German composer, performer, and conductor Felix Mendelssohn would have turned 204 on February 3rd. While he was acclaimed during his short life of 38 years, only a fraction of his works continued to be performed after his death. WRTI’s Susan Lewis looks at Mendelssohn and his musical impact.
Lewis: His violin concerto is one of the works that survived the centuries. Yet his contributions to music, says Mendelssohn biographer R. Larry Todd, were much more significant than many people realize:
Todd: He was, of course, one of the great pianists of his age, arguably the leading organist of the entire century. He was also – it’s not well known - a violinist and violist. He could pick up a part in his own octet and play that, and of course he was one of the seminal conductors of the 19th century. He was one of the first conductors to conduct using a baton.
Lewis: Mendelssohn’s performance of the St. Matthew Passion at its 100th anniversary in 1827 helped spark the 20th-century Bach revival, says Philadelphia Singers Music Director David Hayes.
Hayes: Most people thought Bach was a composer you studied – he was an intellectual composer. The idea of performing Bach, was, sort of, you know, crazy. Why would you perform Bach? But Mendelssohn was the first to really turn around and say, hey, these great works of Bach - the St. Matthew Passion –we should perform these works.
Lewis: Mendelssohn’s own compositions included symphonies, concert overtures, concertos, chamber music, choral works, piano and organ music, and songs. But Todd says that after Mendelssohn died, much of this music was not performed due to anti-Semitism and changing musical tastes.
R. Larry Todd is author of Mendelssohn: A Life in Music.