Lieder ohne Worte
, a) Op. 85, No. 4 in D Major
Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847)
Norton Recorded Anthology of Western Music, CD 9 Tracks 7-8
I thought of Felix recently while reading about the Forbidden Planet
, an article found via the Fredösphere
. I saw that pretty fun film when I was not quite a teenager and a few words from the grumpy Dr. Morbius made an impression on me as an aspiring musician. There is a scene where the not-so-good Doctor explains how smart the Krell were in their heyday. To impress his guests he plays a short tape of electronic music and says something to the effect that the Krell were so smart the music they enjoyed sounds incomprehensible to us.
Mendelssohn comes to mind because I think of him as a vastly intelligent person who strove to make music comprehensible. Were he a music advisor for the script writers of that film he might have suggested that the Krell music be superior because of a gentleness in line or clarity of expression. However, in the context of this anthology, Mendelssohn appears to have contributed to the increase of complexity in music. His music, and I think piano music from this period in general, is so much like the Italian madrigals of the late sixteenth century in that it explores the potential of expressing a very specific emotional moment quickly. And as those madrigal composers were virtuosos of subtly in choir writing, Mendelssohn and his colleagues were the same for piano writing.
This singable song without words has an elegant downward bend. As the listener traversers these few bars, the harmony counters that motion by pushing upward in half steps. Then it relaxes back to where we started. And the listener is left with the keen memory of someone playing the piano in another room of a house that stood more than a century ago.