Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto opened up new musical pathways, taking the concerto into the passionate world of the Romantic era without losing the clarity and poise of the Classical style.
Like Mozart half a century earlier, Felix Mendelssohn died tragically young — he was only 38 years old — but wrote a vast amount of music. Among his most famous works are the overture The Hebrides (Fingal’s Cave), an Octet for string instruments, the oratorio Elijah, his Third and Fourth Symphonies (the ‘Scottish’ and the ‘Italian’ Symphonies, respectively), song settings including On Wings of Song, and a series of lyrical piano works called Songs without Words. He also wrote the Wedding March which is heard regularly at the end of wedding services: it came originally from a set of orchestral pieces Mendelssohn wrote to accompany a performance of Shakespeare’s play A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Also like Mozart, Mendelssohn was a child prodigy. By the age of 14, he had already written twelve sinfonias and a handful of short operas; his first fully-fledged symphony came the following year, and many of his masterworks were written before he turned 20. His music blends the clarity and grace of the Classical era with the dramatic power of Romantic composers like Beethoven and Weber. He is particularly famous for light, agile music that conjures up images of a magical world of spirits or fairies with its quicksilver delicacy.
He was also a virtuoso pianist who gave his first public performance at the age of nine. He wrote his Second Piano Concerto for the Birmingham Music Festival — numerous trips to England had established him as an audience favourite — and gave the premiere there himself, in 1837.
The Violin Concerto in E minor is technically Mendelssohn’s Second Violin Concerto; the First was a student work which is very rarely performed. It was his last large-scale orchestral work, and it took him many years to compose, working closely with the famous violinist Ferdinand David to get advice on how to show off the instrument to its best advantage. It remains one of the most frequently performed violin concertos of all time.