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[Lee In-hyun] Mendelssohn’s music for summer night

To this day, I still vividly remember going to the Hollywood Bowl in the summer in Los Angeles. Since I majored in piano, when I think of summer, the first thing that comes to my mind are the kind of music festivals held in that venue.

When I came to the United States for graduate school, I studied piano with deep sincerity. And part of that was going to various music camps and music festivals to learn more during my summer vacation.

My favorites were the Aspen Music Festival and School in Aspen, Colorado, and the Tanglewood Music Festival in Lenox, Massachusetts. Every summer I went to either Aspen or Tanglewood.

As you may have guessed, these festivals are not located in big polluted cities like Los Angeles. Surrounded by nature, the air there is clean and fresh. However, transportation and shopping were not easy. When I was there, I thought it would be nice to have an outdoor music festival in big cities like Los Angeles or New York City.

The Hollywood Bowl was the music festival I dreamed of. After moving to Los Angles, I went to the Hollywood Bowl every summer before the pandemic. Imagine feeling the cool breeze at night and listening to music with wine and the people you love.

I would say the Felix Mendelssohn overture “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is the best music to listen to during summer.

First of all, its title is directly reminiscent of a summer’s night. It was motivated by the William Shakespeare play of the same name. Mendelssohn read the play at 17, when the first German translation was published. After reading Shakespeare’s work, he fell in love with it and made the overture to imagine the story right away. It’s hard to believe that a 17-year-old boy composed it, because the music was very dramatic and romantic, like music created by professional musicians.

Mendelssohn was a German composer, pianist and conductor. When he was born, his father was a banker and his grandfather was a famous philosopher. His family was rich and he was born with a diamond spoon. Unlike most musicians, he did not worry about his livelihood or money. On the contrary, he helped musicians in need. He found good music that might have been forgotten and he opened the door so the world could explore more great music.

For example, Mendelssohn helped bring back J.S. Bach’s “St. Matthew Passion,” which had been long forgotten after Bach passed away.

Mendelssohn also made great efforts to elevate the status of German musicians. He established a music school for future musicians. He made significant financial contributions to develop classical music thanks to his rich family.

Mendelssohn’s musical ability was fabulous. Some people said because of his wealth, his music had no depth. However, most of his music was bright, beautiful and lively.

His music was well-balanced, and its structure was very classic and organized. His musical ideas were free and creative. He had the perfect life: a happy family, lots of money and amazing musicality. Unfortunately, he passed away at the young age of 37 because of illness.

As we all know, Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is famous and well known. The overall story is about the characters’ love and marriage going back and forth through reality and the ideal world of a mysterious forest. Mendelssohn loved the mysterious and magical world of the play. With his rich sensibility and imagination, he composed music based on his feelings when he read it.

Of course, the music he made when he was 17 was great. But he was still hungry. Mendelssohn thought he would like to make this music again if the opportunity was ever granted. He recomposed it at the request of King Friedrich Wilhelm IV of Prussia.

With his sophistication, young soul and imagination, Mendelssohn composed a more brilliant, dramatic and fantastic piece. Over the additional 17 years between the first attempt and the new endeavor, his music had matured. When he was 17, the music was just a single piece. When he remade it, the music came to consist of 14 pieces. The most famous piece is the wedding march, which we now hear all the time at wedding ceremonies.

On a hot summer night, I recommend listening with your eyes closed while holding a glass of cold white wine. Leave behind your stress and travel to the ideal world of dreams. If you do not have enough time to listen to all of it, I hope you at least try the first piece, “Overture.” It is the introduction to his music, and I can imagine various scenes freely and feel freshness listening to this piece he first wrote at only 17.


Lee In-hyun
Lee In-hyun is a classical pianist and author of the award-winning book, “The Classic Class.” Lee works both in South Korea and the United States, and currently resides in Los Angeles. She can be reached at inhyun@bu.edu. -- Ed.

By Korea Herald (khnews@heraldcorp.com)
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