Mendelssohn’s Songs

Last night, for some strange reason, cable TV went kaplooey. With Maryland Public Television the only working channel, at least I got to see most of Bill Cosby being awarded the Mark Twain prize. Afterward, I was happy to listen to the rest of the “NSO Showcase” program on the radio. Unfortunately, I missed the entire Haydn portion, but really enjoyed Mendelssohn’s “Violin Concerto in E Minor.” Although the Scottish and Italian symphonies were recent birthday presents and new favorites, along with Vivaldi’s concertos for mandolin, I don’t own a CD of the violin E minor concerto. I don’t know exactly how to describe in words how it sounds, but it is very pretty. At times as you’re listening you feel very happy, and then all at once pensive or sad. I’ve listened to it three times so far, and I bet the next time I hear it I’ll notice something different, or a particular phrase will catch my ear. The last piece featured was one of his earlier works. I forget what it’s called, but apparently a lot of orchestras don’t like to perform it. (If I ever earn a high salary, in addition to necessities, volunteering and contributions, and shopping once at Nordstrom, I want a season subscription to the National Symphony Orchestra.)

The year 2009 is the 200th anniversary of Felix Mendelssohn’s birth, so there have been a lot of programs, CDs and concerts featuring Felix Mendelssohn this year. I know that he was a prodigy, that he traveled a lot, and that he died at age 38, but the rest I’ll have to fill in through a biography or two, and I can find out what inspired him. In college, I found a recording of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” and I’ve always enjoyed that. In a favorite podcast called “Sign My Piano,” pianist Jeremiah Jones recorded some of Mendelssohn’s “Songs without Words” — leider for for the piano instead of vocal songs.

I was pleasantly surprised when Classical WETA played the “Swan Lake Suite” after the showcase. I immediately recognized the familiar melodies. And if you go to Jacquie Lawson’s e-card Web site, you will find a gorgeous “Swan Lake” screensaver for Windows and Mac. Tchaikovsky is another favorite I’ll get to later.

An update: I heard a cello concerto by Vivaldi the other day that sounded happy. I really liked it! Vivaldi wrote 800 concertos–pieces written for solo instruments with a symphony orchestra. As I assured family members and friends, I have no intention of collecting all of them, because I don’t have the means. But at least I have a few. He too deserves a separate entry at some point. He wasn’t a one-hit wonder with “The Four Seasons.”

Hearing an ad for the latest Saturday opera, I wondered aloud why the majority seem to end in tragic death. My aunt, not an opera fan, quipped: “They couldn’t stand opera anymore.” I learned about opera from co-workers and friends. I have a reference book a former boss gave me where I will relearn the stories, now that I have heard the music. At the Kennedy Center’s 2009 Open House, at the last minute we attended the Cafritz opera award performances. Even with the intros and summaries, we were lost. The men and women sang brilliantly, and I could finally see how an opera cast is doing much more than singing selections. It involves acting, facial expressions, and so on. “Carmen” was not on the program, but that was OK.

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