Felix Mendelssohn


We recently spent a weekend in Skye which has many interesting geological structures, and shows similarities to other islands off the north coast of Ireland and the west of Scotland, especially those of the Hebrides. When we think of Staffa we think of the Hebridean Overture by Felix Mendelssohn.

The picture above, which was painted in 1829 (by Thomas Duncan), during his trip to Scotland, has been loaned to the ‘Mendelssohn on Mull’ Festival. It will be on display in St John’s Oban Episcopal Cathedral during the opening concert on July 4th.

He was born in Hamburg 200 years ago, a German Jew, into an intellectual, well-to-do family and this no doubt allowed his precocious skill to develop.

His parents took the step of converting to the Lutheran Church, which would make them more socially-acceptable outside their ghettos, and they moved to Berlin where his parents took the added name of Bartholdy. It was here that he studied composition and piano playing. He was also very competent on the violin and was a good linguist.

Travelling to Paris, he studied the music of Mozart and J.S.Bach and started his prolific compositions. At the age of 12 he visited Goethe, with whom he continued to correspond. The overture to ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ was composed at the age of 17! This was just before he went to study music at Berlin University. Following his studies he travelled all over Europe, including, Italy, France, England and of course Scotland where he was intrigued by the landscape. It was from the same type of scenery as we saw recently, that he derived the inspiration for Fingal’s Cave.

As far as vocal music was concerned St Paul and Elijah are probably the best known. Now if he only lived longer than his 38 years, he might have given us an interpretation of the Isle of Skye!

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