At age seventeen, Felix Mendelssohn (1809-47) wrote to his sister Fanny that he was planning to “dream the Midsummer Night’s Dream!” His overture, first performed publicly in 1827 and described by Bernard Shaw as “fascinating, original, and perfectly new,” later became the basis for his 1843 incidental music to Shakespeare’s play. Mendelssohn completed the music with the help of royal funds from Friedrich Wilhelm IV of Prussia, who also commissioned music to Antigone, Oedipus at Colonus, and Athalie in an effort to revive Greek tragedy.
The score is a wonderful example of program music, or music that is meant to evoke extra-musical images and ideas. You will hear recurring, evolving themes depicting the fairies, young lovers, and the donkey. The fairy motive, for example, is hard to miss—like the footwork, it is lively, fast, and staccato. The slow and sweeping lovers’ theme is an expansion of the fairy music. The four opening chords that introduce Oberon and Titania’s world reappear several times throughout the ballet.
Three pieces have become famous on their own: the Scherzo (a fast and rhythmic triple meter “jest”), the Nocturne (Oberon and Titania’s stunning pas de deux), and the famous Wedding March.
Thank you Jared!