Felix Mendelssohn
Born February 3, 1809, in Hamburg, Germany
Died November 4, 1847, in Leipzig, Germany
2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, 2 trombones, timpani, strings, solo piano
Performance time
21 minutes
October 17, 1831
Last Performed by the TSO
March 8, 2015

Mendelssohn dedicated his first piano concerto to the pianist Delphine von Schauroth, but he himself played the first performance. It opens with immense impulse and vigor, six bars of orchestral Molto allegro con fuoco (very fast and furious), before the pianist enters with dramatic gesture. This is nothing that Mozart or the younger Beethoven would have done.

By Mendelssohn’s time the concerto soloist had gained new independence and individuality from the orchestra. The 19th century is the age of the individual, but technical improvements in the piano also made this possible. It was both louder and softer than in Mozart’s time, had a wider range and a much more responsive action. It could be heard easily above a large orchestra. Mendelssohn took advantage of this new muscularity. While the concerto is in three distinct movements (fast, slow, fast), there is no pause between them, adding the propulsive nature of the work as a whole.

Mendelssohn composed the concerto while in Italy along with his Fourth Symphony, “The Italian,” and some of the same sunny feeling found its way into the concerto, particularly the final movement when G minor gives way to G major. And although Mendelssohn said he dashed it off in only a few days, it became one of his most popular works and endures today. Mendelssohn told his sister, Fanny, that Delphine had composed a section of the new concerto, but he never revealed what music was hers and what was his. He also briefly considered asking her to marry him, but no proposal took place. For whatever reason, none of Delphine’s succeeding three marriages lasted more than a few years, so perhaps that is just as well, but she continued to play concerts and also to compose, one of the notable independent women of the 19th century.

David Gilbert