Thursday, March 19, 2009

Sibling Rivalry in the Mendelssohn Home

Tonight I am playing the bass part for Felix Mendelssohn's oratorio "Elijah" in rehearsal with Cantare con Vivo, conducted by the capable and artistic David Morales. My part is a Kalmus edition. Now, over the years, I have seen many errors in Kalmus editions. The rumor is that around the time of WWII, Kalmus went around Europe rescuing printing plates for old music. This piece was written during Felix' lifetime, 1809-1847. (Sorry, I can't look it up right now...back to our story.) It was common in the 18th and 19th centuries to publish the violincello and contrabass parts together, I guess to save paper, and the bass part is invariably simpler. It is a huge instrument, six feet tall. No, I am not making excuses, here, I have wrangled this behemoth successfully for over forty years.I was thinking about the perception of the listener. Did Felix intend for the low bass frequencies of each pitch be heard? My strategy here is to simplify, and if it causes me to get fired from the gig, it was worth it. Even in the time of the greatest bass virtuosi, no bass part has looked like this, and I really believe it won't sound like anything but rumbling at the tempos suggested. Maestro Morales is following the example of Norrington and others in the tempi department, and setting faster metronome markings than written in our parts.
So, here we are, with a trillion notes to play, quality iffy. Did you know that Felix's sister, Fanny was also a composer? Here is a quote from her: " I no longer know how one feels when one wants to compose a song." Wow. I have played Fanny's music, and I have played Felix' music. I like Fanny's Oratorio better.
See you on the flipside.

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