Tasting Music — Mendelssohn

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Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847)

String Quartet in A minor, Op. 13

I. Adagio - Allegro vivace
II. Adagio non lento
III. Intermezzo. Allegretto con moto - Allegro di molto
IV. Presto

Felix Mendelssohn

1827 was an important year in music. It is the year in which Beethoven died, leaving a legacy that would both intimidate and inspire composers such as Schumann and Brahms for the remainder of the 19th Century. Beethoven spent his final productive days working almost exclusively in the medium of the string quartet. The so-called “Late Quartets” remain the pinnacle of the quartet repertoire to this day. Deeply personal statements, the Late Quartets give us a window into the agonies, reconciliations and revelations of Beethoven at the end of his life. His peers thought the works  to be no more than the incoherent ravings of a deaf and swiftly deteriorating artist. However, one composer devoured these works and studied them with zealous devotion. That composer was none other than the 18 year-old, Felix Mendelssohn.

Mere months after the death of Beethoven, Mendelssohn completed his String Quartet in A minor, Op. 13 and proved himself to be an apt student. Notably, Mendelssohn emulates Beethoven in his use of the operatic convention of recitative, a free form solo line punctuated by striking harmonic changes. Beethoven invokes recitative both in his monumental Ninth Symphony (it is through instrumental recitative that Beethoven navigates his way toward the “Ode to Joy,” and unleashes the surprise of vocal soloists and choir in its ultimate triumph) and more intimately in his Op. 132 String Quartet. Mendelssohn uses a dramatic recitative to set up a device that provides thematic unity to his work, a song of his own titled,”Frage,” or “Question.”

Fans of the annual WWCMF Collage concert in June will note that Mendelssohn’s self-quotation of Frage in this quartet provided the thematic framework for the 2013 edition of Collage. Finally, you will have closure as we explore the whole quartet in all its glory!

Foundry Vineyards provides the perfect setting in which to discover delicious wines and to consider Mendelssohn’s early masterpiece.


Question
Is it true? Is it true
that you always wait for me there
in the leafy path by the grape arbor
and ask the moonlight and the little stars about me?
Is it true? Speak!

What I feel can only be understood
by someone who feels it with me,
and who will stay forever true to me.
     — from 12 Songs, Op. 9, No. 1, Frage [Question], Felix Mendelssohn

Artists: Brittany Boulding, violin; Timothy Christie, viola; Alistair MacRae, cello; and Maria Sampen, violin.

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