Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy Composer
3 Preludes and Fugues, Op.37Performances: 12
Musicology:Felix Mendelssohn was an accomplished organist, and he composed several dozen organ pieces of one kind or another throughout his short life. Only two Mendelssohn organ items, however, are of real weight and significance, and, not coincidentally, they are the only two organ items to which opus numbers were applied: the masterly Six Sonatas, Op. 65, of 1845 and the perhaps more frequently played Three Preludes and Fugues, Op. 37, published eight years before that. With the exception of some very early pieces (1820 - 1823), all of Mendelssohn's other organ works were composed in the near vicinity of one or the other of these two important volumes, and seem to be either preparatory work—exercises, in a sense—done before Op. 37 or Op. 65, or extra thoughts and material left over after their completion. Op. 37 contains some of Mendelssohn's most very traditional-minded music; we read "prelude and fugue" and we think J.S. Bach, and it seems that so, too, did Mendelssohn. The spirit of the great Leipzig master positively oozes from the pages of Op. 37, and yet Mendelssohn's own technical skills, and, in the end, whatever his detractors might say, strength of personality (a mild-mannered, ingratiating, inoffensive personality is, after all, still a personality), are so great that one sometimes doesn't even notice the retrospective qualities of the work. More than one listener has sat and marveled at how near to form yet utterly different in spirit Mendelssohn's preludes and fugues are to Bach's.
3 Preludes and Fugues, Op.37Key: D-
Genre: Prelude / Fugue
Pr. Instrument: Organ
1.Prelude and Fugue in C-
2.Prelude and Fugue in G
- 3.Prelude and Fugue in D-
The three prelude-fugue pairs in Op. 37 are in C minor, G major, and D minor. Though the work was published in 1837, some of the music began to take shape as early as 1833 during a visit—one of many—the composer made to England. Mendelssohn had become acquainted with the English organist Thomas Attwood, and the seeds of the fugues of Op. 37, No. 1 and Op. 37, No. 3 were planted in some improvisations that Mendelssohn did at Attwood's encouragement. The other fugue, that in G major of Op. 37, No. 2, was written in 1836. All three of the preludes were composed in early April 1837, and later in the year the whole bunch of six pieces was printed with a dedication to Attwood.
© Blair Johnston, All Music Guide
1.Prelude and Fugue in C-Felix Mendelssohn began work on the first of the three prelude-fugue pairs contained in his Opus 37 of 1837 all the way back in 1833. Mendelssohn was on one of his many trips to England at the time, and while visiting his friend and colleague Thomas Attwood he improvised a fugue in C minor. Several versions and revisions later, this same basic fugue would be crafted into the Prelude and Fugue for organ in C minor, Op. 37, No. 1—and, fittingly, the whole of Opus 37 is dedicated to Attwood, himself a famous organist. The prelude, on the other hand, first came to paper only shortly before Opus 37 went to print.
One always listens, consciously or unconsciously, for hints of J. S. Bach in later composers' organ music, and in the fast (Vivace) prelude of Op. 37, No. 1 one indeed does find them. Mendelssohn provides large empty spaces between his deep, solid chords, in which for the more active treble voices to unfold, just as Bach loved to do in his preludes. At first there is just one contrapuntal voice, but soon more arrive to play with the quick, descending main idea, and, even if the result is perhaps outdated by a century or so, we must marvel at Mendelssohn's innate ability to spin notes onto paper.
As mentioned, Mendelssohn spent great time and energy crafting the fugue. It rolls forth on the back of its 12/8 time subject whose constant quarter/eighth-quarter/eighth rhythm generates tremendous momentum as it moves from voice to voice.
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2.Prelude and Fugue in GThe G major Prelude and Fugue, Op. 37, No. 2, is the only one of the preludes-fugues in Felix Mendelssohn's Op. 37 (published 1837) whose two pieces both bear exact dates of completion. As can be said of the other Op. 37 prelude-fugues, the fugue of Op. 37, No. 2 was composed before the prelude—December 1, 1836, and April 4, 1837, respectively. The very nature of the prelude seems to indicate that Mendelssohn had decided on the order of the three Op. 37 prelude-fugues before he composed the three preludes: for the gentle, flowing 6/8 time, quarter/eighth-quarter/eighth rhythm of the G major prelude is really nothing more than a new take, up a perfect fifth in key and rather less strenuous in mood, on the animated but otherwise identical 12/8 rhythm of the C minor fugue that came just before it. Even if the Op. 37 pieces were never meant to be played or heard in direct succession, still a composer of Mendelssohn's gifts would want to shape such details as finely as possible. The G major prelude is a pastoral-sounding few pages, the three voices of the manuals winding tenderly and quietly around one another while the pedals add a discrete cushion.
The fugue of Op. 37 No. 2 is cast in 4/2 time, a comparative oddity of a meter rarely found in music of Mendelssohn's day (but found much more often in the kind of Baroque music upon which Mendelssohn was basing his Op. 37 efforts!). Its firm, square subject is proffered by the pedal voice and then tried out in turn by three upper voices.
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3.Prelude and Fugue in D-Like the C minor Fugue of Op. 37, No. 1, the fugue of Mendelssohn's Prelude and Fugue in D minor, Op. 37, No. 3, was originally conceived many years before he even thought of writing a prelude to accompany it. In 1833, Mendelssohn wrote the first version of the fugue—perhaps, like the C minor Fugue, at the instigation of his English friend Thomas Atwood—and then he took it away and tinkered with it for a while. On April 6, 1837, he finished the companion prelude. The prelude is fast (Mendelssohn marked it Allegro) and full of brilliant manual passagework that grows faster and faster as the piece moves along: first eighth notes, then eighth-note triplets, and then finally climactic sixteenth notes. But Mendelssohn was no hack-artist interested only in the thrill of pure velocity, and as the prelude winds to its close he allows the finger-busting music to trail off in favor of a 30-measure bit of dense, imposing organ rhetoric.
The following four-voice fugue is marked Volles Werk (meaning that the instrument's stops are to be freely deployed in pursuit of a full, rich sound), and is probably the most wholly traditional, the most clinically Baroque-sounding, of the three Opus 37 fugues.
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