Mendelssohn In Lucerne: Celebrating 200 Years

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Mendelssohn In Lucerne: Celebrating 200 Years

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In the summer of 1822, exactly 200 years ago, Felix Mendelssohn, who was only 13 at the time, travelled to Switzerland for the first time and visited Lucerne. So it’s all the more fitting that Riccardo Chailly and the Lucerne Festival Orchestra have made Mendelssohn’s music the focus of their inaugural spring residency this year.

And since the Mendelssohn Festival is only a little over a month away, it would be good to know more about Mendelssohn.

MENDELSSOHN AND BERLIOZ

The young Hector Berlioz, Portrait of Émile Signol (1832)

From the spring of 1830 to the fall of 1831, Felix Mendelssohn traveled through Italy. While there, he also met his French colleague Hector Berlioz, six years his senior, who had just won the “Prix de Rome” and was spending his scholarship period studying in the Eternal City.

The two composers quickly became friends, meeting almost every day for several weeks. They discussed art and music, went riding through the Campagna, visited the tomb of Tasso, and toured the Baths of Caracalla. For all their human closeness, however, their artistic appreciation remained somewhat one-sided: Berlioz admired Mendelssohn’s music, but Mendelssohn was critical of Berlioz’s musical language.

“Without a spark of talent,” Mendelssohn wrote of Berlioz. The latter, in turn, scolded Mendelssohn for being a “porcupine when you start talking about music; you don’t know where to touch him without getting pricked.”

Yet the two composers actually admired each other in various ways, despite holding aesthetic perspectives that could hardly have been more unalike — and despite the fact that their discussions could become so heated that Mendelssohn almost had an accident after one of them.

Nevertheless, 12 years later he invited Berlioz to Leipzig for concerts with the Gewandhaus Orchestra: at least on this occasion, he expressed more positive views about Les Nuits d’été. Berlioz, for his part, included in his conducting repertoire Mendelssohn’s Italian Symphony, which was written as a reaction to the experiences and impressions of the trip to Italy.

How “Italian” this work really is will become clear in its juxtaposition with the master of brio: Gioachino Rossini. Click here for tickets and more information: Mendelssohn & Berlioz Concert | 10.4.

“MY FAVORITE COUNTRY”: MENDELSSOHN IN SWITZERLAND

View of Lucerne (with the Court Church of St. Leodegar and Court Bridge (later demolished), Rigi in the background): watercolor by Felix Mendelssohn (1847)

Works such as the Hebrides Overture, the Scottish Symphony, and the Italian Symphony show how much Felix Mendelssohn loved to travel. Although he did not compose a Swiss symphony, Mendelssohn did visit Switzerland four times during his all-too-brief life and stopped off in Lucerne on all of those trips.

The first time was in the summer of 1822, exactly 200 years ago.

A DIFFICULT RELATIONSHIP: MENDELSSOHN AND WAGNER

Riccardo Chailly | Lucerne Festival Orchestra © Manuela Jans/Lucerne Festival

To ring in the Mendelssohn Festival with music by Richard Wagner, of all people, is a rather bold move. After all, Wagner vilified Mendelssohn in his devastating anti-Semitic pamphlet Das Judentum in der Musik (Jewishness in Music), in which he accused his colleague, who was four years his senior, of never having achieved a “deep effect capable of gripping the heart and soul” with his works.

When this pamphlet came out in September 1850, Mendelssohn had already been dead for three years, so he could not defend himself.

Nor could he point out the fact that Wagner had previously entreated patronage from him in submissive letters.

But as Riccardo Chailly observes: “What Wagner wrote is abominable, but in his music, he actually incorporated some of Mendelssohn’s ideas.”

This concert will demonstrate how much Wagner actually admired Mendelssohn. In his operas, he repeatedly took up Mendelssohn’s ideas. Even in his late Parsifal, the Grail theme quotes the “Dresden Amen,” which Mendelssohn had used 50 years before in his Reformation Symphony.

With the Scottish Symphony, meanwhile, not only did the first movement’s stormy sounds inspire Wagner in The Flying Dutchman, the work is also close to the sound world of Die Walküre. Music knows better than words. And it speaks a language other than calumny

Incidentally, in this program the Reformation Symphony will be heard in the original version from 1830, which is rarely performed.

Tickets can be found here: Mendelssohn & Wagner Concert | 8.4.

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