Mendelssohn: overture 'Ruy Blas', Op. 95

The South Birmingham Sinfonia performed this overture as part of the Autumn 2015 concert.

Mendelssohn's full name was Jakob Ludwig Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy. He lived from 3 February 1809 to 4 November 1847 and is widely known as Felix Mendelssohn. He was a German composer, pianist, organist and conductor of the early Romantic period. As well as being of importance in his own right, he also revived interest in the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, and travelled extensively throughout Europe, including Scotland and England, where his music was well-appreciated.

Mendelssohn wrote five symphonies, various concertos, oratorios, piano music and chamber music. His best-known works include his Overture and incidental music for A Midsummer Night's Dream, the Italian Symphony, the Scottish Symphony, the overture The Hebrides, and his Violin Concerto. He is one of the most popular and important composers of the early Romantic era.

In 1839, Mendelssohn was commissioned by the Leipzig Theatre to write an opera for Victor Hugo's play Ruy Blas, a play that was first performed the year before. Mendelssohn apparently hated the play, and wrote the overture under extreme pressure (he had received the commission only 6 days before the opening night), but somehow or other overcame all these problems to produce a fine and highly inventive work.

The opening brass chorale may perhaps be a depiction of the court, whilst the remainder of the piece brings to mind the tempestuous and romantic aspects of the play. Mendelsson’s ending strays from Victor Hugo’s version, choosing a heroic finale rather than the hostile conclusion of the original.

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