A few pseudo-profundities...
After spending part of Sunday afternoon valiantly listening to Antigone on good old Listen Again, I thought I'd put together a few pseudo-profound thoughts about what goes through our minds when we hear music that we don't particularly like, written by a composer we normally love.
I'd be interested to know what all of you thought about Antigone.
First of all, there's no doubt that Mendelssohn's instantly recognisable style shone out of its lively overture, its hymn-like melodies, the strongly defined harmonies underlying its processional elements. The 'melodrama' episodes reminded me, furthermore, of the way Korngold adapted the incidental music to A Midsummer Night's Dream in Max Reinhardt's 1934-5 film - he had the actors speaking over the music in a carefully controlled and conducted way, an approach which must have grown out of this once-flourishing tradition (spoken words declaimed against a musical backdrop). The melodrama is a genre we normally hear little or nothing of today; it's worth rediscovering for the historical context it helps to lend our broader understanding.
But it also helps if your German is good enough to follow what's going on. Is it too much to suggest that we in Britain still have an unfortunate Pavlov's Dog-like gut reaction against hearing Hochdeutsch barked at a high emotional pitch out of our radios? Hmm.
There were beautiful episodes, of course - how could there not be? But my beloved Felix, like all people we love when we get to know them better, has one or two tendencies with which I feel at odds. Occasionally, just occasionally, he sells out to royal portentousness, whether in Potsdam or London. Perhaps this wasn't his fault: first of all, this piece was a royal commission; secondly, Greek tragedies aren't exactly meant to be Saturday afternoon at the races. Yet to me Mendelssohn is at his finest when he is free simply to be himself, without the pressure of meeting Important People's Expectations.
If you love someone, you don't want them to sell out. You want to see them at their most glorious, in clothes that suit them, taking part in activities that bring out the best in them. And charming though Felix is, sought-after and loved by everyone around him, I for one prefer to picture him to myself in his walking gear, hiking up the paradisical Lauterbrünnen Valley from Interlaken towards the triple peaks of the Jungfrau, Eiger and Monch, gulping down Alpine air, his spirit and creativity renewed and rejoicing at the sheer wonder of the scene before him; perhaps stopping to sketch or to write a lucidly expressed letter to his sister; the music fermenting all the while at the back of his mind - maybe a piano piece, a chamber work or the stirrings of a symphony.
Restricting him to the stuffy air of a court and stylised cries of 'O Weh!' was never going to be comfortable or natural. Felix, in his element, had finer things to offer, much finer. I think we can safely consign Antigone to the archives once again. But I'm glad we had a chance to hear it.