Felix Mendelssohn: A Midsummer Night’s Dream Overture

Context

Composed when Felix Mendelssohn was just 17 years old, his Overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream has remained one of his most treasured concert pieces. It was composed after Mendelssohn had read the German translation of the play in 1826, but is not associated with the play or with any particular performances of Shakespeare. The piece premiered in Szczecin in Poland in February of 1827 with Mendelssohn making his first public appearance as both composer, soloist and then orchestral musician. The overture premiered in England just two years later at the Argyll Rooms in London, with Mendelssohn conducting. 

 

The Music

Four woodwind chords open the overture mysteriously. A peppy string theme is then played as the representation of the dancing fairies plays out. Mendelssohn moves through different themes of the play such as the royal music of the court of Athens, the noises made by the donkey, bottom, as well as the dancing fairies. The scampering fairy feet lead into the bold central section, which sees the brass and percussion emerge. The music is full of fizz and excitement, so this central section acts as a sort of climax. 

Sliding violins and bombastic timpani represent Bottom, which the woodwind keep the fairy feet running around underneath. After the lengthy development, the opening four woodwind chords signifies the move into the recapitulation section. Many of the previous themes are revisited before the fairies race the music in the coda. Just as it started, Overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream concludes with the opening four woodwind chords.

 

Ⓒ Alex Burns 

Happy Reading!

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