Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy (1809–1847) 3 Preludes and Fugues Op. 37
Urtext based on the Leipzig Mendelssohn Complete Edition edited by Christian Martin Schmidt [org]
Organists can now individually acquire the collections formerly known as "op. 37" and "op. 65", which are now firmly rooted in the Urtext of the Leipzig Mendelssohn edition.
36 pages | 23 x 30,5 cm | 162 g | ISMN: 979-0-004-18356-4 | Softcover
The pieces in the two work groups Three Preludes and Fugues (1837/38) and Six Sonatas (1844/45) can be called without exaggeration the first important organ works of the 19th century. With them, Mendelssohn ushered in the "second golden age of organ music," following the Baroque era. The two books presented here (Three Preludes and Fuges = EB 8745; Six Sonatas = EB 8768) are separate editions of the volume Mendelssohn: Orgelwerke 1 (EB 8641). Organists can thus individually acquire the collections formerly known as op. 37 and op. 65, which are now firmly rooted in the Urtext of the Leipzig Mendelssohn edition.
|1. Prelude in C minor MWV W 21 Op. 37/1|
|2. Fugue in C minor MWV W 18 Op. 37/1|
|3. Prelude in G major MWV W 22 Op. 37/2|
|4. Fugue in G major MWV W 20 Op. 37/2|
|5. Prelude in D minor MWV W 23 Op. 37/3|
|6. Fugue in D minor MWV W 13 Op. 37/3|
Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy is to be credited with having ushered in a new age of organ music, both as composer and performer. Prior to Mendelssohn, or more specifically, at the latest since the death of Johann Sebastian Bach in 1750, organ playing and organ music had suffered a considerable loss of prestige in the wake of the Enlightenment; an organist’s post was now little more than a sideline. Significant in this respect is the fact that the Viennese classical era made only negligible contributions to organ literature. Mendelssohn’s creative treatment of the “King of Instruments”, by contrast, gave rise to an œuvre so abundant that it fills three volumes of the Leipziger Ausgabe der Werke von Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy. The present volume is based on the print from this Complete Edition.
Just like Bach, Mendelssohn was renowned above all as an organ virtuoso who electrified his contemporaries with his public improvisations and eminent pedal technique. In his many travels throughout Europe, he almost never neglected an opportunity to explore the different sonorities of the organs he encountered, and whose specifications varied considerably from region to region. And he often willingly complied with spontaneous demands for a full-fledged concert. Nevertheless, he was extremely critical of his own works for the organ, which often derived from such improvisations. And although he wrote many pieces for this instrument, he only released the three “Präludien und Fugen” (Preludes and Fugues) op. 37 and the six “Sonaten” (Sonatas) op. 65 for publication. The latter can be held up as a compendium of Mendelssohn’s artistic production for the organ and as the first truly great masterpiece of the 19th century for this instrument. The three Preludes and Fugues op. 37 and the six Sonatas op. 65 form the epitome and summation of Mendelssohn’s oeuvre for the organ and, as such, accentuate the historical dilemma in which the composer found himself as a composer in general and as the impulse-giving initiator of a new era of superior music for this instrument.
Mendelssohn took on the challenge of Beethoven’s legacy, which no composer following directly in the titan’s wake could avoid, with a remarkable variety of approaches. In several genres (including the string quartet), he sought his own path by squarely confronting Beethoven’s standard-setting works; in other genres (such as the symphony), he avoided the master’s restrictive influence by shifting the substance of the work from the structural movement of forms to the elaboration of characteristic soundscapes. But Mendelssohn also found a third way of developing an individual personal style in spite of Beethoven’s omnipresence: by concentrating either on genres in which Beethoven did not produce works of the highest order (such as the oratorio) or on genres that had not yet been properly developed (here, for example, the concert overture), hence genres that Beethoven had not envisioned. Both of these aspects apply to Mendelssohn’s oeuvre for the organ: Beethoven wrote no great organ music and had no interest whatsyver in creating any. And while the Sonatas for Organ op. 65 do borrow the name of the classical genre that Beethoven had brought to its culmination in his sonatas for piano, a keyboard instrument no less, they correspond to the classical model neither with respect to the cyclical pattern nor in the formal design of the individual movements.
On the other hand, the music of Johann Sebastian Bach exerted a profound influence on Mendelssohn, especially in his organ music, where it infuses every note. Mendelssohn was the first composer to take the works of the Thomaskantor truly seriously and assimilate them for his own compositional practice. Outward traces of this process can already be seen in the work compilation of opus 37 and in the formulation of its title. The combination of three pairs of preludes and fugues with each pair in the same key immediately reminds any musically knowledgeable person of Bach’s works, in particular of his pieces for the keyboard instruments piano and organ. Within the works themselves, however, the references to Bach’s art are extraordinarily nuanced and only identifiable in detailed individual analyses. They underscore Mendelssohn’s endeavor to develop and maintain his compositional individuality and independence not only with regard to Beethoven, but to Bach as well.
Up until the early 1830s, Mendelssohn had chiefly manifested his creative interest in the organ through extemporization. He wrote down relatively few works, and probably gave little thought to their publication. It is only toward the end of 1834 that his intent to publish organ pieces and thus make them permanently available to the musical world clearly emerged in his correspondence. On 30 November 1834 he wrote to his friend Carl Klingemann in London: “Incidentally, I have a letter, or rather two, for Moscheles […] and one for Attwood, to whom I would like to dedicate a few preludes and fugues that I am going to publish shortly.”
Although three years elapsed before this plan took on concrete shape, its groundwork was essentially laid down in November 1834: Mendelssohn envisaged the publication of some preludes and fugues that he would dedicate to Thomas Attwood, the doyen of England’s organists. In the course of the following years, however, only the dedicatee remained unchanged; the object of the publication was temporarily modified until the composer, encouraged by his publisher, returned to his original plan.
The preparations for the printing of the organ works were thus laid aside until early 1837. Only then, on 11 March 1837, did Mendelssohn inform his Leipzig publisher Breitkopf & Härtel of his plans: “I would like to have three rather large organ fugues published at the same time as the keyboard fugues, or at least soon after […] If you agree to this, I could put the manuscript of the organ fugues at your disposal before my departure […].” As was to be expected, the publisher sent a positive reply by return post, and on 13 March the composer announced that he was sending the Stichvorlage: “I have received your esteemed letter and shall be sending you the manuscript of the organ fugues in the coming days.”
The actual preparation of the printing of opus 37 coincided directly with the period before and after Mendelssohn’s wedding with Cécile Jeanrenaud, which was celebrated in Frankfurt two days after Easter, on 28 March 1837. Before his departure from Leipzig on 19 March, the composer received at least one further missive from Breitkopf & Härtel, in which the publisher suggested adding preludes to the three fugues in order to respect the traditional pairing. This note has not survived, but Mendelssohn’s letter of 17 April 1837 confirms the wish expressed by the publisher: “[…] Today I am sending you by coach the manuscript of the three preludes which you requested for the three organ fugues. I am very grateful to you for having asked for them, since I now like them much better than the fugues, which I had originally intended to publish alone. The book will thus be double in size, and I hope that this conforms to the wish that you expressed in the note that I received on the morning prior to my departure from Leipzig. When you mentioned in it that the three fugues would be so thin in print, I immediately began to write the preludes that I had planned anyway […].” Indeed, Mendelssohn had found the time while on his honeymoon to compose the three Preludes; the first was written on 2 April, the second on 4 April and the third on 6 April 1837, all in Speyer.
The production process of the print, which was to appear simultaneously in Leipzig and London, did not unfold entirely smoothly, however. To begin with, the composer admonished his Leipzig publisher for not having immediately complied with his request of 17 April to send a copy to his London publisher Novello. On 5 August he reminded Breitkopf & Härtel of this wish: “In addition, I beg you to send the three preludes and fugues for organ to Mr. Novello in London as soon as possible, as he is to publish them as well.” The publisher now reacted promptly and sent a copy to London on 15 August.
In November 1837 it occurred to Mendelssohn that he had forgotten the long planned dedication to Thomas Attwood in the heading of the manuscript, and he wrote to Breitkopf & Härtel about this three times. After a cautious inquiry on 4 November, he sent the precise wording of the dedicatory text two days later: “I would like the title to read as follows: ‘Drei Praeludien und Fugen für die Orgel componirt und Herrn Thomas Attwood, Organisten der Königlichen Kapelle zu London gewidmet von F.M.B. op. 37.’ (Three Preludes and Fugues for the Organ, Composed and Dedicated to Mr. Thomas Attwood, Organist of the Chapel Royal in London, by F.M.B. op. 37)” And on 11 November he supplied a very significant addition: “In the title of my organ fugues, would you please insert after the name Attwood: dedicated ‘with reverence and gratitude’ &c. – I can truthfully say this and am thus glad to do so.”
The Three Preludes and Fugues op. 37 were published at the turn of the year 1837/38, and the composer acknowledged receipt of the author’s copies on 17 January 1838 with wholeheartedly positive words: “[…] I thank you very much for kindly sending my organ pieces whose beautiful and tasteful make-up fulfills all my wishes.”
Two days later, however, after a closer examination of the pieces, Mendelssohn felt obliged to point out several serious shortcomings about which, however, we know nothing precise: “In the enclosed copy of my organ fugues I have found several errors which I am certain that I corrected in the last proofs. I beg you to have them corrected in all the copies and the plates, since they are major, disfiguring errors.”
The present edition has been extracted from Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy Organ works, Volume 1 (Edition Breitkopf 8641) which is based on the Leipzig Mendelssohn Edition. Both editions contain a critical report and critical remarks on the Three Preludes and Fugues Op. 37.
Editorial additions are identified by square brackets (accidentals, dynamic marks, rests etc.) or broken lines (slurs). Abbreviations are in general tacitly written out in full. In accordance with current practice Mendelssohn’s altogether rare indications of the individual manuals by Clav. 1 (or Cl. I) and Clav. 2 (or Cl. II) have been replaced by sole roman numerals.
Berlin, Autumn 2009
We offer a PDF of the complete text with all notes for download.