basis than we give them credits for.
Ever had that blasting sound of trumpets in your ears at a wedding ceremony? That’s right, it’s the opening of the “Wedding March” from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” Op.61 which Mendelssohn wrote in 1842.
You may even have heard it on TV or in films as it’s the most iconic music for the particular occasion.
And this below is from “Songs Without Words” Op.62-6 (1844), known as “Spring Song” that many call it today. Mendelssohn never provided any of those with any title whatsoever (I’ll cover it in later blogs). This melody is so familiar that it’s somehow exploited for TV commercials as background music, alarm clocks or even ringing tones for mobile phones!
Furthermore, what about this one? You know it, don’t you? This is the hymn everyone gets to sing around Christmas, called “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” and it was Mendelssohn who wrote it along the text by Charles Wesley. I’m assuming anyone has heard of this at least once before.
So I’ve mentioned 3 of the most recognized music of Mendelssohn as examples here, but what really is the commonality amongst these pieces that best symbolizes the positive characteristic of Mendelssohn’s music??
It lies in its “simplicity” of the melody.
All of the ones described above are melodies constructed rather simply and with simple harmonies.
When the melody is delivered with simple texture in a way that intrigues the listener, the listener is “hooked” right from the beginning without any special effort to pay attention to it.
And once listened, it’ll be quite difficult to remove from the mind.
Many composers in later centuries ― take Ravel or Stravinsky for instance, ― more or less follow this same strategic principle in composition when it comes to music that are well-known to us.
This is one of the 6 songs written by Mendelssohn titled “Auf Flügeln des Gesanges” (On Wings of Song) Op.34, with text by Heinrich Heine, one of the most acclaimed poets of the 19th century and also a friend of Mendelssohn.
Again, the sprited, light but warm-hearted melody opens the music in the most straightforward manner possible, accompanied by nothing more than broken chords.
We can estimate that there are roughly hundreds of existing melodies just like these that we can find in print, and one may be struck by the creative power and imaginativity of Mendelssohn that never seemed to cease producing a copious amount of works which have survived more than 200 years.
Below is the words Mendelssohn left regarding composition:
“When a musical thought comes to us, we do not have to ask whether it is original or not. If the musical motif does not result from a conscious desire or reflection, but from an inspiration and inner revelation, then we are not able, in any case, either to add or to rob anything from its originality. Such inspirations are therefore only to be thankfully received, like a pure gift from Heaven. We sin against them and drain them of their freshness and simplicity if we chip away at them and find fault with them out of vain striving after originality. To be sure, what we begin to do later, in the course of musical working-out, with these ideas that have been bestowed on us without our volition, how we organically refine them further and develop them into the most perfect artistic form－that is our business, the business of our will, our energy and perseverance. In this respect, therefore, we cannot be hard-enough upon ourselves. Yet in the hours when we should only feel thankfulness and good fortune there should be no reflection or criticism. Had I let myself be induced constantly to inquire after the originality of my ideas by the remarks others made about me I would certainly not have been able to achieve anything further. Whoever does not on the whole firmly believe that his life’s work is to be found only in art and in honest, true perseverance and activity as an artist, whoever is still dependent on the approval of others, or on immediate public success, should rather give it up at once. This is not a matter of overestimating oneself, but the belief that what moves us inwardly most deeply, and most enduringly spurs us on to exertion must also be our God-given calling. So you should take note that there are two kinds of thing a man should not let himself talked into, and two things which no-one but himself can choose for him, these are: his calling and his wife.“
Ref: Naumann, Emil. “Erinnerungen an Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy.” Neue Berliner Musikzeitung 3 (1865)