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Mendelssohn hits prime-time

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Jessica Duchen Jessica Duchen | 15:55 UK time, Thursday, 28 May 2009

fingals_cave.jpgI've been greatly enjoying my sneak preview of the final programme in the BBC2 series The Birth of British Music - devoted, of course, to Felix. It's on Saturday evening at 9pm and, honest, guv, I can't recommend it highly enough. I'd thought I might know something about Mendelssohn by now, but nevertheless I was riveted by all the unexpected insights and angles that emerged during the course of a very lively hour.

Not wanting to spoil it for you, of course, but don't miss the way that the bane of my life, that Second Piano Concerto, is coated with Cadbury's chocolate in Birmingham; or how Mendelssohn inspired Dracula; or the gentle seeping into British consciousness of his Midsummer Night's Dream fairies, which could just have given us the gossamer-winged visions of the little people that the Victorians loved so much and that culminated in the drawings of Arthur Rackham.

Charlie visits Fingal's Cave - of course - and it's amazing to see how closely Mendelssohn's music for the Hebrides Overture mirrored the swell of the sea in and out of that great granite portal. Full marks, too, for pointing out how damn difficult the scherzo of A Midsummer Night's Dream is to play (the LPO did it a few weeks ago and if you'd brought a stress measurer into our house the day before it would have screeched the neighbourhood down).

I feel honour bound to point out that Mendelssohn's trips to Britain were only one aspect of his desperately busy life, most of which was firmly based in mainland Europe, but of course with one hour to 'do' him on TV a selection no doubt had to be made. And I will stop here before being tempted to digress into exactly why not much of Mendelssohn's Leipzig is left, or how those fairies can be traced as much to Goethe as Shakespeare.

BTW - You can enjoy a repeat showing of Tim Carroll's production of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream with Mendelssohn's incidental music, on the BBC's digital Red Button service immediately after Saturday's Birth of British Music broadcast, ie at 950pm. Highly recommended!


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