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Mendelssohn: A Life in Music [Kindle Edition]

R. Larry Todd
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)

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Book Description

An extraordinary prodigy of Mozartean abilities, Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy was a distinguished composer and conductor, a legendary pianist and organist, and an accomplished painter and classicist. Lionized in his lifetime, he is best remembered today for several staples of the concert hall and for such popular music as "The Wedding March" and "Hark, the Herald Angels Sing."
Now, in the first major Mendelssohn biography to appear in decades, R. Larry Todd offers a remarkably fresh account of this musical giant, based upon painstaking research in autograph manuscripts, correspondence, diaries, and paintings. Rejecting the view of the composer as a craftsman of felicitous but sentimental, saccharine works (termed by one critic "moonlight with sugar water"), Todd reexamines the composer's entire oeuvre, including many unpublished and little known works. Here are engaging analyses of Mendelssohn's distinctive masterpieces--the zestful Octet, puckish Midsummer Night's Dream, haunting Hebrides Overtures, and elegiac Violin Concerto in E minor. Todd describes how the composer excelled in understatement and nuance, in subtle, coloristic orchestrations that lent his scores an undeniable freshness and vividness. He also explores Mendelssohn's changing awareness of his religious heritage, Wagner's virulent anti-Semitic attack on Mendelssohn's music, the composer's complex relationship with his sister Fanny Hensel, herself a child prodigy and prolific composer, his avocation as a painter and draughtsman, and his remarkable, polylingual correspondence with the cultural elite of his time.
Mendelssohn: A Life offers a masterful blend of biography and musical analysis. Readers will discover many new facets of the familiar but misunderstood composer and gain new perspectives on one of the most formidable musical geniuses of all time.

Editorial Reviews


"Todd's monumental and magisterial biography is itself a celebration of the composer's life and achievement.... Such an exhaustive and definitive biography as Mr. Todd's 'Mendelssohn' will surely become a standard reference work for many years to come."--Washington Times

"A highly readable and authoritative account of a brief but remarkably creative life, and an important contribution to Mendelssohn studies."--Hugh Canning, Sunday Times (London)

"At long last a great, elegant, and monumental biography. It will take its rightful place as the standard and indispensable guide to Mendelssohn's life and music with a sensitive understanding of the complex historical currents and contexts surrounding the composer. Based on exemplary research this book should put to rest the cliches and injustices that have plagued a great composer's work and reputation. A stunning achievement. A landmark in scholarship and writing on the history of music."--Leon Botstein, President, Bard College, Editor of The Musical Quarterly, and Music Director of The American Symphony Orchestra

"Magisterial, exhaustively documented book likely to become the standard biography.... Throughout, Todd interweaves his subject's biographical journey with his performing and compositional activities on an almost daily schedule, exploring in-depth his studies of and dealings with the vagaries of music publishing, conducting assignments, championing of the works of earlier masters such as Bach, and relations with other musicians. The author's musical analysis is clear to the layperson yet includes enough specifics to be useful to serious musicians, while his literate style helps to create an organic whole."--Library Journal (starred review)

"A valuable book for those who like a graceful biography, and those who are curious about composers beyond the familiar 'Three Bs.'"--Seattle Times

"So full and frantic was the short life of the 'Mozart of the nineteenth century' it would make breathless reading in lesser hands than Professor Todd's. Here not only the music but the pressures of life that created it, the constant travel, the correspondence with friends and family, the witty asides, and even a synoptic and sympathetic view of critical opinion on his main works from his own time until the present day are digested within this much-needed survey, and presented with accuracy, intelligence and insight. A Bible for Mendelssohn's growing and hungry supporters!" --Christopher Hogwood, Honorary Professor of Music, Cambridge University

"R. Larry Todd makes a fine contribution to biography and to 19th-century music history in this detailed survey of Mendelssohn's life. From this book we get not just a new portrait of Mendelssohn as man and artist, but valuable perspectives on his celebrated family, on religious and social issues in Germany in his time, on his contemporaries, and on the state of music in the Biedermeier and early Victorian worlds. Through this study of a single, immensely gifted musician Todd outlines important trends in musical style in the Romantic era, both those that Mendelssohn inherited and those to which he made lasting contributions, from the miraculous Octet written at age sixteen to the Violin Concerto and the late oratorios."--Lewis Lockwood, author of Beethoven: The Music and the Life

About the Author

R. Larry Todd was hailed in The New York Times as "the dean of Mendelssohn scholars in the United States." A Professor of Musicology at Duke University, he has published widely on Mendelssohn and his time, and nineteenth-century music.

Product Details

  • File Size: 7618 KB
  • Print Length: 736 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA (October 23, 2003)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B004TW1ZNQ
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #513,475 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
59 of 60 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A landmark in Mendelssohn scholarship November 17, 2003
As a Mendelssohn specialist I pre-ordered this book, and have been working my way through it for the past few weeks. I cannot recommend it highly enough to anyone who is interested in this remarkable composer and his music. It has many points to commend it for scholars(extensive recourse to important but obscure archival documents, correction of major and minor factual errors that have persisted in all the previous Mendelssohn biographies, etc.), and just as much to commend it to general readerships: it's elegantly written, well balanced, informative on contextual, musical, and biographical fronts, etc. Fanny is arguably as present in the pages of this book as she was in Mendelssohn's life. And, not least of all, it's remarkably affordable. I am a former student of Professor Todd (having gotten my Ph.D. from Duke University in 1994), but can also say that I offer these remarks without any bias other than that of being one who admires the music and life of Mendelssohn.
If this reads like an endorsement, it is. I highly recommend the
volume to all who want to know more about Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy.
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40 of 41 people found the following review helpful
Felix Mendelssohn lived only thirty-eight years (Feb 1809- Nov 1847) and yet he had a profound impact on the way Art Music continues to be enjoyed in our time even if he is himself unjustly too far from the public consciousness and his musical works not, while not unperformed, are not performed nearly enough considering their musical quality and artistic merit. He was a man of prodigious genius, manifold talents, and a genuinely gracious and generous man. All rare gifts in this world.

This excellent and much needed modern biography of this most important musician was written by R. Larry Todd. The author gave the book a perfect subtitle - "A Life in Music" because Mendelssohn's whole life, since his early accomplishments as a prodigy, was devoted to composing, performing, conducting, and championing past composers such as Bach and newer young composers and performers who shared his views on the musical arts. The book makes very enjoyable reading because of the way Todd intertwines the life and the music that came out of it. Mendelssohn, like some but more than many composers, wrote and modified pieces for specific occasions and for certain performers. I found the numerous musical examples to be well chosen and illuminating. However, if you cannot read music, you can still understand what they author is saying form his clear and to the point prose.

Felix's grandfather was the famous philosopher Moses Mendelssohn and his father, Abraham, was a prominent banker so Felix and extremely talented sister Fanny did not have to struggle to develop their talents. Abraham converted to Christianity and his children were raised with a Christian faith.
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23 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Totally absorbing. January 15, 2008
I bought the hardback edition which is/was a lot more expensive - wish I had waited! Actually, it matters not a jot; this book is great value, regardless of cost.

It took me three readings to absorb most of the contents; for this biography is densely written, full of fact and detail and without much prose for its own sake. Nevertheless, it is eminently readable with a flowing narrative style and in no sense is it heavy going. That it took me three readings is a (non)function of my failing intellect rather than a comment upon the authorship. Regardless of the serious nature of the subject, this book really is a "good read" in its own right.

One of this work's many strengths is that Todd paints with a very broad brush. His view encompasses the social history necessary to see the Mendelssohns against the background of their particular time and the author does a superlative job in portraying their circumstances in a largely anti-Semitic Germany. However, the focus always remains on this extraordinary musician with a creative life lived on so many levels and embracing so many artistic and intellectual pursuits. Felix Mendelssohn emerges as a rounded, developed figure and not the slightly colourless aesthete which a distorted history sometimes has chosen to portray him.

This is a scholarly, well-edited and proof-read volume; the only mistake I noticed was Wellington at Blenheim. (I'm not an American so might just as easily have put Washington at Bull Run . . !) However, from a purely personal standpoint, I should like to have had a little more information on the organ recitals given in England.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars f you want to meet Mendelssohn, you must read this book. December 15, 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Todd's research is comprehensive and well documented. He put together the observations of Mendelssohn's family and contemporaries with quotations of Felix in a style that makes one feel that you really know the man. The indices make it easy to find references to specific people and compositions. This is one of the best musicological treatises I have ever read. If you want to meet Mendelssohn, you must read this book.
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