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Happy Birthday, Felix Mendelssohn!

Today is Mendelssohn's 200th birthday (Feb. 3, 1809) — which completes the trifecta of geniuses born within a 10 day period between Feb 3 and Feb 12, 1809 (with Darwin and Lincoln, of course, on Feb 12). [If any of you know of a comparable 10-day period, I'd love to hear what it was and who was born within it]

Mendelssohn is an under-appreciated composer, in my view. I wouldn't say he belongs in the very top rank (with Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms . . .), but his body of chamber music (esp. the piano trios and the magisterial Octet) and symphonies (esp. #4) rank among true masterpieces of western music.

He should have had Mozart's publicist. [Mozart actually had a publicist - his father] Mozart gets all the historical mojo for being "the boy genius." But it was Mendelssohn, in fact, who displayed true genius far earlier than Mozart (or Schubert - or anyone else, for that matter). Mozart was an insanely talented musician as a boy - but as a composer, he wrote little of merit, and nothing of genius, while still a teenager. [To my ear, anyway] The stuff he wrote — the operas at age 9 and all that — are amazing in the way, to paraphrase Johnson, that a dog playing the violin is amazing: it's not how well it's done, but that it is done at all that amazes.

Mendelssohn, though, wrote the Octet and the Overture to a Midsummer Night's Dream when he was 16. Listen (hey, it's his birthday!) to those pieces, and try to imagine them emerging from the pen of a 16 year old. Mozart has nothing like it at that age. So: happy birthday Felix!

UPDATE: Thanks to R&R who points out in the comments that I'm taking some unfair swipes at Mozart. It's true, and I really don't want to be seen as taking swipes at Mozart -- I adore the guy, believe me. the comparison is more a way to get attention for Mendelssohn, who's not often mentioned in the same breath as the saintly Mozart, but who was just as magnificent a musician, and at just as early an age.

And I love arbitraryaardvark's suggestion that April 13-23, 1743 was another remarkable 10-day period for geniuses. :) DGP

Richard Riley (mail):
Interesting that all the composers in your list of the greatest are German (or in the German-speaking world), as is Mendelssohn. And your list makes sense to me - if anything we might add a few more Germans and Austrians. What's up with that?
2.3.2009 9:14am
RBG (mail):
I've often wondered the same thing: Though I'm willing to include a few Italian composers in my top-ten list, it is dominated by Germans (though I tend toward the Baroque and generally don't have time for Mozart - give me Haydn or CPE Bach over Mozart any day of the week). I've found the same thing is true about church music: Nobody, with the possible exception of the Anglicans, could write a hymn tune like post-Reformation Germans. Why? I have no idea - unless it has something to do with Luther's rejection of the sacred/profane distinction in music and the subsequent influence of the low on the high...
2.3.2009 9:30am
Sean Gleeson (mail):
I would suppose that any 10-day period is "comparable" to any other, as regards auspicious births, even births of geniuses. That said, I will note that Ronald Reagan, Thomas Edison, Gertrude Stein, Norman Rockwell, Charles Dickens, Jules Verne, John WIlliams, Bertolt Brecht, and Sarah Palin all were born within your 10-day range of Feb. 3 - 12.
2.3.2009 9:31am
A Law Dawg:
Sean Gleeson,

I think DP is referring to an actual ten day period, as in ten consecutive days of the same year, not 10 days on the calendar.
2.3.2009 9:35am
CR (mail):
<blockquote>
I would suppose that any 10-day period is "comparable" to any other, as regards auspicious births, even births of geniuses. That said, I will note that Ronald Reagan, Thomas Edison, Gertrude Stein, Norman Rockwell, Charles Dickens, Jules Verne, John WIlliams, Bertolt Brecht, and Sarah Palin all were born within your 10-day range of Feb. 3 - 12.
</blockquote>

Not in the same year.
2.3.2009 9:36am
Sean Gleeson (mail):
@LawDawg:

Ah! Of course! Well, that's different then. I apologize for my misreading.
2.3.2009 9:36am
brahms (mail):
And let's not forget the way in which Mendelssohn revived interest in THE greatest composer, Johann Sebastian Bach. For that, alone, the world owes him a debt.
2.3.2009 9:41am
Heldio Villar (mail):
There is no doubt that many of the best known composers are German and Austrians, for the simple fact that Vienna was for many decades the musical capital of the world. But it cannot be forgotten that in the second half of the XIX century a marvelous music school developed in St. Petersburg, Russia. As a result, some of the world's finest composers appeared, such as Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Anton Rubinstein, Glazunov, Rachmaninov, Prokofiev, Khachaturian and many others.
2.3.2009 9:44am
Ex parte McCardle:
Your list of the greats is only even arguably accurate if you think "Music History" began in 1700 and petered out with the death of Johannes Brahms in the 1890's. This perspective is entirely dependent on the Germano-centric conventions of the teaching of music history and theory in Germany and the English-speaking world and has nothing to do with the intrinsic, intra-compositional qualities of the works of the named composers.

Which is not to say that Bach and Beethoven, etc., are not "great" or "in the very top rank." But so are Dufay and Josquin and Monteverdi and Debussy and Stravinsky and Bartok and Verdi and Palestrina and Sibelius. Not a German among them.
2.3.2009 9:46am
sg:
As a composer, I would like to tell you that your comments are remarkably perceptive. I would only say that Mendelssohn's greatest works are the Octet, the Midsummer Night's Dream music, and the Italian Symphony; I would put the trios and the 3rd and 5th symphonies on the next level down. The Violin Concerto probably should be on the top list. And so should some of the overtures, especially Fingal's Cave. The disappointing thing about Mendelssohn is that, having written from the ages of 16-18 music greater than anything Mozart wrote at that age, the rest of his oeuvre does not quite live up to the promise. One possible reason I've encountered is that he was too overworked as a conductor.
2.3.2009 9:55am
R&R:
You are a stubborn man, David. You took a swipe at Mozart last time Mendelssohn's birthday came around. While you have put a new escape clause in the comparison from last year ("to my ears anyway") I think it belies stubbornness, because I doubt your ears would consider Exsultate Jubilate, the soprano-violin aria in Il re pastore, Symphony No. 25 (as mature and polished as anything he ever wrote), and the last three violin concertos (the finest violin concertos in the classical period, perhaps with the addition of Haydn's C Major) anything but pure genius at the top of Mozart's game.



At least, if you had not known that they were written before he was 20, I am sure you would have that reaction.



I'm stubborn -- but I'm not unreasonable!! In fact, I didn't know that (a) Esultate Jubilate, and (b) the 5th Violin Concerto were written in Mozart's teens, and I have to agree with you -- those are Mozart at the top of his game. thanks for passing that along.



And I really don't want to be seen as taking swipes at Mozart -- I adore the guy, believe me. It's more a way to get attention for Mendelssohn, who's not often mentioned in the same breath as the saintly Mozart, but who was just as magnificent a musician, and at just as early an age.

DGP
2.3.2009 10:02am
R&R:
To add, the explanation is probably that you like the great romantic tension and enhanced musical pallette that Mendelssohn used in the Octet and Midsummer Night's Dream. Nothing wrong with that, but to deny that Mozart wrote little of merit and nothing of genius is, well, quite a statement. Mozart had some potboilers in his teenage years, but then again, so did Mendelssohn. And Mendelssohn had the benefit of studying another 50 years of compositional innovations. Mozart just had some Haydn manuscripts; the rest was early Classical period drivvel. Not to relativize it, but genius in the stile galant is just not going to have that grip that genius in the Romantic period does.
2.3.2009 10:13am
Steven H (mail):
I share Mendelssohn's birthday, which was a source of pride growing up as a musician. Closer to the time I decided not to become a professional musician, I learned that Feb. 3 is also the day the music died.
2.3.2009 10:23am
titus32:
I'll definitely listen to some Mendelssohn today. Another interesting coincidence: many of the genious composers died very young (including Mendelssohn). Think of what mankind has lost from the deaths of Schubert and Mozart in their early thirties!

Also, I would add Haydn to the "very top rank" ...
2.3.2009 10:23am
New Yorker:
Great post. Mendelssohn deserves the recognition. Villar made a great point about St. Petersburg. If I force myself to think about it, I always have a difficult time selecting a favorite composer/sound: Tchaikovsky and the Russians or Mendelssohn/Brahms/Schubert et al and the German/Austrians. I usually just give up and am content with the fact that the two styles satisfy different musical 'needs.'

Among Mendelssohn's great works, don't forget Die Walpurgisnacht and his first piano concerto, where the orchestra beings, slowly brooding to an exclamation; the piano bangs down and takes it from there. It must be a thrill for the pianist at that moment.
2.3.2009 10:36am
Thales (mail) (www):
"Interesting that all the composers in your list of the greatest are German (or in the German-speaking world), as is Mendelssohn. And your list makes sense to me - if anything we might add a few more Germans and Austrians. What's up with that?"

I second the comment about the prevalence of Germano-centrism in the teaching of music theory and history. However, one could credibly argue that there was a composer patronage system in what we now call Austria and Germany during the relevant period that has never quite been equalled since (which also led to communities of musicians and composers living and working in close proximity in a way that magnified the influence of the gifted on on another) probably because the concentration of wealth became much more egalitarian (not a bad thing in my view, but it does make it harder for eccentric wealth to finance full time composition).
2.3.2009 10:57am
R&R:
Germany and Austria also benefited from a huge talent pool in that time period. There was a Hausmusik tradition of home music making that really no other country from that general time period could match, and the bidding wars between pricipalities for the best court musicians meant it paid to invest in one's musical training. Only Italy had anything close to the same kind of bidding wars.

As it happens, Italy was also fundamental to the development of the Baroque style, and really the Classical style too. However, Italy's courts did not foster the same kind of symphony/concerto/string quartet writing as in the German/Austrian principalities, though, so you don't get all the investment in those larger forms. Italians picked it up with opera, in which they of course were unrivaled.
2.3.2009 11:06am
Rich B. (mail):
Those with a passing interest in Felix should certainly listen to/ read this Nextbook piece on The Mendelssohn Project, examining why most of his works were unpublished, how some of them ended up in Japan, and why it was Richard Wagner's fault.

http://www.nextbook.org/cultural/feature.html?id=2765

Most interesting was how only the first draft of one of his most famous works got published, and not the version that he considered the final one. You can listen to both versions.
2.3.2009 11:07am
arbitraryaardvark (mail) (www):
April 13, 1743 -April 22, 1743.



NICE!! DGP
2.3.2009 11:58am
A Law Dawg:
Abritraryaardvark:

I am only aware of Jefferson during that time frame. If he's all there is, that's a bold assertion, and one I might stand behind.
2.3.2009 12:07pm
A Law Dawg:
Alas, John C. Calhoun as well! As a SC native I must do a penance.
2.3.2009 12:10pm
Nihal:
In mentioning F.M., it is only appropriate to use the entire name, Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy. And, p.s., the concerto for violin, piano &orchestra is a real winner.
2.3.2009 12:44pm
Paul McKaskle (mail):
Mozart wrote Mitridate, musically an excellent opera, at age 14 (it was first performed about a month before he turned 15). It has been performed in many major opera houses in the last decade or two and is available on at least three DVDs and several CDs. The story is static and is written in the then fashionable Opera Seria form, but musically it is very adept and quite enjoyable. Mozart, at age 14, may not have had the dramatic flair of a Wagner or a Britten, but his music was pretty astounding for such a young person.
2.3.2009 12:53pm
R&R:
Thanks DP--I like fighting bare knuckles when it comes to classical music. It validates my over-training in the subject.
2.3.2009 1:06pm
pluribus:
When I was young and studying music, I thought it noteworthy that four of the greatest composers of all time were born only two years apart, Mendelsson in 1809, Chopin in 1810, Schumann in 1810, and Liszt in 1811. Extend that by another two years and you pick up Verdi and Wager, both born in 1813. A time of great creativity in music.

During his lifetime, Mendelssohn was regarded as the greatest living German composer, legitimate heir to the tradition of Beethoven and Bach. Sadly, during the Nazi era in Germany he would have been run out of the country or carted off to a concentration camp. Yes, he was a practicing Christian, but of Jewish ancestry (his grandfather was Moses Mendelssohn) and that would have been enough to seal his fate. (I'm not Jewish, but cannot think of him without remembering this sad fact.)

The Italian Concerto, the Overture and Scherzo from A Midsummer's Night's Dream, and the Piano Concerto No. 1 are among my very, very favorite pieces.
2.3.2009 1:12pm
BRS (mail):
As Rich B’s article points out, Mendelssohn’s reputation suffered due to antisemitism, which apparently was stoked by Wagner, among others. How ironic then that many weddings throughout the world start with Wagner and end with Mendelssohn.
As a chorister, I love Mendelssohn for the same reason that I love Mozart; much of his music can be sung (although maybe not accompanied) with little preparation (compared to Howells or Vaughan Williams ), but it makes you sound good.
2.3.2009 1:13pm
MarkField (mail):

And I love arbitraryaardvark's suggestion that April 13-23, 1743 was another remarkable 10-day period for geniuses. :)


Not to be all nitpicky at what was, after all, a joke, but that's 11 days.
2.3.2009 1:29pm
Fub:
He should have had Mozart's publicist. [Mozart actually had a publicist - his father] Mozart gets all the historical mojo for being "the boy genius."
But like Mozart, Mendelssohn had a sister with extreme but generally publicly unacceptable musical talent. Felix' sister Fanny Cäcilie's composing career might have equaled or exceeded his own, but for social mores which prevented women from such careers. Felix, to his credit, did publish some of his older sister Fanny's works as his own.

One example, Op. 8 No. 3 "Italien: Schöner und schöner schmückt sich", was a favorite of Queen Victoria, which Felix unequivocally stated in 1842 was Fanny's composition.

Fanny's only public performance was of Felix' 1st piano concerto, Op. 25, in 1838.
2.3.2009 1:36pm
BRM:
We also have Mendelssohn to thank for resurrecting Bach's St. Matthew Passion.
2.3.2009 2:25pm
Kirk:
R&R,
t validates my over-training in the subject.
Come on--there is no such thing!

As far as a comparable 10-day period, might I offer the 10-day span containing my birthdate? Filling in the other 2 geniuses is left as an exercise for the reader. :-)
2.3.2009 2:40pm
Randy R. (mail):
His string symphonies, written in his early to late teens, are truly remarkable.

Thales: "However, one could credibly argue that there was a composer patronage system in what we now call Austria and Germany during the relevant period that has never quite been equalled since (which also led to communities of musicians and composers living and working in close proximity in a way that magnified the influence of the gifted on on another) "

Exactly. Unlike France or England, "Germany" didn't exist as one country any time prior to the 1880s. Instead, there were dozens of duchys, margraves, principalities and whatnot, each of whom had their own house orchestra. this meant that there was tremendous demand for musicians and new music.

My own theory is that the counter-reformation had a lot to do with this. The catholics started losing souls to the upstart protestants and needed to get them back. So they started building churches in the new grand manner now known as Baroque. The idea was to have every square inch either carved, gilded or painted,preferably all three, to show the power and wealth of the true church, impress people on what heaven will look like for good catholics,and -- let's face it -- make it as extravagant a palace for the people as possible. Hey, everyone likes luxury!

So the protestants were in a quandry. Now they were the ones losing souls back to the catholics. They couldn't compete on extravagance -- that's the very thing that they protested against. They thought long and hard, how can the win them back?

Finally, it hit them. "Sure", they told people, "the Catholics put on a good show. Lots of gold and glitter, great music, flashy clothes, carefully choreographed pagentry. But its' the *same show* every Sunday. But if you come to OUR church, we gaurantee you a *brand new show* each and every Sunday."

And so they hired massive numbers of composers. Bach for a long time was employed by one single church, St. Thomas, and his duties included writting a new cantata every Sunday. why? To put butts in pews. The competition was bound to produce a PT Barnum effect. So the Catholic churches grew ever more elaborate, and the protestent churches produced reams of new music.

And so when you have every church producing new music every week, you have tremendous creativity. Imagine if in the Washington area, every single church had it's own composer on staff,and he had to write a new cantata each week. Washington would quickly draw the best composers, the people would be educated and become fairly sophisticated in new music, and a few composers would rise to the top and become our own Bach and Vivaldis.

All this music making meant that everyone should learn an instrument, because it means that you will always have an occupation. Musicians were poorly paid,but it was better than starving,so everyone learned the violin and others. With everyone learning, you have a whole industry of teachers, performers, composers to meet this demand.

So when you think about it, it makes perfect sense that the central europeans would produce so many great composers and performers, and teh public would be so well educated.

You can apply the same analysis to the US. Why do we have the best tv and movies? Because we produce the largest amount of it, and the public is 'sophisticated' enough to demand high production values. Lots of crap still gets produced, but that's part of the process. Lot's of crap music was produced from1600 to 1900 inGermany -- we just don't know about it because no one plays it anymore.
2.3.2009 2:57pm
R&R:
Randy, I do not think that the Roman Catholic Church and the Lutheran churches competed directly for members in that time period in the way that you think of denominations in the US doing. My understanding is that, generally, the local prince decided whether the principality would be Catholic or Lutheran (or Calvinist), and that was that.

I think your general point makes some sense, though, in that the Lutherans wanted to put on a good show and sort of all the iconography of the Catholic Church with theatrical displays. More importantly, though, Lutheranism was explicitly evangelical (called at the time the Evangelical Catholic Church). The German cantata repertory had the same intent and effect as evangelical churches today with their theater and popular music. The idea was to drive popular enthusiasm for the Christian faith and evangelize as a fundamental mission of the church. The Italians were not nearly so concerned about that, and their constricted Mass did not allow for such displays in church anyway. Prior to Vatican II, in a low Mass you could not even sing the ordinaries of the Mass, and there would be no such thing as musical theater before and after the sermon as in the Evangelical Catholic Church like Bach wrote.

Mark me down for considering the Octet one of the finest pieces ever written. It is a thrill to play.
2.3.2009 3:47pm
R&R:
edited to replace this sentence as:

"I think your general point makes some sense, though, in that the Lutherans wanted to put on a good show and sort of replaced all the iconography of the Catholic Church with theatrical displays."
2.3.2009 3:48pm
Ex parte McCardle:
Randy R. sez "Lots of crap music was produced from 1600 to 1900 in Germany -- we just don't know about it because no one plays it anymore."

You've never been to a Junior Recital at one of our large state-university Schools of Music, have you?
2.3.2009 4:15pm
Michael B (mail):
Historical aside and a footnote only, but it was a statue of Mendelssohn in a prominent public square in Leipzig ('36?) that was destroyed by Hitler's henchmen due to Mendelssohn's Jewish ancestry, which destruction, in turn, was the final straw for the then mayor or Leipzig, Karl Goerdeler (sp?), who subsequently became involved in the resistance and was killed for that involvement.
2.3.2009 4:23pm
Attila (Pillage Idiot) (mail) (www):
I'm not a huge Mendelssohn fan, but the Octet is absolutely brilliant. In the January issue of Commentary, Terry Teachout calls it the "most mature piece of classical music ever to be written by a teenager." And the two piano trios are also wonderful, particularly the first.
2.3.2009 4:24pm
ys:

I second the comment about the prevalence of Germano-centrism in the teaching of music theory and history. However, one could credibly argue that there was a composer patronage system in what we now call Austria and Germany during the relevant period that has never quite been equalled since

People beat me to this and accomponying observartions which I heartily second. Going over 4+ centuries, Italians had an early advantage as the inventors of pretty much the whole thing, while the French were trying to keep pace and the Germans starting to ramp up in the 17th century. The 18th century was when the German world pulled ahead and then became incredibly dominant in the 19th. At that time, the Italians kept up mostly in the opera, the French were going reasonably strong, but the Russians achieved their renaissance stage. Their start was powerful enough to make them dominant in the 20th century. To prove the point, try to name any other country in the last century that can match just the trio of Stravinsky/Prokofyev/Shostakovich. One could advance plausible theories explaning this sports race progression - I'd like to see somebody's opinions. Any forecasts for the country of this century?
2.3.2009 4:28pm
Ex parte McCardle:
Schoenberg/Berg/Webern
Debussy/Ravel/Messiaen
Bartok/Kurtag/Ligeti
Ives/Copland/Carter
Vaughan Williams/Britten/Maxwell Davies
2.3.2009 4:45pm
JoeSixpack (mail):
I don't know that I would include Lincoln in a list of "geniuses". In what way exactly did he prove himself to be a genius?
2.3.2009 5:28pm
R&R:
For what it is worth, I agree with ys: comparing composers at a top level can get ridiculous quickly, but I think that Stravinsky/Prokofiev/Shostakovich substantially outstripped the trios Ex parte McCardle suggests. The Viennese crew get a lot of press in academic circles because Grout/Palisca makes them out to be so important, but in the grand scheme of things, they spawned a lot of obscure music that is analytically interesting more than anything, and an attempted revolution that never ended up doing what they thought it would because it can be so unpleasant to listen to.

In the US, I would put up Duke Ellington/Copland/John Williams. I am not sure Copland quite matches what the Russians did in terms of whole career, but I am going to throw a little gas on the fire and say that John Williams has. Also Lynyrd Skynyrd.
2.3.2009 6:13pm
Randy R. (mail):
Thanks for the corrections, R&R!

My vote is China. In a country that has about 100 million students of classical music, 30 million of them in piano alone, eventually a few will rise to the top. It is also very popular, and so you have the beginnings of a discerning public. My friends in the opera and orchestra companies tell me that within 5-10 years, the face of classical music will be primarily Chinese.
2.3.2009 6:37pm
Bill Mullins (mail):
All born on 2/14/1913: Mel Allen, Jimmy Hoffa, Woody Hayes

All born on 5/27/1911: Teddy Kollek, H. H. Humphrey, Vincent Price

Not the same level of "genius", but the time scale is shorter.
2.3.2009 6:46pm
ys:

Ex parte McCardle:
Schoenberg/Berg/Webern
Debussy/Ravel/Messiaen
Bartok/Kurtag/Ligeti
Ives/Copland/Carter
Vaughan Williams/Britten/Maxwell Davies

Glad to see somebody give it a try - I love lists! Surely some names here are quite impressive, especially some first board players (and a couple of second boards that might even switch to first). Unlike the Olympics of course there is no timer at the finish. One might only refer to some being more "influential" than others. Here you can rely on the impressions from classical radio stations, and yes, maybe Wikipedia (that incidentally describes Stravinsky as "considered by many to be the most influential composer of 20th century music" with footnote references). Even Debussy, who would actually bump somebody from the list of three had he been Russian, took an opportunity to be influenced by Stravinsky in a few years their fame overlapped. One might also argue that he was a turn of the century guy, not really a 20th century one. Otherwise, Mahler would also qualify, and he could certainly kick ass too.
In any case, this is not a precise proof of anything, just some fun musings.

BTW, I am not sure this century will provide anything comparable in the "classical" category. I think the paradigm is really shifting.

P.S. Schoenberg of course was quite influential, but the rest of his troika is a bit more in the epigones category. See also R&R's comments above.
2.3.2009 6:47pm
ys:

Randy R. (mail):
Thanks for the corrections, R&R!

My vote is China. In a country that has about 100 million students of classical music, 30 million of them in piano alone, eventually a few will rise to the top. It is also very popular, and so you have the beginnings of a discerning public. My friends in the opera and orchestra companies tell me that within 5-10 years, the face of classical music will be primarily Chinese.

Not a bad point. Russian emigre music teachers started with Russian emigre kids, but by now their students are mostly Chinese.
However, will the rest of the world notice the way they did with leading "classical" music powers in the centuries past?

One might argue that the most influential composer of the second half of the 20th century was Paul McCartney.
2.3.2009 6:54pm
R&R:
Probably true about McCartney and/or Lennon.

One thing about the Chinese, and feel free to call me names for casting general glosses, but overall, Chinese musicians tend to be absolutely first-rate performers, but I have not seen in my musical journeys many Chinese composers. It is kind of like Jewish violinists coming out of Russia and Israel. Virtually all the great violinists for almost a half century were Russian Jews or descended therefrom, but if there was even a single Russian Jewish composer who really broke through to stardom in the 20th c. or ever, I can't name one right now. I think Schnittke's mom was Jewish, so maybe him, but that's about it.

I guess there is a Chinese composer here and there, I think Tan Dun is Chinese, but that is about it. The culture seems to be more focused on disciplined execution than creative composing that meets with lots of success. I'm sure someone can name half a dozen Chinese composers you will find in a music library, but part of this business is connecting with audiences and/or commanding a significant influence.
2.3.2009 7:06pm
PlugInMonster:

Paul McCartney.


You mean drivel like "Yesterday"? Puh-leese, stick to serious composers.
2.3.2009 7:10pm
R&R:
ys said "influential," not "Beethovenian"...
2.3.2009 7:16pm
Charlie (Colorado) (mail):
Okay, folks, I give up. Other than Jefferson, and Shakespeare's 179th birthday, who else is in that interval?
2.3.2009 8:33pm
cognitis:
Regarding Mozart's precocity, Glenn Gould joked, "Mozart didn't die too young but rather too old."
2.3.2009 8:54pm
Allen G:
While Mendelssohn's music a bit too ultra-modern for my tastes, I do salute him for for popularizing Bach, who was largely forgotten by the 19th century. Fans of historically-informed musical performance owe him a big debt.
2.3.2009 9:29pm
MarkField (mail):

Okay, folks, I give up. Other than Jefferson, and Shakespeare's 179th birthday, who else is in that interval?


It's a joke based on JFK's speech at the Nobel Prize Winners' Dinner: "I think that this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered together at the White House – with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone."
2.3.2009 11:18pm
Randy R. (mail):
R&R: " The culture seems to be more focused on disciplined execution than creative composing that meets with lots of success."

Not true. I've heard many of them, and they are quite good. They are, surprisingly, NOT like the wooden Japanese and Korean students of yore. A friend of mine, a professional pianist,gave master classes in China last year, and was quite impressed with their interpretations and emotion.

There are also plenty of chinese composers. Are they any good? I have heard some pieces, and they are interesting. Many chinese -american students will program one piece that is written by a chinese composer. Only time will tell.

Allen G: "While Mendelssohn's music a bit too ultra-modern for my tastes."

After Hildegarde, it's been all downhill ever since.
2.4.2009 1:21am
Randy R. (mail):
I googled Chinese composers, and Wiki lists 43 them of them. There are quite a few pages, so they aren't so uncommon in the west.
2.4.2009 1:23am
trad and anon:
Since when was Lincoln a genius? Just off the top of my head, Da Vinci, Darwin, Einstein, Friedman, Mendelssohn, Mozart, Newton, and Rodin all come to mind. But Lincoln? It doesn't take a genius to win a war, or to to put a stop to an abominable and widely criticized tyranny for political reasons. A largely symbolic stop at that, considering the fate of the "free" black Southerners post-Reconstruction.
2.4.2009 2:38am
Largo:
Frank Zappa?
2.4.2009 7:39am
R&R:

R&R: " The culture seems to be more focused on disciplined execution than creative composing that meets with lots of success."

Not true. I've heard many of them, and they are quite good. They are, surprisingly, NOT like the wooden Japanese and Korean students of yore. A friend of mine, a professional pianist,gave master classes in China last year, and was quite impressed with their interpretations and emotion.


I wouldn't say they don't play with passion and with great interpretation. Many of course do, but a disciplined yet passionate performance is very different than modern composition, with such a heavy emphasis on uniqueness of your style and creativity. Chinese discipline is certainly on par with Russian Jewish musician discipline of the 20th century, for example--and of course Russian Jewish performers were tops in great interpretations of the classics.

Now, I think that is a defect in modern composition culture, because its emphasis is so heavily on creativity instead of moving and inspiring audiences with proven musical materials that it kind of consigns itself to self-important marginal relevance. So, in some way, I am saying that there are few if any Chinese composers who have truly broken out of academicky classical sub-culture and to a mainstream, but then again, there are not many, if any, composers in general today who have. Every now and then, you see a Tan Dun on a program just to check off your multicultural and contemporary boxes, but it's not because audiences are breaking down the door for it. But, you can't really say that about any modern classical composer, save perhaps John Williams or for some odd reason John Adams.

Anyway, sorry for getting the thread off track a little.

On Mendelssohn, one neat thing is that the Mendelssohnhaus in Leipzig remains well kept and open to the public. I don't think there are many composers' houses still around. It is almost eerie to walk around knowing that right there was where Mendelssohn wrote a lot of his top shelf stuff.
2.4.2009 8:28am
MarkField (mail):

Since when was Lincoln a genius?


Anyone who can write the Gettysburg Address and the Second Inaugural is a genius.
2.4.2009 11:06am
ys:

It is kind of like Jewish violinists coming out of Russia and Israel. Virtually all the great violinists for almost a half century were Russian Jews or descended therefrom, but if there was even a single Russian Jewish composer who really broke through to stardom in the 20th c. or ever, I can't name one right now.

I can - Irving Berlin, anyone? The reason is of course that they all left for Broadway and Hollywood, and for some lucky ones it was their parents (Gershwin, Copland, Bernstein). Some stayed behind in Russia and are not known here. BTW, in his day Anton Rubinstein was quite famous in Russia and indeed Europe as a composer. He was of course an expediency convert, which brings us neatly back to the start of the conversation - Mendelssohn.
2.4.2009 11:59am
Thales (mail) (www):
"I don't know that I would include Lincoln in a list of "geniuses". In what way exactly did he prove himself to be a genius?"

I think Joe Six Pack may be a subscriber to Southern Partisan, along with John Ashcroft.
2.4.2009 2:29pm
Randy R. (mail):
R&R: "Many of course do, but a disciplined yet passionate performance is very different than modern composition, with such a heavy emphasis on uniqueness of your style and creativity."

Sorry, I misunderstood. I thought you were talking about piano performance. Regarding compositions, the ones I've heard are, like I said, interesting enough. Great works? NOt sure.

Re: Comtemporary music: Perhaps people are not knocking down doors to hear specific composers,but many new music ensembles,particularly Kronos Quartet, pack 'em in. They even get young AND old people!
2.4.2009 11:43pm
R&R:
For what it is worth, I think the Kronos Quartet is pretty degenerate...
2.5.2009 11:31am
dwchu:
I would say of Mendelssohn what Richard Strauss said of himself (self-deprecatingly): "I may be a second rate composer, but I'm a first class second rate composer!"
2.5.2009 3:40pm
dwchu:
If you give me 11 days in 1632, look at Oct 20-Oct 31: Oct 20 English architect Christopher Wren, Oct 24 Dutch naturalist Antony Leeuwenhoek, Oct. 31 Dutch painter Jan Vermeer. Very diverse group. Useful resource for this kind of stuff is www.historyorb.com
2.5.2009 4:22pm

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