To kick start our celebration of the Bard’s 450th anniversary, we’re doing a very exciting (and unusual!) performance of Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream in Southwark Cathedral this Wednesday. Working with two highly experienced and well-known British actors (Richard Hope and Emma Pallant) along with Director Max Webster, the evening will give audiences a deeper understanding of how the music was originally conceived, and bring the pieces to fresh dramatic life.
To wet your palette for this exciting performance, we thought we’d give you a quick preview of Mendelssohn’s musical adaptation of the Midsummer play.
- Mendelssohn composed the Overture for A Midsummer Night’s Dream when he was only 17 years old!
Mendelssohn was aged 17 years and 6 months when he was inspired to write the Overture. A child prodigy on the piano, he had been performing in public since the age of nine, and was active as a composer ever since he was 12. Legend has it that he even left the first score of it in a cab, but was able to rewrite every note from memory! At such a ripe age, that is pretty impressive. The rest of the work as we know it today was composed in 1842 (16 years later) after he received a commission from the King of Prussia to write music to accompany a staging of Shakespeare’s play at his Royal Theatre in Leipzig.
- The piece held such importance to him that he travelled over 80 miles through a snowstorm to attend the first performance!
Despite a ferocious snow storm outside, Mendelssohn still managed to travel to the Overture’s first performance of it in 1827; apt proof of how much it meant to him! According to his sister Fanny, “We were entwined with A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Felix particularly made it his own. He identified with all of the characters. He recreated them, so to speak, every one of them whom Shakespeare produced in the immensity of his genius”.
- Mendelssohn was, in effect, writing as a film composer in this piece
If Mendelssohn was alive today, he would be best buds with John Williams and James Horner, being a film music pro even before the film medium was invented! Much like music for the movies, Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream was designed to enhance the emotional impact of the action onstage, often shimmering under spoken narrative, and contains some of Mendelssohn’s best-known music, not least the Wedding March.
- The music often represents many of the characters in Shakespeare’s play, including Bottom!
Mendelssohn used certain instruments to portray and symbolize different characters in the place. The high woodwinds, for example, represent the fairies, and the strings even offer their own ‘hee-haws’, in the manner of Bottom the donkey!
Tickets are still available to hear A Midsummer Night’s Dream this Wednesday! BOOK NOW
Shakespeare: A Midsummer Night’s Dream
with City of London Sinfonia and Holst Singers
Wednesday 8 October, 7.30pm
Southwark Cathedral, London Bridge
Tickets, £25, £15, £5 available fromspitalfieldsmusic.org.uk / 020 7377 1362
(Free pre-concert talk from 18:30 in the retrochoir. Book tickets for the pre-concert talk here)