Thursday, 29 January 2009

240. Felix Mendelssohn - Songs Without Words (1825-45)


Title: Piano Concertos 1 & 2, Songs Without Words.
Performers: Andras Schiff
Year: 1986
Length: 35 minutes


The format of these little songs for piano is particularly enlightening as to their originality, they are three minutes long and self contained. Essentially the format which would become the norm for popular music in the 20th century.

These are songs all about the melody, this is not experimental in the least. It is in fact quite beautiful and melodious, and also quite relaxing music. Schiff plays them with a particular lightness which emphasises their delicate nature.

The structure of the songs and their emotionality has led many to think them inferior works, but they are just little songs, beautiful and each perfectly formed as an independent element. Great stuff.

Final Grade



From Wikipedia:

The eight volumes of Songs without Words were written at various points throughout Mendelssohn's life, (two of the volumes being published posthumously). The piano became increasingly popular in Europe during this era, where it became the focal point of many middle-class households. The pieces are within the grasp of pianists of various abilities and this undoubtedly contributed to their popularity. This great popularity has caused many critics to under-rate their musical value.

The works were part of the Romantic tradition of writing short lyrical pieces for the piano, although the specific concept of 'Song without Words' was new. Felix's sister Fanny Mendelssohn wrote a number of similar pieces (though not so entitled) and she may have helped inspire the concept according to some music historians.

Mendelssohn himself resisted attempts to interpret the Songs too literally, and objected when his friend Souchay sought to put words to them to make them literal songs:

What the music I love expresses to me, is not thought too indefinite to put into words, but on the contrary, too definite. 

Other composers who were inspired to produce similar sets of pieces of their own included Charles Valentin Alkan (the five sets of Chants, each ending with a barcarolle), Anton Rubinstein, Ignaz Moscheles and Edvard Grieg.

Op. 19 no.1:

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