Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy (1809–1847) A Midsummer Night's Dream Op. 61 MWV M 13
Music to Shakespeare's Comedy – Urtext based on the Leipzig Mendelssohn Complete Edition edited by Christian Martin Schmidt [solos,fem ch,orch] Duration: 45' Text: William Shakespeare
solos: SpSS – choir: SSAA – 18.104.22.168. – 22.214.171.124.oph – timp.perc(2) – str
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The new edition is based on the traditional piano score by the composer and organist Ernst Friedrich Richter (1845), published by Breitkopf & Härtel Leipzig. The publisher commissioned Richter in accordance with Mendelssohn. The new edition brought the Richter score into line as much as possible (including specific dynamics and articulation marks) with the score of the Leipzig Mendelssohn Edition (ed. by Christian Martin Schmidt), along with the performance material derived from it. Richter's piano score was critically examined by Hellmut Döhnert, who made emendations wherever there were subtantial discrepancies in the score.
|2. Fairy March|
|3. Song with Choir|
|9. Wedding March|
|10. Marcia funebre|
|11. A Dance of Clowns|
|12. Scene and Dialogue|
The work presented here is a testimony to the enormous flexibility and adaptability of its composer, who managed, at a distance of about 17 years, to write two musical works of a different genre but of equal sophistication on the same literary source, without any loss of aesthetic quality. In the summer of 1826 Mendelssohn wrote the concert overture to William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which was given the opus number 21 at its publication in 1835 and was dedicated to the Prussian Crown Prince and later King Friedrich Wilhelm IV along with the concert overtures op. 26 and 27. And in 1842/43 he wrote the Incidental Music op. 61 to the same Shakespeare comedy as a commission from the same monarch. Mendelssohn used the version by August Wilhelm von Schlegel, whose German-language translations of Shakespeare’s stage works played a fundamental role in spreading the Shakespeare mania that began sweeping through central Europe at that time. As to A Midsummer Night’s Dream, one can rightly claim that Mendelssohn’s music was actually responsible for helping the comedy make its breakthrough in the German-language countries. Even well into the 20th century, the incidental music was regarded as a perfectly normal element of any performance of the comedy in those countries.1
The genesis of opus 61 is directly related to Mendelssohn’s appointment as General Music Director for church and sacred music by the Prussian king in Berlin on 22 November 1842.2 In addition to his principal task, his duties also comprised “occasionally writing pieces specially commissioned by the king (now, for instance, I am expected to deliver music to the Midsummer Night’s Dream, the Tempest and Oedipus at Colonos),” as he wrote to his friend Carl Klingemann on 23 November 1842. Several letters confirm that the compositional work on both op. 61 and Oedipus at Colonos began in late 1842. Unfortunately, the further progress of the work cannot be charted in detail as the composer neither entered any dates in the sources, nor made practically any reference to the contents of the works in his correspondence. We do know, however, when the work was finished, since Mendelssohn brought the complete score with him from Leipzig for the rehearsals which began in Potsdam on 27 September 1843.3 There is no evidence suggesting that he made any changes in the music during the rehearsals. The first performance took place in Potsdam’s Neues Palais on Saturday, 14 October 1843 in a production overseen by Ludwig Tieck. Following this performance, which was reserved for the king and his personal guests, the Midsummer Night’s Dream was given its first public performance in Berlin on 18 October 1843.
During the rehearsals, it soon emerged that there was a problematic discrepancy between Mendelssohn’s score and Tieck’s dramaturgical concept. The composer had based his work on Schlegel’s (and Shakespeare’s) five-act layout of the comedy, while Tieck had condensed Acts II to IV into one continuous section. He had thus created a three-act version in which the entr’actes nos. 5 and 7 had literally become superfluous. Understandably, no one was willing to discard the pieces. Devrient reported: “One now had to find a way of providing some kind of motivation for these orchestral pieces, which were now played during the course of the act, to an open curtain. This was made plausible with the Agitato in A minor (no. 5) when the actress portraying Hermia played out her search for her lover in a charming and entertaining pantomime; but at the Notturno in E major (no. 7), the prolonged view of the slumbering pairs of lovers would have been disconcerting, and the device chosen by Tieck – having set pieces depicting bushes pushed out to cover the lovers – was rather awkward in its staginess and questionable to boot.”4
This report prefigures the particular significance which not only the entr’actes but also all of the orchestral pieces in the incidental music have acquired in the reception of the work. A few of them have become known under titles legitimated by the composer in various ways. While the titles Scherzo for no. 1, Wedding March for no. 9 and A Dance of Clowns for no. 11 are authenticated in the sources to all versions of the work, the Fairy March for the Allegro vivace of no. 2, Intermezzo for no. 5 and Notturno for no. 7 still require clarification. While it is undisputed that these titles were used by Mendelssohn and his circle, their role within the musical sources varies – a distinction that has its reasons and must be maintained. Fairy March is a good general characterization of the piece, even though it can be found in no musical source. Intermezzo and Nocturne, however, are terms used to designate lyrical piano pieces, and which were used for this purpose throughout the entire 19th century. Mendelssohn himself also used them in this sense, but only in the sources of the piano arrangement, never in those of the orchestral version.5
It would be superfluous to point out the universal fame of the Wedding March, which has become the composer’s arguably most famous piece.6 Yet one should mention the particular importance assumed by the Overture. Mendelssohn incorporated the original concert overture into the incidental music as an integral component, indeed, as the nucleus for the substance of the entire musical discourse. For the Overture, this means that its aesthetic existence was doubled, a phenomenon that is no doubt unique in music history: whereas it is an autonomous, self-contained concert piece as op. 21, within op. 61 it is the first movement of a lengthy, multipartite incidental music. Special mention must be made of the connection between the Overture and the Finale, which serve as the outer brackets of the entire work but are not included in the consecutive numbering of the movements. In the Finale, Mendelssohn impressively succeeded in adding a vocal layer to the broadly unchanged substance of the Overture, thus deriving a vocal composition from a purely instrumental piece.
After its first performances in Potsdam and Berlin, news of the success of the Midsummer Night’s Dream incidental music spread like wildfire. Plans were made to perform the work elsewhere, and soon there was an increasingly urgent need for material. Interestingly, Mendelssohn was less interested in quickly bringing out a printed score than in promoting a general knowledge of the work through the printed edition of his four-hand piano reduction. He thus wrote to Breitkopf & Härtel in Leipzig on 10 December 1843: “Would you agree to an honorarium of 100 Friedr d’or for the piano reduction and score? I would prefer it, however, if the score were published considerably later than the piano reduction. Actually, I would like it printed solely for concert performances and not for the theater, but since this is not feasible, I would like to wait until at least the principal theaters – of whom it can be expected that they will have the score copied – have it in manuscript.”7 The composer thus reckoned at first with copies of the score, which apparently promised higher profits. He kept track of this very meticulously, which is how we know that the incidental music was performed in altogether 14 cities in the four years after its first performance. He delayed the printing of the score, however, until shortly before his death. While the four-hand piano reduction appeared in print both in Leipzig and London in May 1844, and the two-hand reduction of numbers 1, 7 and 9 in November of that year, Breitkopf & Härtel did not release the score until June 1848 and the orchestral parts shortly thereafter.
Berlin, Fall 2007
1) On all these aspects see Friedhelm Krummacher’s article, which is still of fundamental importance today: “… fein und geistreich genug”. Versuch über Mendelssohns Musik zum Sommernachtstraum in: Das Problem Mendelssohn, ed. by Carl Dahlhaus (= Studien zur Musikgeschichte des 19. Jahrhunderts, Vol. 41), Regensburg, 1974, pp. 89–117.
2) Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdys Briefwechsel mit Legationsrat Karl Klingemann in London, ed. by Karl Klingemann Jr., Essen, 1909, pp. 273–277, quote on p. 275.
3) See the detailed report in Eduard Devrient, Meine Erinnerungen an Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy und Seine Briefe an mich, Leipzig, 1869, pp. 238–241.
4) loc. cit., pp. 238f.
5) This is why they are also not to be found in the present orchestral score.
6) The global custom of playing the march at weddings makes a good deal of sense because it prepares two earnestly desired marriages within the comedy. The analogous use of “Treulich geführt” from the 3rd act of Richard Wagner’s Lohengrin, in turn, is somewhat provocative, since the union of Elsa and Lohengrin will not be consummated …
7) Original in the Universitäts- und Landesbibliothek, Darmstadt; printed in: Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy, Briefe an deutsche Verleger, ed. by Rudolf Elvers, Berlin, 1968, pp. 135f.