Mendelssohn is top prodigy - official!
We 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!