Now, fair Hippolyta, our nuptial hour
Draws on apace; four happy days bring in
Another moon: but, O, methinks, how slow
This old moon wanes! she lingers my desires,
Like to a step-dame or a dowager
Long withering out a young man revenue.
William Shakespeare – A Midsummer Night’s Dream (I.1.1-6)
As we observe midsummer night, thoughts turn to music for the summer…
Felix Mendelssohn, a child prodigy, quick to artistic maturity as if destined for a short life, was born into a family devoted to, and with a great affection for, the works of William Shakespeare, especially A Midsummer Night’s Dream. And, in 1826, not yet 20 years old, he set his ideas of the play’s imaginative content down in music.
On August 6, 1826, he completed an overture in sonata form. The soft chords evoke the mysterious magic wood, the fairies that flitter through it, the proud lovers, and the raucous and grating sound of Bottom the Weaver in a donkey’s head.
Eventually, he orchestrated it, and, much later, in August of 1843, he was commissioned by the King of Prussia to expand upon his overture and write full incidental music for the play. And the result is a brilliant joining of literary expression with abstract musical structures, resulting in some of the finest music ever written to accompany a spoken drama.
If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended,
That you have but slumber’d here
While these visions did appear.
And this weak and idle theme,
No more yielding but a dream,
Gentles, do not reprehend:
if you pardon, we will mend:
And, as I am an honest Puck,
If we have unearned luck
Now to ‘scape the serpent’s tongue,
We will make amends ere long;
Else the Puck a liar call;
So, good night unto you all.
Give me your hands, if we be friends,
And Robin shall restore amends.
William Shakespeare – A Midsummer Night’s Dream (V.1.2275-2290)
More, at the Library, about Mendelssohn
- In print
- Electronically – Credo Reference
- Electronically – Biography Reference Bank
- Electronically – History Reference Center
- Recordings of his music
- Scores and other printings of his music