- Current Issue
SIGN IN to access the Harper’s archive
ALERT: Usernames and passwords from the old Harpers.org will no longer work. To create a new password and add or verify your email address, please sign in to customer care and select Email/Password Information. (To learn about the change, please read our FAQ.)
Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, Elijah: An Oratorio (1846)
Heinrich Heine could not help noticing the irony in the fact that when the greatest work of the Baroque sacred repertoire, Johann Sebastian Bach’s Matthew’s Passion, was finally recognized and put in its rightful place, it was a Jew who did it. Moreover, it was the grandson of history’s “Third Moses.” Though Felix Mendelssohn, like Heine, was a convert, unlike Heine, he was actually rather serious about his new-found religion. His composing shows it. And it also shows a commitment to the faith of his equally famous grandfather. An important part of Felix Mendelssohn’s genius lay in his uncanny ability to ferret out great works of the past – to brush off the outer finery of a long passed era and recognize the great pathos that was found inside. But another piece of Mendelssohn’s genius consisted of the transposition of the genre to the tastes of the Romantic era.
Not everything he did in this regard was an unqualified success, and even the most important, Elijah, has its detractors. (Bernard Shaw rather maliciously called it a “failed comic opera”). It takes as its subject matter the life of the prophet Elijah, set out in I Kings – this includes the well-known tale of Ahab and his wife Jezebel, and the rise of the cult of Baal among the Israelites. The music is marvelous – not so profound as Bach, but still melodic and beautiful, and some passages are very great indeed. The settings include several Psalms and messianic prophesies. The link here is to the London/Decca recording with Bryn Terfel and Renée Fleming with the Orchestra of the Age of the Enlightenment, but the Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau recording on EMI is even better, if you can find it.
More from Scott Horton:
No Comment — April 12, 2013, 11:11 am
A new report from Seton Hall University exposes government surveillance of attorney-client conversations
Rashid Khalidi on how the United States sustains the failure of the Israel-Palestine peace process
Alex Gibney on his documentary investigating the Roman Catholic Church’s handling of child sex-abuse cases
Lucas Mann on hope and change in a minor-league-baseball city
Minimum number of baboons forced to smoke crack in a 1989 study testing the efficacy of cigarettes as a drug delivery device:
A reduction in distrust toward atheists was documented among pious Canadians who are reminded of the Vancouver police.
A Missouri cinema apologized for hiring an actor dressed in body armor and carrying a fake rifle to appear at a screening of Iron Man 3.
Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!
Winner of the 2012 Olivier Rebbot Award for best photographic reporting from abroad in magazines or books