Mendelssohn, Repertoire and Piano Scores

Felix Mendelssohn, after Mozart, was the most astounding child prodigy in the history of the piano. He became one of the best conductors of his generation, and one of the greatest pianists of the age. His playing was poised, crisp, and his technique was impeccable. His scoring may have been equal to Thalberg’s three-handed formations, which gave piano scoring another dimension.

Mendelssohn’s piano score repertoire was large. One of his specialties was Beethoven’s Fourth Concerto. His interpretation of Weber’s Konzertstuck was considered the ideal. He played Bach and Handel as well as Mozart. He was renowned for his performance of Mozart’s Concerto No. 20 in D minor. It was Mendelssohn who resurrected Bach’s nearly forgotten Saint Matthew Passion. Mendelssohn valued Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier and keyboard concerti.

A contemporary noted, “He possessed great skill, certainly power and rapidity of execution – all, in fact, that a virtuoso could desire; but these qualities were forgotten while he was playing, and one almost overlooked even those more spiritual gifts which we call fire, invention, soul, etc. Music streamed from him with the fullness of his inborn genius. What he played, how he played, and that he was the player were all equally riveting, and it was impossible to separate the execution, the music, and the executed.”

His art is picturesque, unsentimental, and seldom disturbing as was the art of Schumann or Liszt. His music scores were always on the piano. Mendelssohn was a master of the staccato touch and scherzando mood. Goethe once remarked, He plays with a lightness, sureness, roundness and clarity such as I have never heard. He reproduced orchestral effects so excellently, so transparently, and by little touches in the instrumentation produced so cunningly the illusion of accompanying voices, that the effect was utterly enchanting. I might almost say that it gave me more pleasure than any orchestral performance ever did.”

Mendelssohn’s largest contribution to piano literature is his set of forty-eight Songs Without Words. George Bernard Shaw once declared, “If you want to find out the weak places in a player’s technique, ask him to play you ten bars of Mendelssohn.”

Following are reviews of selected works by Mendelssohn.

  1. Forty-eight Songs without Words, Opp. 19, 30, 38, 53, 62, 67, 85, 102. These pieces are among the world’s best-loved music. The most famous of these is the Spring Song. The Spinning Song, May Breezes, Consolation, and Hunting Song are renowned in German Romanticism.

  2. Six Preludes and Fugues, Op. 35. Mendelssohn was inspired by Bach and Handel in composing his fugues. No. 1 in E minor is a good example of the Thalbergian three-handed effect.

  3. Scherzo a capriccio in F-sharp minor. This is a taxing piece of seven minutes that needs flexible wrists and untiring staccato in chords and single notes. It is said to be one of Mendelssohn’s greatest works for the piano.

  4. Variations serieuses in D minor, Op. 54. This is one of the greatest sets of variations of the period. The work brims with compositional skill and emotional intensity with great capacity for idiomatic keyboard figuration.

To play keyboard sheet music by Mendelssohn, it is best to practice your technique in

  • Staccato
  • Flexible wrist action
  • Rounded fingers
  • Arpeggios