Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy (1809–1847) Saint Paul Op. 36 MWV A 14
Oratorio on Words from the Holy Scriptures – Urtext edited by Michael Märker [solos,mix ch,orch] Duration: 130' Text: Bibel / Bible
solos: SATBB – choir: SSAATB – 126.96.36.199.dble bsn.serp. – 188.8.131.52. – timp – org – str
Märker's Urtext edition is based on the first edition of the score from 1835.
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One can truly say that Mendelssohn's St. Paul oratorio is a genuine "work in progress" - such as one finds repeatedly in the composer's works. After the world premiere in Düsseldorf in 1836, the composer sighed: "Since I changed a number of things after the performance, notably in the recitatives, and omitted a few pieces entirely, I really don’t know how these changes can be made in the quartet parts that have already been engraved.”
Luckily, the score had not yet been printed at this point in time. It was published not long afterwards (1837) and served as the basis for the old Complete Edition, where, however, it was mixed together with other sources.
Michael Märker's present Urtext edition uses the first edition of the score as the main source for the first time. Its inconsistencies were emended by the editor in agreement with other contemporary sources.
"By forgoing the version transmitted by Julius Rietz (1878), on which all later reprintings were based, in favor of the score of the first edition of 1835, which was personally supervised by the composer, a new Paulus has come to light: freed from a number of conventionalizing, adulterating retouchings, at times more angular in detail and thus more characteristic." (Michael Märker about his New Edition, 1997)
|Part 1 (I): Overture - Herr, der du bist der Gott - Allein Gott in der Hoeh sei Ehr - Die Menge der Glaeubigen war ein Herz - Dieser Mensch hoert nicht auf zu reden Laesterworte - Und sie sahen auf ihn alle - Jerusalem! Die du toetest die Propheten -|
|Part 1 (II): Sie aber stuermten auf ihn ein - Und sie steinigten ihn - Und die Zeugen legten ab ihre Kleider - Siehe! Wir preisen selig, die erduldet haben - Saulus aber zerstoerte die Gemeinde - Und zog mit einer Schar gen Damaskus -|
|Part 1 (III): Und als er auf dem Wege war - Mache dich auf! Werde Licht! - Wachet auf!‘ ruft uns die Stimme - Die Maenner aber, die seine Gefaehrten waren - Gott, sei mir gnaedig nach deiner Guete - Es war aber ein Juenger zu Damaskus -|
|Part 1 (IV): Ich danke dir, Herr, mein Gott - Und Ananias ging hin - O welch eine Tiefe des Reichtums der Weisheit und Erkenntnis Gottes!|
|Part 2 (I): Der Erdkreis ist nun des Herrn - Und Paulus kam zu der Gemeinde - So sind wir nun Botschafter an Christi statt - Wie lieblich sind die Boten, die den Frieden verkuendigen - Wie sie ausgesandt vom heiligen Geist -|
|Part 2 (II): Da aber die Juden das Volk sahen - Ist das nicht, der zu Jerusalem verstoerte alle? - Paulus aber und Barnabas sprachen - Denn also hat der Herr geboten - Und es war ein Mann zu Lystra - Die Goetter sind den Menschen gleich geworden! -|
|Part 2 (III): Und nannten Barnabas Jupiter und Paulus Mercurius - Seid uns gnaedig, hohe Goetter - Da das die Apostel hoerten - Da ward das Volk erreget wider sie - Hier ist des Herrens Tempel - Und sie alle verfolgten Paulus auf seinem Wege -|
|Part 2 (IV): Sei getreu bis in den Tod - Paulus sandte hin und ließ fordern die Aeltesten - Schone doch deiner selbst - Sehet, welch eine Liebe hat uns der Vater erzeiget - Und wenn er gleich geopfert wird - Nicht aber ihm allein, sondern allen|
With Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy’s St. Paul (Paulus) of 1836, the history of the oratorio genre took a momentous turn following a period of stagnation marked by archaism and eclecticism. Mendelssohn combined the new, aesthetically – and not only historically – grounded experience of the artistic nature of Bach’s Passions and oratorios with the belief in the viability of a modern religious art work independent of any liturgical function. With St. Paul, he created a work that echoes the great tradition of Bach and Handel on the one hand and embodies the most recent compositional achievements on the other. But, as is suggested by the state of the sources, this creative process was very complex and full of contradictions. The many sources, which sometimes even diverge among each other, do not yield an unequivocal form of the work; they are the guideposts of a complex genesis and performance history which still cannot be unconditionally reconstructed today.
The first mention of a projected oratorio was made in connection with Johann Nepomuk Schelble, the founder and director of the Frankfurt Cäcilienverein, who had performed Bach’s St. Matthew Passion in 1829, only a few weeks after Mendelssohn. When Mendelssohn stopped in Frankfurt in 1831 on his way back from his nearly year-long voyage to Italy, he paid a visit to Schelble, who announced his interest in an oratorio. He possibly already suggested the topic of St. Paul. In a letter written in March 1832 to his friend the singer Eduard Devrient in Berlin, Mendelssohn mentioned the idea of writing a work on the New Testament figure of St. Paul. From 1832 to 1835 the composer then corresponded extensively with the Dessau pastor Julius Schubring in an effort to obtain a suitable textual version.1 Finally, in November 1835 he announced to the Bonn publisher Peter Joseph Simrock that he was about to put the finishing touches on the work. Between February and April 1836 he sent him the (partly autographic) piano score of the work in several deliveries. Simrock took the choral parts from this score and had them printed for the first performance. But in order to allow for possible emendations after the premiere, the other parts were temporarily left unprinted.
Completed in April 1836, the autographic score abounds in contradictions and inconsistencies: movements and even parts of movements in a fair-copy character alternate with passages that have obviously been corrected, leaving one to speculate about the existence of an original albeit possibly incomplete score. The first performance was played from the surviving autographic score along with the printed choral parts. Under the composer’s direction, the premiere was given in Düsseldorf on 22 May 1836 for the opening of the 18th Lower Rhine Music Festival. It united 356 singers and 172 orchestral musicians.
Although the work was a huge success, Mendelssohn made several changes for the first edition of the piano score and the full score, which were published by Simrock in 1836 and 1837 respectively (and also featured discrepancies between them). Characteristic of the chaotic situation is Mendelssohn’s sigh of distress expressed in a letter to Simrock of 2 July 1836: “Since I changed a number of things after the performance, notably in the recitatives, and omitted a few pieces entirely, I really don’t know how these changes can be made in the quartet parts that have already been engraved.”2
The score edited by Julius Rietz and published in 1878 in the (old) complete edition of the works of Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy (Series XIII, No. 85), played a significant role in the reception of St. Paul from the late 19th century into our times. Although Rietz widely avoided editorial emendations, he presented the work in a compilation which never existed in this form. The orchestral part was taken from the first edition of the score, the vocal parts from the first edition of the piano score and the organ part derived from a part written by Mendelssohn in 1837.
For this edition, we had to take a fundamental decision: whether to produce a version of the work based solely on one source or one based on a mixture of different – and divergent – sources. We decided in favor of the first edition of the score, since a compilation would have undoubtedly tended to move further away from the composer’s intentions, even if a number of irregularities could have been smoothed over in the process. The first edition of the score is an almost complete source and the last one authorized by the composer. However, it does not contain the organ part, which is only alluded to with such indications as “coll’Organo” or “senza Organo”. Far from suggesting that the organ was intended as an ad-libitum part, these references emphasize the undisputed participation of the organ, an instrument Mendelssohn thought highly of, and not only because of its sound. The organ part printed separately in 1852 had to be considered here, since it was based on the autographic organ part of 1837 which, in its turn, dates from the time of the first edition of the score. This first printing of the score was given priority wherever divergences appeared between the printed organ part and the indications in the score concerning the use of the organ.
More problems arose through the many inconsistencies in the first edition of the score. These uncertainties fundamentally precluded a more or less unchanged adaptation of the musical text. The Critical Report (Kritischer Bericht) supplies information about all the solutions to these problems.
On the whole, the changes are not radical when seen in the light of the mixed version publicized up to now. But they do cast certain passages in a somewhat iridescent tonal light and emphasize certain melodic contours more strongly on account of Mendelssohn’s vacillating use of the principle of analogy at dynamic signs and phrasings. There are also changes of notes and new text underlays as well. The numbers of the movements differ, since the Overture is now included in the numbering. By taking the Rietz version (and all later printings derived from it) back to the first edition of the score, which was supervised by Mendelssohn, the oratorio emerges in a form liberated from a number of adjustments; sometimes more angular in certain details, it thus displays greater character.
The use of the serpent, which is called for in all versions of the oratorio, is generally impractical today. Hector Berlioz lambasted the “barbarous tone” of this instrument in 1844, and he called its use in French Catholic church music “an abominable monument of ignorance and of uncouth taste and feeling.” Solely in the Dies irae of the Requiem did he accept “it’s cold, ghastly howling [...] Moreover, its tone blends poorly with the vocal parts and the other orchestral sounds, and it is much less suited to providing a bass line to a mass of wind instruments than the bass tuba or even the ophicleide.”3 Thus, just a few years after St. Paul was composed, an alternative to the serpent was offered, which is still acceptable today (incidentally, Mendelssohn no longer prescribed a serpent in his next oratorio, Elijah).
Leipzig, Spring 1997Michael Märker
1 Briefwechsel zwischen Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy und Julius Schubring, zugleich ein Beitrag zur Geschichte und Theorie des Oratoriums, ed. by Julius Schubring, Leipzig 1892, reprint Walluf 1973, pp. 16–104.
2 Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy – Briefe an deutsche Verleger, collected and edited by Rudolf Elvers, Berlin 1968, p. 204.
3 Hector Berlioz, Instrumentationslehre, authorized German edition by Alfred Dörffel, Leipzig 1864, p. 175f.