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Mendelssohn is top prodigy - official!

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Jessica Duchen Jessica Duchen | 11:45 UK time, Monday, 18 May 2009

bbc_music_magazine.jpgWe knew he would be, logically. How could any prodigy have written anything better than Mendelssohn's teenage masterpieces (Octet, Midsummer Night's Dream etc)? But the new issue of BBC Music Magazine, which plopped onto the mat today, confirms Mendelssohn as No.1 of the top ten child prodigies in the history of composition, assessed up to the age of 18, a different critic arguing the case for each. We all submitted our entries as agreed; then the magazine ranked them. Schubert was close behind Mendelssohn in second place, and in third, none other than Erich Wolfgang Korngold, whose case I argued. He needed me. Felix didn't: he was bound to sweep the board.

And Mozart? He didn't make the list at all. The theory goes that in childhood he was more a 'freak of nature' than a composer of genius: he grew into the latter more gradually. Fair enough: it gives us a chance to explore the contributions of Shostakovich, Britten, Liszt, et al, and even an obscure Englishman unfortunately named of William Crotch.

The same issue contains an article by yrs truly exploring the effect of Mendelssohn's religious attitudes on his choral music. This took some swotting. As the world's worst singer, I'm not naturally drawn to the choral repertoire - but here it was humbling to discover that revelations lay in store. Notably, I listened to Chandos's re-release of Richard Hickox's account of Paulus, Mendelssohn's first oratorio. It's been much overshadowed by Elijah, which it predated by ten years, but I was startled to find that I preferred it. It seems to me fresh, original, energetic and inspired. Elijah has its moments, of course, but (or is it just me?) it can be...ever so slightly... if it's not performed exceptionally well... um...a bit dull? Many will disagree. But in Mendelssohn's lifetime, Paulus was way more popular, and I can see why. Its tale of proud religious conversion seems quite distasteful to modern ears, which probably explains its neglect, though it does carry the case for tolerance and peace.

We'll return to the recent celebrations soon, but in the meantime: happy reading!


  • 1. At 5:01pm on 18 May 2009, Reiner_Torheit wrote:

    "top prodigy"??

    what a pile of drivel.

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  • 2. At 6:19pm on 18 May 2009, Marzipancat wrote:

    Having heard some of the composers adolescent work, I am not entirely surprised, although a bit astonished that Wunderkind Mozart didnt even make the list.

    I have being reading these Mendelssohn blogs with great interest, engaged as I am currently learning as much as I can about the man and the musician as part of my writing. The more one learns and hears, the more there is to admire about him. Granted, Felix had the best education and possibly the most supportive network of family and friends imaginable, but if you look beyond the genius, the acclaim and the sometimes sentimentalized biographies, you will find a genuinely good and generous man who made the most with the considerable gifts he had.

    Although I have yet to hear Paulus, I do find it regrettable that todays spiritual cynic may not be able to relate to a composition based on a tale of religious conversion as I believe Felixs own faith was an integral part of his life both as a man and a composer. Biographers may quibble about his creed and depth of conviction, but, in the end, that may be less important than the fact that faith did play a significant part in his life and art.

    I admit that my ongoing research into Felixology was at first inspired by speculation about the composers intriguing relationship with Jenny Lind, but I have since much else of interest about the people he knew and the life he led. I will also admit to having developed something of a crush on dear Felix, but I suppose there are worse afflictions to be had!

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