08 Nov 2012

Mendelssohn – Die schöne Melusine, op. 32

By Jeff Counts

Instrumentation: 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani, strings.

Duration: 10 minutes.

Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847) – German composer and conductor Conradin Kreutzer premiered his opera Melusina in 1933. Franz Grillparzer had apparently offered the libretto to Beethoven but when the old master declined, Kreutzer was granted the honor some years later. Mendelssohn attended one of the initial performances and if his opinion is to be trusted (it is), Kreutzer’s music did not represent the story well. Mendelssohn was reportedly distressed in particular by the opera’s overture and knew he could do better. He would prove it within the year. Mendelssohn’s lovely Overture to The Fair Melusina is sadly not among his most widely known works but it was one that he held in high regard. The story behind the music tells of a water sprite who marries a mortal on the condition that he never ask her where she goes on Saturdays. It is on that one day each week that she must revert to her mermaid form and though her husband promises to honor her request, his curiosity eventually ends there bliss. Mendelssohn studied painting during the time he composed Melusina and his eye for colorful subtlety is evident in this magical score.