Wednesday, May 4, 2016

A Year's Music: Mendelssohn's "Lobgesang"

Early in our marriage, Beth and I took a driving trip along the east coast. One of our stops was Frederick, Maryland, where we discovered a wonderful book store with a large selection of LPs. I purchased two 2-LP sets, one of Mendelssohn's first and second symphonies conducted by Karajan, and the other was Mendelssohn's third, fourth, and fifth symphonies conducted by Bernstein. I don't remember why I gravitated to this particular composer that day, but ever after, Mendelssohn's music has reminded me of Maryland and the Chesapeake region, and of being happy and newly married!

Mendelssohn's second symphony lasts over an hour (three sides of that Karajan LP set) and is less popular today than the Scottish or Italian, but I've always enjoyed it. Entitled Lobgesang (Hymn of Praise), it is a symphony and cantata, written and premiered seven years after the symphony now numbered 4.

The All Music site has a description by John Palmer, which reads in part: "After the 'Italian' symphony, Mendelssohn waited seven years before returning to the genre, composing the Symphony No. 2 in B flat major, Op. 52, for the celebrations in Leipzig of the 400th anniversary of the invention of the printing press. ... Mendelssohn entitled his second symphony 'Lobgesang' (Song of Praise) and described it as a 'symphony-cantata.' After its first performance, on June 25, 1840, in Leipzig, the 'Lobgesang' became very popular; today it is rarely performed...

"Four of the symphony's five movements share material. The main theme of the first movement appears in the trio of the ensuing scherzo, and is present in the first and last sections of the choral Finale... The first section of the cantata is based on the first theme of the opening movement. Highlights from the movement include the invigorating chorus 'Let all men praise the Lord.' Quite touching is the tenor solo, 'The sorrows of death,' with its chromatic inflections, followed by 'Watchman, will the night soon pass?' Throughout these two numbers Mendelssohn creates strong dramatic tension. Much of what follows, however, is anti-climactic. The close of the cantata begins with a choral fugue and moves to 'All that has life and breath, sing to the Lord,' a choral development of the first-movement theme...."

The seconds of the fourth movement are:
All men, all things, all that have life and breath (Chorus)
Praise thou the Lord, O ye Spirit (Soprano Solo and Semi-Chorus)
Sing ye Praise (Tenor Recitative and Aria)
All ye that cried unto the Lord (Chorus)
I waited for the Lord (Soprano Duet and Chorus)
The sorrows of Death (Tenor Air)
The Night is Departing (Soprano Solo and Chorus)
Let all men praise the Lord (Chorale of Now Thank We All Our God)
My song shall be always Thy Mercy (Soprano and Tenor Duet)
Ye nations, offer to the Lord (Chorus)"

Good ol' Wikipedia provides these divisions, as well as the words:
Here is a lovely performance conducted by Mark Elder.

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