Claudio Abbado conducts Mendelssohn and Berlioz

19/05/2013

Berliner Philharmoniker
Claudio Abbado

  • Felix Mendelssohn
    A Midsummer Night's Dream (Excerpts) (00:45:38)

    Deborah York Soprano, Stella Doufexis Mezzo-Soprano, Konstantia Gourzi Chorus Master, Damen des Chors des Bayerischen Rundfunks

  • Hector Berlioz
    Symphonie fantastique (01:02:59)

  • free

    Konstantia Gourzi on the collaboration with Claudio Abbado (00:06:57)

  • free

    Berlioz' Symphonie fantastique: A little organology with Philipp Bohnen (00:11:15)

When Claudio Abbado returns once a year to the Berliner Philharmoniker, he likes to try something new, combining it with works he has prepared with the orchestra in the past. That is the case for this concert with Hector Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique and Felix Mendelssohn’s incidental music for A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The juxtaposition of Berlioz and Mendelssohn is also a fascinating idea, as it throws into relief the early period of musical romanticism. The two composers met for the first time in Rome in 1832.

Berlioz was full of admiration for Mendelssohn, who for his part had difficulty putting up with Berlioz’s effusive behaviour, “this enthusiasm turned inside out, this desperation as presented to the ladies, this ingeniousness printed in Gothic type.” And the Symphonie fantastique alienated him. Particularly in the final Witch’s Sabbath, Mendelssohn saw “utter foolishness, contrived passion mere grunting, shouting, screaming back and forth.” His Midsummer Night’s Dream music, in which he congenially set the material of Shakespeare’s play in music, shows us his own ideal of romantic composition. The overture from 1826 – a stroke of genius on the part of the 17-year old composer – captures the atmosphere and flavour of the world of the fairy kingdom in which the royal couple Oberon and Titania reign.

In 1843, Mendelssohn followed up with 12 additional musical pieces, commissioned by King Friedrich Wilhelm IV of Prussia for a performance of AMidsummer Night’s Dream in the New Palace in Potsdam. The results were a collection of instrumental, vocal and melodramatic pieces, of which the Wedding March is probably the most famous. In 1843 as well the composers met once again when Berlioz conducted the Symphonie fantastique in Leipzig. After an initial distance, they gradually began to understand each other better and better – until a highly symbolic scene when Berlioz and Mendelssohn exchanged their batons as mutual mementos.