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Mendelssohn for Winds

July 21, 2010

Felix Mendelssohn's Overture for Winds has a long and somewhat problematic history in wind band music. Mendelssohn scored the piece for harmoniemusik (wind octet) plus flute, trumpet, and an English bass horn. However, Mendelssohn lost the score to the eleven-instrument version and submitted for publication a revised version for twenty three instruments plus percussion. The autograph of the original has since been recovered and both versions are considered viable in the wind band medium. There have also been several versions of the twenty three-instrument version of the piece to reflect more modern instrumentation.

 

Program notes by John Boyd can be found below, and further down you can find the Composers Datebook information and audio.

 

The Op. 24 by Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy was composed in July of 1824 for the court orchestra of Bad Doberan near Rostock, where the young musician was accompanying his father. Writing for the Boston Symphony, George Marke remarks, "Some artists develop their craft slowly, others seem to being at the top. There is little difference between Mendelssohn's early and his mature works."

 

The original score was lost but recopied by Mendelssohn in July of 1826. These two scores were entitled Nocturno and were written for the instrumentation of one flute, two clarinets, two oboes, two bassoons, two horns, one trumpet, and one English bass horn (a conical bore upright serpent in the shape of a bassoon).

 

In his correspondence to the publisher Simrock, Mendelssohn mentions his desire to have this eleven instrument version published, but apparently could not locate the score as he never mentions it again to Simrock after March 4, 1839. Mendelssohn did send Simrock an Ouverture fur Harmoniemusik (Overture for Wind Band) scored for twenty-three winds and percussion along with a four-hand piano score on November 30, 1838. The 1838 composition is a re-scoring of the Nocturno for German Band of that era and was not published until 1852 following the death of Mendelssohn.

 

It has been suggested by musicologists that the 1838 re-scoring was an effort to imitate the orchestral color of Weber's Preciousa Overture. In Weber's overture, a gypsy melody is introduced by a small wind band with percussion accompaniment. At this time, however, Mendelssohn was also negotiating for the publication of the overture by Mori in London. It is quite possible that the re-scoring was an attempt to acquire greater performance opportunities for his work by making it available in settings for British and German band along with a proposed edition for orchestra.

 

Several editions for modern instrumentation have appeared, all using the 1838 score as their source. However, the rediscovery of the 1826 autograph makes possible this edition based on the most authentic source known to date.

- Program Note by John P. Boyd

 

Below is the Composers Datebook from July 21, 2010 along with the audio link.

 

Composers Datebook Audio (7/21/2010)

 

Mendelssohn for Winds

 

In the summer of 1824, the fifteen-year-old Mendelssohn spent a holiday with his father in the fashionable spa town of Bad Doberan, on the Baltic coast near Rostock. Writing home to his family in Berlin he confessed that, although he was "comfortably lodged ... with friendly people, a decent piano, [and a] pretty view . . . so far I have not written a note."

 

That would change, however, as Mendelssohn met and befriended musicians employed by the local Grand Duke Friedrich Franz I of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, whose court ensemble was a wind-band.

 

For them, the young Mendelssohn composed a Nocturno, scored for the classical octet of double winds, plus a flute, trumpet, and an odd brass instrument called a "Como Inglese di Basso" roughly similar in shape to a bassoon, but with a cup mouthpiece and both open and keyed holes, which Mendelssohn described to his sisters in a letter he wrote on today's date in 1824 as "a large brass instrument with a fine, deep tone, that looks like a watering can or a stirrup pump."

 

Music for that original 1824 Nocturno has not survived, but eventually Mendelssohn reworked and enlarged the piece, adding new music, and much later, in 1838, expanded the scoring to a full wind ensemble and published the result as his Overture for Winds, Op. 24.

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