Special Choral Sections
April 25 at 7 p.m.
Elizabeth Boatwright Coker
Performing Arts Center
Mendelssohn was one of the 19th century's greatest composers. He is know to have loved the oratorios of Handel and he was also a major force in restoring Bach's music to the world. Certainly Elijah shows abundantly the dramatic techniques of the former masters, especially in the use of the chorus in different roles. Mendelssohn may well have surpassed his mentors, however in creating in Elijah the most dramatic oratorio ever written.
Mendelssohn completed and had the first performance of Elijah in 1846, the year before he died at the young age of 38. It was the last major work he finished before his death (similar to Mozart's Requiem which we performed in 1991 and which was worked on by the composer prior to his death at age 35).
FIRST CRITICAL REVIEW
The reception of the new work was rapturous--the London Times said, "Never was there a more complete triumph-never a more thorough and speedy recognition of a great work of art." Indeed, in England only the Messiah has remained as popular, and similarly to Handel's influence, following composers have continued to write music just like some of the more popular choruses and arias from Elijah.
Elijah is a much more traditional oratorio than Messiah in that it contains an historical narrative of the events in the life of the biblical character Elijah. It is interesting that Mendelssohn should choose such a subject as he was a Jew converted to Christianity and a rather mild-mannered man, yet Elijah is one of the most vengeful and fiercest of the prophets. However, being raised a Jew, Mendelssohn was certainly familiar with the story (shared by Jews and Christians alike) and he may have related the old testament leader to his hope for a modern political leader: In a letter in 1838 to his friend Schubring (collaborator on the libretto) he wrote, "I imagined Elijah as a real prophet through and through, of the kind we could really do with today: Strong, zealous and yes, even bad-tempered, angry and brooding-in contrast to the riff-raff, whether of the court or of the people, and indeed at odds with almost the whole world-and yet borne aloft as if on angels' wings."