Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy Composer
Athalie, Op.74 (incidental music)
Musicology:It might come as a surprise to the many music lovers who only know Felix Mendelssohn's incidental music to Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream that he actually wrote music for no fewer than 15 separate theater works; Mendelssohn loved the theater, and had a real knack for connecting drama and music. The earliest of Mendelssohn's theater efforts is music for an 1820 play titled Ich, J. Mendelssohn—and no, the surname in the title is not a coincidence! On the other end of the chronological line is the incidental music for Jean Baptiste Racine's religious drama Athalie that Mendelssohn composed between 1843 to 1845 as Opus 74; this music is the last Mendelssohn theater music to survive in a complete form (the one stage-music item composed after it exists just as a fragment). Critical opinion on Mendelssohn's Athalie music varies widely, even wildly; it is either a complete bust or an unjustly-neglected item of wonder, depending upon whom you ask.
Athalie, Op.74 (incidental music)Year: 1845
Genre: Incidental Music
Pr. Instrument: Orchestra
- 1a.Deklamation. Ein Vorgang ist's aus heiligen Geschichten
- 2.Herr, durch die ganze Welt ist
- 2a.Deklamation. Die reinen Herzens sind
- 3.O seht, welch ein Stern
- 3a.Deklamation. Verschwunden aber ist nicht die Gefahr
- 4.Lasst uns dem heil'gen Wort des Höchsten lauschen
- 5.Ist es Glück, ist es Leid
- 5a.Deklamation. Dem Frieden eine Stätte zu bereiten
- 6.Kreigsmarsch der Priester ('War March of the Priests')
- 6a.Deklamation: Hebt Eure Augen Auf, Ihr Söhne Levi
- 7.So geht, ihr Kinder Aarons, geht
- 7a.Deklamation. Herein dringt jetzt
- 8.Ja, durch die ganze Welt ist
Op. 74, which was commissioned from Mendelssohn by no less a dignitary than the King of Prussia, consists of an overture for orchestra, six numbered items for chorus and orchestra, and one additional piece placed between Nos. 4 and 5, for a total of eight musical items. These days, the overture is, not surprisingly, the best-known of the pieces; while hardly heard as frequently as the Midsummer Night's Dream Overture, still pokes its head into the world's concert halls with something approaching regularity. It begins and ends with majestic music (Maestoso con moto is the composer's exact marking), in-between whose appearances we hear a sizeable Molto Allegro, the main body of the overture's music. The Allegro features a quick, winding tune in the first violins.
No. 1 is a very long and thematically repetitive chorus that begins Allegro maestoso vivace in C major but moves around quite a bit, in terms of both tempo and key, over its long run. No. 2 begins with just women's voices (and orchestra, of course); despite the thorough involvement of the full chorus (SATB) throughout most of it, it is a lovely soprano duet that will be best remembered from this number. No. 3 Con moto is a flowing thing for double chorus and harp accompaniment, with some carefully timed spoken dialogue from the midpoint on. No. 4 begins with a somewhat dreary Andante con moto in C minor, but soon bursts into a ferocious Allegro molto.
Between Nos. 4 an 5 is a piece called War Mach of the Priests, written to be played before Act IV of the drama. It was once very famous as a stand-alone orchestral character-piece, but during the twentieth century fell rather by the wayside. No. 5 is a big Allegro movement, while No. 6, on the other hand, is a very short underscore to the final moments of Racine's drama.
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