14 Sep 2012

Mendelssohn – Lobgesang, op. 52

Written by Jeff Counts

Instrumentation: 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, timpani, organ, strings, chorus, soloists ST.

Duration: 71 minutes.

THE COMPOSER – FELIX MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847) – Mendelssohn approached the decade of the 1840s from the vanguard of German musical life. He was very busy as a conductor and from his home base in the vibrant artistic climate of Leipzig, he directed festivals in cities throughout his country and beyond. Notable engagements during this period included premiere performances of Schubert’s 9th Symphony and Schumann’s 1st. His life as a composer was equally eventful.

THE MUSIC – Along with the three op. 44 String Quartets and the D Minor Piano Trio, Mendelssohn composed his “symphony-cantata” Lobgesang (Hymn of Praise) during his Leipzig years. The event that precipitated its creation was the 400th anniversary celebration of the moveable type printing press. Sometime around 1440, Johannes Gutenberg invented a system which perfected existing practices and combined them with his own unique innovations to revolutionize the process of reproducing the written word. His first major achievement with the new method was the 42-line Latin Bible, better known today as the Gutenberg Bible. Less than 25 substantially complete editions are known to still exist. Fittingly, Mendelssohn also chose the Bible (the Luther version in this case) for the text of his massive commemorative work. The musical influence on Mendelssohn was clearly Beethoven’s mighty “Choral” Symphony and some (Richard Wagner, mostly) found Lobegesang lacking and even “superficial” by comparison. The detractor(s) need not have been so protective of Beethoven’s legacy. The similarities are indeed plentiful but can just as easily be read as respectful instead of derivative. The “symphony” section of Lobegesang (which led to the application of the No. 2 designation in his catalogue) consists of three instrumental movements while the longer “cantata” portion includes all of the material for which the work is named. Like its predecessor, the Hymn of Praise succeeds in its heartwarming depiction of the journey from worldly darkness to unbridled joy.                                                                

THE WORLD – In 1840, Britain issued the world’s first adhesive postage stamp, known as the Penny Black. Also that year, French explorer Jules Dumont d’Urville discovered the Adélie coast of Antarctica and James Fenimore Cooper published The Pathfinder in America.