Monday, October 15, 2012

The Hebrides, a concert overture

One of the pieces that the Lincoln Youth Symphony is preparing for their November concert is The Hebrides, by the German romantic composer Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847).

The Hebrides is an overture. It's not an overture that is connected with a another work, like an opera or oratorio. Rather it is a concert overture, an independent symphonic work that may or may not have a programatic basis. The Hebrides is frequestly used as an example of the concert overture. While many people hear The Hebrides as a seascape, with tides and waves, glimmers of foam, and even a storm, Mendelssohn indicated that his overture was inspired by the beauty of that part of Scotland, rather than being a depiction of it.

In 1829, a young Felix Mendelssohn visited Scotland as part of his grand European tour. It was the first summer that steamer trips to the islands were advertised. The night before catching the steamer, Mendelssohn sent his sister Fanny a letter with 20 bars of the theme he later used in the overture. The ship that Mendelssohn took visited both Iona and Staffa, where Fingal's Cave is the main attraction. Mendelssohn, however, remembered little of that day because he was quite sea sick, so Fingal's Cave was not the inspiration for his work.

Mendelssohn spent three years working on his overture. The first draft was called The Lonely Island (Die einsame Insel). The first version was completed in Rome in 1830, and called The Hebrides. Mendelssohn decided he didn't like it, and so wrote a second version that had a premier at a London concert in 1832. He made a third version the next year.

The first published version of the overture was called Fingal's Cave by the publisher, a name that has stuck, even though Mendelssohn hadn't even seen Fingal's Cave on his trip to Scotland. It has also been called The Isles of Fingal and Ossian in Fingal's Cave, in addition to the titles Mendelssohn used.

Whatever you want to call Mendelssohn's concert overture, the Lincoln Youth Symphony will be performing it on Nevember 11, 2012.

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