MENDELSSOHN: Songs without Words, Vol. 1 (Peter Nagy) (Naxos: 8.550316)
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Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy (1809 - 1847)
Songs without Words
To contemporaries of Mendelssohn thenotion of songs without words seemed paradoxical. If there were no words, infact, there could be no song. Yet what Mendelssohn achieved was exactly what histitle suggested, music in its purest and simplest form, expressing its ownmusical meaning, imbued with feeling, but without verbal connotation. At thesame time short piano pieces of this kind would always find a ready amateurmarket and would be welcomed by publishers, although this may have beenirrelevant to the composer's purpose.
Felix Mendelssohn, grandson of MosesMendelssohn, the great Jewish thinker of the Enlightenment, was born in Hamburgin 1809, the son of a prosperous banker. His family was influential in culturalcircles, and he and his sister were educated in an environment that encouragedboth musical and general cultural interests. At the same time the extensiveacquaintance of the Mendelssohns among artists and men of letters brought anunusual breadth of mind, a stimulus to natural curiosity.
Much of Mendelssohn's childhood waspassed in Berlin, where his parents moved when he was three, to escapeNapoleonic invasion. There he took lessons from Goethe's much admired Zelter,who introduced him to the old poet in Weimar. The choice of a career in musicwas eventually decided on the advice of Cherubini, consulted by AbrahamMendelssohn in Paris, where he was director of the Conservatoire. Therefollowed a period of further education, a Grand Tour of Europe that took him toItaly and north to Scotland. His professional career began in earnest with hisappointment as general director of music in D??sseldorf in 1833.
Mendelssohn's subsequent career wasintense and brief. He settled in Leipzig as conductor of the Gewandhausconcerts, and was instrumental in establishing the Conservatory there. Brieflylured to Berlin by the King of Prussia and by the importunity of his family, hespent an unsatisfactory year or so as director of the music section of theAcademy of Arts, providing music for a revival of classical drama under royalencouragement. This appointment he was glad to relinquish in 1844, laterreturning to his old position in Leipzig, where he died in 1847.
As a composer Mendelssohn possessed aperfect technical command of the resources available to him and was always ableto write music that is felicitous, apt and often remarkably economical in theway it achieves its effects. Mendelssohn had, like the rest of his family,accepted Christian baptism, a ceremony Heine once described as a ticket ofadmission into European culture. Nevertheless he encountered anti-Semiticprejudice, as others were to, and false ideas put about in his own life-timehave left some trace in modern repetitions of accusations of superficiality forwhich there is no real justification.
The series of Songs without Words
that Mendelssohn wrote and published from 1830 onwards serve as a very personalmusical diary in which the composer expressed very precisely musical ideas thathad, he alleged, no verbal equivalent. It was left to later publishers tosuggest titles for the pieces, a procedure that Mendelssohn himself deplored.
The present release opens with three Songswithout Words from Opus 53, written in 1839 and published in Bonn two yearslater. Opus 53 No.2 is gently evocative, No.1 has suggested to some thesea-shore, No.3 a much more agitated mood. Opus 53 No.4, which is alsoincluded, is tinged with melancholy.
The second book of Songs without Words
was published in 1835, the year in which Mendelssohn took up his appointment asconductor in Leipzig. The first piece, Opus 30 No.1, is meditative in mood,No.2 is restless and No.3 bears the English title Consolation.
Mendelssohn published his first collectionof Songs without Words in London in 1830, but under the title Melodiesfor the Pianoforte. The present recording includes the fifth of the set ofsix, Opus 19 No.5, a stormy interlude.
From the third book of Songs withoutWords, Opus 38, published in 1837, come the so-called Poet's Harp andHope, and from the fifth book, Opus 62, published in 1844, come two piecesknown as May Breezes and Departure. The sixth book, Opus 67, publishedin 1845, is represented by five of the six pieces, given the titles Meditation,Lost Illusions, Song of the Pilgrim, The Shepherd's Complaintand Lullaby (Opus 67 Nos. 1,2,3,5 and 6 respectively).
Mendelssohn did not live to see thepublication of the seventh book of Songs without Words, Opus 85, whichwas issued in Bonn in 1850. From it the present collection includes Nos.1,2and4, Reverie, The Adieu and Elegy, while the eighth and final book, Opus 102,published posthumously in 1868, is represented here by Nos. 3, 5 and 6, aTarantella, The Joyous Peasant and Faith.
Peter Nagy was born in Eastern Hungary in1960 and is among the leading pianists of the younger generation in his nativecountry. He entered the Ferenc Liszt Academy in Budapest at the age of 15,after winning various prizes at home and abroad, making his first professionalinternational appearances in Finland and in Yugoslavia in 1977, followed byconcerts at the Salzburg Interforum in 1978 in a duo with his compatriot BalazsSzokolay. In the same year he toured the German Democratic Republic and theSoviet Union and in 1979 made his debut in France at the Menton Festival. Therefollowed concerts in West Germany, Switzerland, and the United States ofAmerica, where he took further lessons from Gyorgy Sebok at Indiana University.
Nagy has played in Japan with various orchestras, was in 1987Artist-in-Residence at the Canberra School of Music in Australia, and has takenpart in the festivals of Aix-en-Provence, Athens, Llandaff, Cardiff, Paris,Bonn, Cologne, Geneva, Moscow and Leningrad. He is at present soloist with theHungarian National Philharmonic Orchestra and a member of the teaching staff ofthe Liszt Academy in Budapest.