Jaren Hinckley

Composer / Clarinetist


I’m Listening to Everything Composed by Felix Mendelssohn

February 12, 2014



For faithful readers of this blog, you may recall that I focused on a piece by Mendelssohn this past December. Here we are in February with another piece by Mendelssohn!  The reason I chose to focus on Mendelssohn is because his birthday is this month (Feb. 3, 1809).  Happy 205th birthday, Felix! For today’s piece, I’m focusing on one of my absolute favorites by Mendelssohn.


TITLE:  The Hebrides Overture “Fingal’s Cave,” op. 26


DESCRIPTION OF THE PIECE:  This piece is what is known as a “concert overture”—a single-movement orchestral piece of program music.  The program of this piece is based on Mendelssohn’s own visit to the Isle of Staffa (off the west coast of Scotland). Staffa is part of a group of islands known collectively as the Hebrides (pronounced Heb’-ruh-deez) made of unusual geometric rock columns formed by volcanic activity. To get to the island, you need to charter a boat during good weather.  Because of the unusual make-up of the island there is no gentle beach on which to leave the boat.  You have to take the boat up close to the rock columns (sticking out of the water) and climb out directly onto the rocks.  If the weather is bad, the water would be too choppy and would crash the boat into the rocks.  On the island there is a large cave which, due to the unusual rock formations, has an unearthly quality to it. The music effortlessly conjures images of the ocean, the rise and fall of the boat as it approaches the island, and the unusual beauty of the island itself.


Here’s a YouTube video of the entire work:



And here’s a YouTube video of the entire work playing on top of someone’s travel footage (not mine, sadly), including the ambient sounds of the ocean, the boat, etc.



HIGHLIGHT:  The powerful programmatic elements.  I’ve never been to Staffa, but it’s not for lack of trying.  When I was living in Scotland (from 1988-1990, serving an LDS mission), I never had the chance.  When I returned to Scotland on vacation with my parents in 1996, we planned to go, but it was raining and no boats were willing to take us on a rainy day (unsafe).  When my wife and I were there in 2000, we headed towards Oban (where we would catch a boat to Staffa) but it was raining and we knew our chances were not good.  However, we noticed on the map that there was at least ONE island (Skye) that was close enough to the mainland that they had built a bridge to it.  So as we drove across the bridge to the Isle of Skye, I wistfully hummed the melody of this lovely piece by Mendelssohn.  Not quite the same thing as being on a boat, but it had to suffice.  Someday I’ll get to Staffa…(sigh)  Maybe next year…


WHAT’S LEFT TO LISTEN TO BY MENDELSSOHN?:  With over 100 opus numbers, I’ve got a ways to go!

I’m Listening to Everything Composed by Felix Mendelssohn

December 29, 2013



For my final December-themed blog post of 2013, I chose a set of choral works by Mendelssohn collectively titled…


TITLE: “Sechs Sprüche für das Kirchenjahr, Op. 79” (Six Maxims for the Church Year).


DESCRIPTION OF THE PIECE: These six brief choral works (all under two minutes) focus on six important days in the church year—Christmas, New Year’s Day, Ascension Day, Passiontide, Advent, and Good Friday. Each ends with the word “Hallelujah.” Upon first listening, these could be mistaken for a cappella works from an earlier time period, however, there is just enough pleasing dissonance to pinpoint the composition as being from the Romantic Era.


HIGHLIGHT: Appropriately enough for the current time of year, the highlight for me is the first piece in the set–“Weihnachten” (Christmas).  Here is the text (first the German, then the English translation):


Frohlocket, ihr Völker auf Erden, und preiset Gott!

Der Heiland ist erschienen, denn der Herr verheißen.

Er hat seine Gerechtigkeit der Welt offenbaret.



Rejoice, ye people on earth, and praise the Lord!

The Saviour has appeared, whom the Lord has promised.

He has manifested his justice to the world.



As you listen, notice the cool dissonance that occurs on the first syllable of the word “preiset.” After that, the words “Herr,” “Gerechtigkeit” and “Welt” have the most glorious rich harmonies. (Especially the 2nd syllable of “Gerechtigkeit”!) Enjoy!


I found some fun YouTube videos of all six pieces where you can follow along with the score (but I’m less fond of the choir on these videos than of the example above).  Here are the links if you’re interested

Christmas: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jQWPhghoE5g

New Year’s Day: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lIkvP7qhA_Y

Ascension Day: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xSPYE8iXsmw

Passiontide: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dGEcVlwiCZ8

Advent: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l2eE4DY7u7c

Good Friday: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HHn0SfNvQE8


WHAT’S LEFT TO LISTEN TO BY MENDELSSOHN?:  With over 100 opus numbers, I’ve got a ways to go!