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6.2.09

Mendelssohn, Bacewicz, & Co.

February is a busy month with anniversaries and I'm trying to acknowledge some of the more important (or less unimportant) ones. Over at WETA's website, I've tackled Victor Herbert (February 1st) and Grażyna Bacewicz (February 5th)--and of course Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy (February 3rd). Next up are Torelli and Karłowicz, followed by Genzmer, Antheil, Avison, and--I'm downright excited to write more about him--Eric(h) Zeisl. Meanwhile here's an anecdote about Mendelssohn I quite like and which I couldn't fit into my short appreciation; taken from Mendelssohn's letter to his sister and retold in Andreas Eichhorn's small but excellent biography [in German] of the composer.

Mendelssohn gave the British premiere of Beethoven's E-flat Major Piano Concerto in 1829 in London. On July 13th he conducted a benefit concert which included Mendelssohn's Concerto for Two Pianos & Orchestra. Apparently Mendelssohn was not averse to pandering a little to the audience, and the rehearsals were adjusted, accordingly. He reports to his sister:

The last piece is played incredibly brilliantly by Moscheles, he just purls the runs off as if they were nothing. When that was over, everyone said that it was too bad that we had not included a cadenza and so I immediately culled a section in the last tutti of the first piece where the orchestra has a fermata... and Moscheles had no choice but to agree, on the spot, to compose a grand cadenza for it. We now calculated, accompanied by much merriment, whether the last little solo could still remain, since it should now be drowned out by applause. "We need a piece of tutti between the cadenza and the final solo passages", I said. "How long should they applaud?", asked Moscheles. "Zehn Minuten, I dare say", I answered. Moscheles haggled me down to five minutes. I promised to deliver the tutti--and so we took measure and stitched and turned and quilted, put in the sleeves à la mameluke and tailored a brilliant concerto. Today we have rehearsals again; we'll have a music-pot-luck: Moscheles brings the cadenza, and I the tutti.

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