Oratorio – Urtext based on the Leipzig Mendelssohn Complete Edition edited by Christian Martin Schmidt [solos,mix ch,orch] Duration: 160'
Piano-vocal score by he composer as central source
256 pages | 23 x 30,5 cm | 942 g | ISMN: 979-0-004-18320-5 | Softbound
Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy fundamentally revised his "Elijah" after its successful world premiere in Birmingham in summer 1846. However, the individual layers of this revision are less visible in the autograph score than in the piano-vocal score that was made parallel to it and which the composer kept working on for its simultaneous publication in England and Germany. The bilingual piano-vocal score contains the first-ever correct underlay of the English vocal text which William Bartholomew worked out in close collaboration with Mendelssohn.
Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy’s Elijah (Elias) op. 70, which was called An Oratorio. The Words Selected from the Old Testament (Ein Oratorium nach Worten des Alten Testaments) at its publication, is regarded as the composer’s foremost work, a rank it shares with its companion piece St. Paul (Paulus) op. 36, which preceded it by about ten years and deals with a New Testament subject. Elijah, however, documents more than St. Paul the close connection between Mendelssohn’s first artistic home, Germany, and his second, England – ties that he felt obligated to and which he cultivated with great commitment from the late 1820s.
Shortly after the first performance of St. Paul in Düsseldorf on 22 May 1836, Mendelssohn began to ponder a new oratorio project. In his correspondence with his friend the legation councilor Carl Klingemann in London, he exchanged views on this several times between August 1836 and April 1837. This interchange resulted in two genuine work sessions with Klingemann, which took place in London when Mendelssohn returned to England in August/September 1837, chiefly to fulfill his concert obligations at the Birmingham Musical Festival. Even at this early stage, the biblical story of the prophet Elijah was already at the center of his musings. After his return to Leipzig, the composer repeatedly exhorted his London friend to continue working out the libretto, but obtained only dilatory replies. Mendelssohn thus turned to the Dessau pastor and councilor of the consistory Julius Schubring, who had already assisted him as the librettist of St. Paul. Yet even though the textual work with Schubring unfolded very promisingly in the fall of 1838, the project was laid to rest for several years.
Once again, it was England that provided the decisive stimulus to realize the old oratorio plan. Joseph Moore, the director of the Birmingham Musical Festival – the institution at which Mendelssohn had conducted his St. Paul and other concerts in 1837 – informed the composer on 22 June 1845 of his intention to commission another oratorio from him for the 1846 edition of the festival. Mendelssohn eventually accepted the offer in conjunction with the subject he had already set his heart on, and began working on the piece with great diligence in the second half of 1845. Practically everything still had to be done: the only existing movement at that time was an early version of the Double Quartet no. 7, which the composer had sent to the Prussian King Friedrich Wilhelm IV with a dedication in August 1844. The rest of the work on the version given at the first performance, i.e. the actual composing, was accomplished by the composer in the remaining twelve months. This tight schedule demanded an enormous amount of commitment and motivation from all who were responsible for the world premiere on 26 August 1846, the organizers as well as the interpreters.
The Significance and Genesis of the Pianoforte Arrangement
Mendelssohn’s compositional career unfolded at a time when, for one, the music publishing industry was enjoying its first flowering after hesitant beginnings in the 18th century, and, for another, composers began to comply with their publishers in playing an active role in the publication and dissemination of their works. No longer did one simply publish the material indispensable for a performance, such as the parts (for orchestra and chorus) and score; arrangements for piano (for two or four hands, or for two pianos) now also came to be increasingly regarded as an important means in making the works accessible to a broader public, albeit in reduced form. This form of publication made allowance for the distinctive orientation of musical life in the 19th century, which was aptly qualified as the “piano-playing century.”
Such piano arrangements were sometimes initiated by the publishers and carried out by contracted musicians, even though many composers more or less willingly assumed the task of working out and supervising the piano versions of purely orchestral works, or orchestrally accompanied vocal works. Mendelssohn is one of the first great composers who showed particular dedication to this form of dissemination, and placed great value on the fact that each arrangement should fulfill its specific purpose and should be suited to the circle of users for which it was conceived. For example, the composer’s sisters Fanny and Rebecka had produced a piano arrangement of the celebrated Concert Overture to Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream op. 21 shortly after its completion. However, it did not meet the composer’s expectations for a version whose publication he would authorize. He refers to this matter in a letter dated Paris, 10 March 1832, to his family in Berlin: “I must still arrange the Overture to the Midsummer Night’s Dream […] here for four hands, since you, O Sisters, have made it all too difficult for an audience of art lovers.”
Whereas the level of difficulty suited to “an audience of art lovers” was one criterion used by the composer in judging a piano arrangement, another measure of evaluation was the degree of compositional substance that remained intact in the arrangement. Mendelssohn also expounded on this quite explicitly in a letter to Breitkopf & Härtel in Leipzig, his main publisher, dated 16 January 1835. The publisher had, without the composer’s knowledge, contracted Friedrich Mockwitz to write a two-hand arrangement of the Hebrides Overture op. 26. Breitkopf then sent Mendelssohn a complimentary copy of the piece after its publication in fall 1834. The composer’s reaction was nothing if not indignant: “I was considerably dismayed to find a copy of my Hebrides Overture arranged for two hands, in which the piece suffered far too much. I believe the main reason is that it simply cannot be arranged for one sole player. However, I would have greatly appreciated it if you had kept me abreast of this undertaking before its publication and sent me the arrangement. I am convinced that the piece will hardly be able to find its public in this form, which disturbs me for your sake. I, for one, would derive no pleasure from it.”
A piano reduction such as the present one of the oratorio Elijah differs considerably from the piano arrangements that Mendelssohn produced of his orchestral works, in particular the concert overtures or symphonies. This piano-vocal score has an entirely different function than the arrangements, as it serves above all for the rehearsals of the vocal soloists and the chorus. For Mendelssohn, this change of function directly affected the musical demands that he sought to fulfill in this arrangement: here he was no longer concerned about bringing the substance of the composition to a broader public in a relatively easy-to-play form, but he aimed instead at depicting the orchestral part of the work in a manner that gives a solid technical underpinning to the vocal lines and that conveys to the singers an idea of the sound they could expect at the performance with orchestra. With such a pianovocal score, he was thus able to do without an arrangement for piano four hands, which he preferred for his arrangements, as was made clear above. Here he was able to content himself out of practical necessity with one player for the instrumental accompaniment of the chorus.
Nevertheless, while preparing the publication of such piano arrangements, Mendelssohn proceeded in absolutely the same manner for each genre, whether piano arrangement or pianovocal reduction: throughout his life, he always insisted on getting the piano arrangements out first. At the most, he was willing to accept the more or less simultaneous release of the orchestral parts and, if necessary, the choral parts, no doubt for performance- practical reasons. As to the printing of the score, however, the composer’s behavior could be called dilatory, and in some cases he even seems to have deliberately delayed it. This preference for the piano arrangements when publishing a work also bears upon the present piano-vocal reduction of Elijah, a fact that has far-reaching consequences for its importance as a musichistorical source.
Mendelssohn began to revise Elijah immediately upon his return from his penultimate trip to England, which had culminated with the first performance of the oratorio in Birmingham on 26 August 1846. From the start, he intended to produce a final version of the work for publication. In so doing, he took into account the experiences and impressions he had gathered at the Birmingham performance, and continued his traditional practice of withholding from the public the first concept of practically all of his works and of subjecting them to one or more fundamental revisions. This activity went hand in hand with the production of the piano reduction. As a result of this parallel work, the different sources of this reduced version allow us to trace the compositional process if not seamlessly, then at least in broad traits. The autograph of the orchestral score is hardly appropriate to this purpose, since it incorporates all the stages of the work and makes it impossible to align the stages chronologically.
The reason for the extraordinary wealth of informative documents on the origin of the piano reduction is an agreement negotiated by Mendelssohn with his English publisher J. J. Ewer & Co. in London and its director Edward Buxton on the one side, and with his German publisher N. Simrock in Bonn and its director Peter Joseph Simrock on the other. While the printing of the parts and score was delegated to Simrock, the piano reduction was scheduled for simultaneous release by both publishers, but with a head start granted to Ewer & Co. for the production of the piano-vocal score. Once the engraving plates had been corrected, the London publisher placed copies of them at the disposal of his German colleague. Simrock thus had a reliable master for his own engraving, as well as the opportunity to carry out further corrections in the text. The actual production of the piano reduction took place in London – a circumstance that led to the dispatching of a great deal of source material between the English capital and the composer in Leipzig.
The principal source is a thick composite manuscript containing many individual parts, which is located today in the Bodleian Library, University of Oxford. It essentially comprises the separate mailings dispatched by Mendelssohn to Edward Buxton as production masters for the piano reduction. For example, he sent eight pieces to London on 30 November 1846, and then another twelve, thus the rest of the first section, on 30 December. On 2 February he announced the mailing of the entire second part. The complexity of the source is further heightened by the circumstance that it not only contains solely the entries made by the composer in pencil and ink, but is littered with annotations made by William Bartholomew, who had been in contact with Mendelssohn since 1841 on account of other English translations, and was also responsible for the English version of Elijah as well. Mendelssohn had omitted the English text at many passages, either because he agreed with the formulation presented at the first performance, or because he asked Bartholomew for changes. An extraordinarily intensive discussion of the formulation and declamation of the English text thus unfolded, which represents the bulk of the correspondence between the composer and Bartholomew during those months. Next to Mendelssohn’s correspondence with Buxton, these missives form another complex which expands the stock of sources of the piano reduction. Perhaps by chance, a letter addressed to Bartholomew provides the earliest clue as to Mendelssohn’s revision of the work and his working out the piano reduction. On 26 September 1846, thus exactly one month after the Birmingham performance, Mendelssohn took up the discussion of the English declamation in his correspondence, which no doubt represented a continuation of a verbal exchange that had been initiated on English soil. The reverse side of his letter to Bartholomew, which was written on music paper, contains the piano reduction of measures 35–52 of the Quartet no. [41A], about which nothing is mentioned in the letter, however.
The sources for the piano-vocal score of Elijah thus offer the one-of- a-kind opportunity to meticulously trace the genesis of the definitive version of a great oratorio – a chance that has mostly been neglected by Mendelssohn scholarship to date. In addition, its printing process provides further proof for the importance of England as one of the hearths of Mendelssohn’s artistic development. The oratorio was conceived and composed in German, but was given its first performance in England and in English. Indeed, the final version was also given its first performance in England, namely in London on 16 April 1847, and was repeated there on 23, 28 and 30 April, each time under the direction of the composer. Mendelssohn did not live to witness a performance in the German language.
Berlin, Spring 2008
We offer a PDF of the complete text with all notes for download.