Felix Mendelssohn

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German composer, conductor, pianist, organist

  • 1809 born in Hamburg. The Mendelssohn family moved to Berlin in 1811.
  • 1821-1829 studied and performed in Berlin. He performed widely and composed many of his early works, including 12 symphonies before the age of 15. At age 15 his first symphony, number 11, was composed and published; at age 16 he began to compose fully mature works. His early teachers and patrons included Ludwig Berger, a former pupil of Clementi; Carl Friedrich Zelter, who taught him counterpoint and was heavily influenced by J. S. Bach; and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, who pronounced him a child prodigy as promising as Mozart.
  • 1826-1829 studied at Berlin University
  • 1829 Mendelssohn conducted the first performance of the St. Matthew Passion, one J. S. Bach's greatest works, since the composer's death, to great acclaim at the Singakademie in Berlin. This sparked renewed interest in Bach's works, and was the beginning of the revival of the popularity Bach's music in Germany, largely due to Mendelssohn's continued interest.
  • 1829-1832 Mendelssohn engaged in a musical tour of Europe, performing and composing as he did so. This was the first of his ten visits to England.
  • 1833-1835 Mendelssohn served as the musical director of Duesseldorf, where among other responsibilities he prepared a major choral work each month to be performed at high mass, including works by Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, and Bach. He revived the musical form of the oratorio, and began composing his own oratorio, St. Paul, during this period.
  • 1835-1840 Mendelssohn accepted a position as music director of the orchestra in Leipzig, where he helped revive the city's musical institutions. He became the most prominent German musician of his time. Robert Schumann and Clara Wieck were his contemporaries and friends in Leipzig. This is the period during which he composed his organ Preludes and Fugues.
  • 1840-1847 Mendelssohn continued in Leipzig, while also traveling extensively to London and many other places. He rediscovered Handel's music and renewed interest in its performance. During this period he also founded the Leipzig conservatory. During his visits to London, Mendelssohn performed a series of organ recitals.
  • 1845 Mendelssohn published his organ sonatas.
  • 1846 Mendelssohn finished and published his oratorio "Elijah."
  • 1847 died in Leipzig following a series of strokes, probably exacerbated by overwork, distress at the recent deaths of family members, and exhaustion.

German composer Felix Mendelssohn received his first musical training at his mother's knee. Later, he studied piano and violin with the illustrious Zelter, an instrumental figure in Mendelssohn¹s life. He introduced him to Goethe in 1821, and in 1819 he arranged for Mendelssohn to join the Singakademie as an alto. Mendelssohn's auspicious career began early. His first public performance was at age nine; the first public performance of his own work, his 19th Psalm, was at age ten. In 1836, while still quite young, Mendelssohn was given the directorship of the Gewandhaus Orchestrain Leipzig. This quickly became the most prestigious orchestra in Germany. Just five years later Mendelssohn was invited to the court of King Wilhelm IV as the Royal General Music Director. As this position allowed him to remain in Leipzig, he returned home and began working on a music conservatory which opened in 1843.

Mendelssohn's organ music (six sonatas, three preludes and fugues) represents the first major German contribution to solo organ literature since J.S.Bach. In fact, Mendelssohn was instrumental in reviving the playing of Bach's works. He continually looked to old forms and techniques, interpreting them with Romantic expressiveness. His sudden and early death shocked the musical world.

Points of Interest

  • Mendelssohn's full name was Jacob Ludwig Felix Mendelssohn­-Bartholdy. The Bartholody was added when the Jewish Mendelssohn family converted to Christianity.
  • He married Cécile Charlotte Sophie Jeanrehaud of Frankfurt. They had five children­ - three boys and two girls.
  • In 1836 he was awarded an honorary Doctorate from the University of Leipzig.
  • Mendelssohn visited England frequently. Queen Vicotoria loved his music. It was at the wedding of the Princess Royal in 1858 that Mendelssohn's Wedding March from "A Midsummer’s Night Dream" was first used.
  • Felix was very close to his sister, Fanny, an accomplished musician in her own right. She died just six months before Felix.

For additional details, see the Felix Mendelssohn article on Wikipedia.

Oxford Music Online biography of Mendelssohn: http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/music/51795?q=felix+mendelssohn&search=quick&pos=1&_start=1#firsthit

List of Pieces[edit]

Opus Title Year
Op. 37 no. 1 Prelude and Fugue No. 1 1837
Op. 37 no. 2 Prelude and Fugue No. 2 1837
Op. 37 no. 3 Prelude and Fugue No. 3 1837
Opus Sonata Movement Year
Op. 65 no. 1 Sonata 1
1. Allegro moderato e serioso
2. Adagio
3. Andante Recit
4. Allegro assai vivace
Op. 65 no. 2 Sonata 2
1. Grave 
2. Adagio
3. Allegro maestoso e vivace 
4. Fuga
Op. 65 no. 3 Sonata 3
1. Con moto maestoso 
2. Andante tranquillo
Op. 65 no. 4 Sonata 4
1. Allegro con brio
2. Andante religioso
3. Allegretto
4. Allegro maestoso e vivace
Op. 65 no. 5 Sonata 5
1. Andante 
2. Andante con moto
3. Allegro maestoso
Op. 65 no. 6 Sonata 6
1. Choral
2. Andante sostenuto
3. Allegro molto
4. Fuga
5. Final/Andante

Background and General Perspectives on Performing Mendelssohn Organ Works[edit]

Mendelssohn, although an early Romatic composer, was conservative in his outlook and interested in the forms and compositional styles of previous composers. He was a gifted composer of counterpoint, which he employed masterfully in many of his compositions. Sometimes he expresses the harmonic language of the Romantic Period in the grammar of the Baroque; at other times, especially in his fugues, his music sounds almost wholly Baroque, reminiscent of Bach. His organ sonatas are not written in Sonata-Allegro style, but are instead collections of varying pieces, using the title "Sonata" similarly to the way it was used by Bach.

One distinctive form employed frequently by Mendelssohn involves the introduction and development of an initial theme, followed by a second, contrasting theme of equal length. Mendelssohn then weaves both themes together contrapuntally to finish the piece. This form is especially evident in the first movement of his Organ Sonata IV, which was the last sonata he completed, and in many of the chorus sections of his oratorio "Elijah," which was written in the final year of his life.

Five different musical styles can be found in Mendelssohn's organ works: "English Baroque voluntary style; chorale-based procedures; fugue or fugato; Baroque toccata; and melodic ornamentation practices."[1]

"Mendelssohn was one of the finest organists of his day. The Three Preludes and Fugues op.37, dedicated to Mozart's pupil Thomas Attwood, form a pendant to op.35. The Six Organ Sonatas op.65 (1845), teeming with artful fugues and chorales, summarize and epitomize Mendelssohn's rediscovery of Bach, and may have inspired Schumann's six fugues on B–A–C–H op.60." - Grove Music Online: "Mendelssohn, Felix, §10: Keyboard music" [1]

Registration and Organs[edit]

From Mendelssohn's preface:

With the following compositions much depends upon a judicious choice of the stops. But in as much as every organ of which I have cognisance required, in this respect, is own particular treatment owing to the fact that the like-named stops on different instruments do not always produce uniform effects, I have confined myself to prescribing certain limits only, without actually indicating the specific stops to be used. Thus I employ the term FORTISSIMO as suggestive of the full organ (grand jeu) and PIANISSIMO as generally implying a soft 8-foot stop by itself; FORTE as indicative of the full organ without the admixture of any of the fullest stops; PIANO as a combination of several 8-foot stops, and so on. Where the PEDALS are indicated my idea is, even in the PIANISSIMO, that the 8-foot and 16-foot stops should be combined, excepting only where the contrary is especially prescribed (see the sixth Sonata). It is, therefore, left to the discretion of the player himself to select the mixtures of the various stops in a manner suited to the individual pieces, but it is essential to take care that in combining two manuals the one manual shall be distinct from the other as regards tone-quality without, however, producing a harsh contrast in this respect. (Felix Mendelssohn)

Mendelssohn gives registration instructions in his preface to Op. 65:

ff=full organ [organo pleno plus reeds]

f=full organ without the loudest stops

p=several 8' stops

pp=one soft 8' stop

Fingering and Pedaling[edit]

Both the Peters and Dupre Editions of Mendelssohn's Organ Works contain fingering suggestions. Refer to both to see what fingerings/pedalings work for you. The Novello contains no fingering or pedaling.

Articulation and Phrasing[edit]

Replace this text with information on articulation and phrasing that might be applicable to the whole set of pieces


Replace this text with information on ornamentation that might be applicable to the whole set of pieces

Tempo and Meter[edit]

Replace this text with information on tempo and meter that might be applicable to the whole set of pieces

Scores and Editions[edit]

Publication History (extracted from [2])

Leipzig : Breitkopf & Härtel, 1845 (Hofmeister's Monatsbericht (1845), p.189) (also by Coventry & Hollier in London, Maurice Schlesinger of Paris, and Ricordi of Milan, simultaneously) Reprinted Mineola: Dover Publications, 1991, 2004 New York : G. Schirmer, 1896: Compositions for the organ : three preludes and fugues, op. 37; six sonatas, op. 65 / Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy. Edited and fingered by Samuel P. Warren. Plate 12572 Paris: S. Bornemann, 1948: Oeuvres complètes pour orgue / de Félix Mendelssohn ; revues, annotées et doigtées par Marcel Dupré München : G. Henle Verlag, 1976: Orgelsonaten : opus 65 / Mendelssohn Bartholdy ; nach Eigenschriften, Abschriften und den beiden Erstausgaben hrsg. von Hubert Meister ; Finger- und Pedalsatz von Wolfgang Stockmeier A 3-movement early version of Op.65 no.3 exists in autograph manuscript at SBBerlin.

Below are the available editions and links to editions currently available for Mendelssohn Organ Sonata III:
Alfred Music - [3] - Digital copy of Sechs Sonaten Op. 65 - Sonata III (11 pages) - can be printed or viewed on devices
Edition Peters - (PE.P01744) - [4] - Solo Organ (3 Preludes and Fugues Op.37 - 6 Sonatas Op.65)
Editions Durand - (HL.50562377) [5] - Contents: Preludes and Fugues Op. 37, Nos. 1-3; Sonatas, Op. 65, Nos. 1-6. Edited by Ch. M. Widor (94 pages)
G. Schirmer - (HL.50253590) [6] Organ Works, Op. 37/65 (Organ Solo). Edited by S Warren. (88 pages)

Free Scores[edit]

IMSLP, Sonata various editions

Free score download

IMSLP, Prelude and Fugue various editions

Free score download


John Scott Performs the Complete Works of Mendelssohn

Retail Recording

Free Online[edit]

Groove Shark Recordings

Free Recording

Mendelssohn Organ Prelude and Fugue in C minor, Prelude: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NTCi_MVrTz0

Mendelssohn Organ Prelude and Fugue in C minor, Fugue: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eUF4Qc55B7I

Mendelssohn Organ Sonata #1: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KjnLQ0t-sjQ

Mendelssohn Organ Sonata #4: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SvCsHdux7OY

Mendelssohn Organ Sonata #6, theme and variations based on "Vater uns in Himmelreich": https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M5-HTWmgWfg

All 6 organ sonatas, recorded by Jos van der Kooy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-vc7rRdiCMU&list=PL373EF82432EAD146

Pay to Listen[edit]

[7] - this website allows subscribers to listen to recordings of the Sonata 3 performed by various composers

[8] - Complete catalogues or selected recordings of over 640 labels such as ARC, Berlin Classics, BIS, Capriccio, Chandos, EMI Classics, Erato, Finlandia, Hänssler Classic, Harmonia Mundi, Hungaroton, Naïve, Naxos, Nonesuch, Nimbus, Ondine, RCA Records, Sony Classical, Teldec, Virgin Classics and Warner Classics - contains a plethora of recordings of Mendelssohn's Organ Sonata III

Other Resources[edit]

Mendelssohn and the Organ by Wm. A. Little (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010)
An Analysis of Mendelssohn's Organ Works; A Study of their Structural Features. For the use of students ([1898]) - [9]


  1. Seaton, Douglass. The Mendelssohn Companion,London: Greenwood Press, 2001, p.630.

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