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Name of Work

Mendelssohn, Felix (1809-1847)
Sextet in D Major, Op. 110 for piano, violin, two violas, cello and double bass (2001)

Movements:
Allegro vivace
Adagio
Minuetto: Agitato
Allegro vivace

Performances:


Apr 29, 2001



Deborah Sobol, Piano
Joseph Genualdi, Viola
Rami Solomonow, Viola
Robert Swan, Viola
Christopher Costanza, Cello
Bradley Opland, Double bass


Apr 30, 2001



Deborah Sobol, Piano
Joseph Genualdi, Viola
Rami Solomonow, Viola
Robert Swan, Viola
Christopher Costanza, Cello
Bradley Opland, Double bass

MENDELSSOHN-Sextet, Op. 110

Composed in 1824

Mendelssohn's background was quite different from Bach's. Son of a wealthy banker, grandson of a distinguished philosopher, he belonged to the privileged class and grew up in the sophisticated urban milieu of Berlin, whereas the Bach family's economic resources were modest, and their background more small-town than big-city. Few creative artists of any time or place have grown up with such careful nurturing as Mendelssohn received. His parents - lovers of culture and learning - saw to his thorough education in languages, mathematics, philosophy, history, music, and painting. They took him and his siblings traveling to foster an understanding of new places and different customs. Through his family and their influential friends, Mendelssohn met (and impressed) such revered figures as Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Luigi Cherubini when he was little more than a boy.

The early promise of the child-prodigy pianist and composer was fulfilled in adulthood by one accomplishment after another. His works found international success; his colleagues admired him for his Bach revival; he became conductor of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra and made it one of the most renowned ensembles in Europe, a position it has never lost. He also worked in Berlin, and achieved spectacular recognition during repeated visits to Great Britain. In private, he had a happy home with his wife and five children. But his health had never been robust, and he undermined it with strenuous tours and considerable overwork. In 1847, the death of his sister Fanny - childhood playmate, lifelong musical soulmate - dealt a shattering blow from which he could not recover; he died of a stroke within six months. He was 38.

Mendelssohn composed from a very early age; many of these early pieces are for stringed instruments, like the 13 string symphonies, and the Octet that is usually singled out as his first "mature" work (it dates from 1825, when he was 16). One year earlier, he wrote a Sextet with very unusual instrumentation that was probably intended for performance during one of the musical gatherings that were weekend traditions in his parents' home, at which Berlin's social and artistic elite eagerly gathered.

The Sextet was not published until after his death which is why one of his earliest works is labeled with the high opus number of 110. Perhaps Mendelssohn thought of it as something too youthful to expose in print, or perhaps the instruments called for made too unusual a combination. Publishers traditionally liked works for standard groupings, and this one is anything but: it calls for piano, violin, two violas, cello, and double-bass.

The result is a richly sonorous string choir, blended and contrasted by turns with a virtuosic piano part whose brilliance is set off by the mellow voices of the violas, cello, and bass, and the higher-toned singing of the violin. We can imagine that Mendelssohn was the work's first pianist, showing off his technical skills as well as his compositional ones. The violinist at the premiere would most likely have been one of his teachers, Eduard Rietz, who became a close friend and valued colleague; it was he who first showed Mendelssohn the score of the St. Matthew Passion.

Performance date: April 29 & 30, 2001

Notes by Andrea Lamoreaux



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