Mendelssohn’s Library
Apr 4 + 6, 2014

Mendelssohn’s extensive personal music library in Leipzig contained works by composers from Handel to Mozart, whose compositions greatly influenced the composer early in his life. Electrifying concertmaster Aisslinn Nosky leads her fellow string players in a chamber program of Baroque and Classical works by these composers.

Aisslinn Nosky, Violin and Leader
Period Instrument Orchestra  

HANDEL Concerto Grosso in B minor, Op. 6, No. 12
J.S. BACH Concerto for 2 Violins, Strings and Continuo in D Minor, BWV 1043
C.P.E. BACH Sinfonia in B Flat Major, Wq. 182, No. 2
MENDELSSOHN Concerto for Violin and String Orchestra in D Minor

Friday April 4, 8pm, at NEC’s Jordan Hall
Sunday April 6, 3pm, at Sanders Theatre

Buy Tickets Now

Note: We are sold out of D-level ($20) and C-level ($38) tickets for this program. Very limited seating available.

Tickets for the Friday night concert are currently on sale through the Jordan Hall Box Office. Call (617) 585-1260 or visit 30 Gainsborough Street, Boston, to book tickets.

Tickets for the Sunday afternoon concert at Sanders Theatre are available at the Harvard Box Office. Call (617) 496-2222, buy online, or visit their box office in person (open 12-6pm Saturday and Sunday).

Program Notes

Personal libraries connote retreats: rooms filled with favorite books and chairs—a lifetime of passions and memories. Mendelssohn’s library of music reveals the composer’s intense interest in the music of the past, including the works of Vivaldi, Handel, J.S. Bach, and C.P.E. Bach. Mendelssohn studied the music of these composers and many others; he learned from their music and through it, developed his own distinct musical style.

Antonio Vivaldi (1678–1741) is remembered today primarily as the composer who shaped the instrumental concerto, directly influencing the concerto writing of other composers. Vivaldi was born in Venice. His father was a barber-turned-violinist, an unusual change of profession for the time. Antonio was the oldest of nine children and the only one to follow music as a profession. Vivaldi took holy orders on March 23, 1703; his nickname was Il prete rosso (the Red-Headed Priest). At some point after his ordination, he stopped saying Mass. According to Vivaldi, this was due to an illness that he described as “tightness” in his chest; today it is believed he suffered from asthma.

Beginning in 1703, Vivaldi was employed by the Ospedale della Pietà, one of four charitable institutions dedicated to the care and education of indigent children in Venice. Initially hired as violin master, Vivaldi soon added composition and conducting to his responsibilities. His work for the Pietà did not require his continued presence in Venice, so he traveled extensively and pursued his many compositional opportunities, particularly in opera. He died in Vienna on July 27, 1741.

Vivaldi composed about 770 works, including about 500 concertos. His Concerto for Strings in G Major, RV 151, however, does not feature soloists. The first movement shimmers with quick passagework and, toward its conclusion, a move to the minor—an unexpected delight. The middle movement, Adagio, is strident and dramatic. This whole movement is unified by an unchanging rhythmic pattern. The final movement, Allegro, returns to the dance-influenced sound of the first movement. It is these two outer movements that give this concerto its nickname, “Alla Rustica.”

Born in Halle, Germany, George Frideric Handel (1685–1759) was expected to study law. Although his father had forbidden instruments in the house, Handel practiced secretly in the attic where a keyboard had been hidden. The secret was not kept long; Handel’s talent manifested itself while the family was at court and the duke convinced the elder Handel to add music to his son’s studies.

Having abandoned his law studies, Handel moved to Italy in 1706, where his promise as a composer led to associations with leading Italian musicians such as Arcangelo Corelli, whose own instrumental works influenced the young composer. In 1710, Handel went to London, where he would spend the rest of his life writing both vocal and instrumental music, becoming one of the most famous composers of his day. His Concerto Grosso Op. 6, No. 12 in B Minor was written in 1739. This work, like the other eleven in the set, were advertised by Handel as “Twelve Grand Concertos,” and each movement displays Handel’s adept skills at continually developing musical ideas. The opening movement sounds grand and serious as the orchestra frames phrases for the soloists (two violins and cello), while the second movement drives forward from the very first notes. English music historian Charles Burney called the Larghetto, “one of the most graceful movements ever composed.” The conversational nature of the next movement, Largo, leads to a spritely fugue in the final Allegro. It is no wonder that Handel’s set of twelve concertos are considered to be one of the pinnacles of Baroque concerto composition.

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750) became Kapellmeister at the court of Prince Leopold in Cöthen in August 1717. Prince Leopold was an accomplished musician who employed an orchestra of 18 well-trained players. Bach composed for this ensemble, including the Concerto in D Minor for Two Violins, BWV 1043, which was most likely written for Berlin violinists, Martin Friedrich Marcus and Joseph Spiess. (Spiess was hired by Prince Leopold in 1714.) From performance scores for this concerto, it seems that Bach also programmed this work in Leipzig in the 1730s when he conducted the Collegium musicum, a group from the university who studied and performed instrumental and vocal music.

The concerto follows the three-movement (fast–slow–fast) design codified by Vivaldi. Imitation features prominently throughout this concerto as does the technical difficulty of the solo parts. This becomes particularly poignant in the second movement as the longer note values of one solo line are embellished and drawn forward by the faster motion of the other solo line. In the third movement, the close interval of imitation and the off-beat accents of the orchestral accompaniment propel the music forward.

Johann Sebastian’s son, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (1714–1788) was a virtuoso keyboardist and composer. He lived in Berlin between 1738 and 1768, when he worked as a musician in the court of Frederick the Great of Prussia. He then moved to Hamburg to take up the position of music director for that city, a post left vacant with the death of his godfather, Georg Philipp Telemann.

In the early 1770s, Baron Gottfried van Swieten, while on an extended diplomatic mission representing the Viennese court of Maria Theresa in Berlin, commissioned the composer to write a work for which Bach should “give himself free rein, without regard to the difficulties of execution.” The result was a set of six symphonies, including the Sinfonia in B flat, Wq. 182/2, for four-part string orchestra. Completed in 1773, these sinfonias are considered to be a highlight of the composer’s output due to, as another musician, Johann Reichardt wrote, their “original and bold flow of ideas and the great diversity and novelty in their forms and surprise effects.”

Felix Mendelssohn (1809–1847) wore many hats as a musician. He was a conductor, composer, teacher, pianist, and artist; in addition, he organized musical festivals (a popular type of musical extravaganza in the 19th century). Mendelssohn was born into a family of intellectuals and professionals. His father was a banker and his grandfather was the late 18th-century philosopher Moses Mendelssohn. The family converted to Christianity when Felix was a child.

Mendelssohn began composing at a young age, completing works such as his Octet and the Overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream before he was 18. His home provided him the opportunity to premiere his early works; concerts were sometimes held in the garden and his home was a gathering place for Berlin’s intellectual community.

In the 1820s, Mendelssohn joined the Berlin Singakademie, a vocal society modeled on London’s Academy of Ancient Music. It was here that Mendelssohn probably encountered the music of C.P.E. Bach. It was also for a Singakademie performance that Mendelssohn conducted J.S. Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, the first performance of that work since the composer’s death in 1750 and largely credited with reviving interest in Bach’s vocal music in the 19th century.

Composed in 1822, Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in D Minor reflects the composer’s strong foundation in the music of his ancestors and his own innovative interpretations of those traditions. In the first movement, Mendelssohn establishes the soloist’s prominence with its first entrance, a cadenza-like passage. A similar entrance for the solo violin in the second movement soon becomes a figure shared between soloist and the first violins. The second movement leads directly to the third, a quick and lively Allegro, with a returning orchestral idea alternating with marvelous passages for the soloist.

Mendelssohn moved to Leipzig in the 1830s and became conductor and director of the Leipzig Gewandhaus orchestra. He also gave an organ recital at the Thomaskirche in order to raise money for a Bach statue. Although he traveled throughout his life, Leipzig remained Mendelssohn’s home until his death in 1847.

Mendelssohn’s library, like his music, reflects the interests of an omnivore, a mind open to all types of ideas. His non-musical library was filled with Greek and Roman literature as well as Shakespeare, Cervantes, and Boccaccio—plus more recent masters, including Lessing, Goethe, Hegel, Sir Walter Scott, and Dickens. His musical world was equally diverse, filled with the music of both his contemporaries and earlier masters. The treasures of his library were part of Mendelssohn’s inspiration and his music now part of our heritage.

© Teresa M. Neff, PhD, 2014
2013–2014 Christopher Hogwood Historically Informed Performance Fellow


Pre-concert Conversations

One hour before the start of each performance from the stage in NEC’s Jordan Hall and Sanders Theatre.

H2 Young Professionals After-party: Playlist

Celebrate with us at the last H2 Young Professionals After-party of the 2013-2014 Season. Experience Felix Mendelssohn’s favorite playlist at the Friday, April 4 performance of Mendelssohn’s Library, and then come share your own playlist with H+H musicians, staff, and other young arts enthusiasts at the after-party.

Free admission with concert ticket.

Register for after-party