The Lonely Island: Mendelssohn's Hebrides Overture

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  • Topic: Felix Mendelssohn, Hebrides Overture, Staffa
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  • Published : December 19, 2006
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The Lonely Island

Inspiration can be found in the strangest of places, amongst the strangest of things. In 1829, Felix Mendelssohn was inspired by a great cavern, rich with Scottish mythology. While sailing through the Hebrides Islands off the coast of Scotland, he saw the famed Fingal's Cave and was so moved by its beauty that he jotted down a full orchestration that became the beginning of one of his most famous works, The Hebrides Overture. Originally titled, The Lonely Island, this masterpiece has become a staple in today's orchestral repertoire. Felix Mendelssohn was born on February 3rd, 1809, in Hamburg, Germany. His father was Abraham Mendelssohn, who was a wealthy banker. Abraham was the son of Jewish rabbi and philosopher Moses Mendelssohn. As a Jewish philosopher, Moses discouraged Jews from turning away from their religion in order to make social gains. This, however, did not stop Abraham and his wife, Leah Salomon, from baptizing their four children as Lutherans, and ultimately converting to Lutheranism themselves. At the time of their conversion, the family added the surname Bartholdy and relocated to Berlin. Felix had three siblings: Fanny, Rebekah, and Paul.

At a young age, Felix began to show signs of virtuosity, excelling on the piano and the violin. Despite this, Abraham thought that Fanny, who was a very gifted pianist, would be the most musical of his children. In her life, she became well known as an amateur pianist and composer, but because of the view of the time that women could not be professional musicians, she remained an amateur. It was Felix who became legendary. He studied the works of Beethoven, Bach, Handel, and Mozart, and had his own private orchestra to play the pieces he composed. Before he was 14, Felix had written 12 symphonies for string orchestra. At 15, he had written his first symphony for full orchestra. He wrote one of his most well known pieces, A Midsummer Nights Dream, based off of Shakespeare's play,...
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