Mendelssohn: Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage

Between 1828 and 1833 Mendelssohn wrote three overtures, each with sea connotations: the Hebrides Op 26, The Fair Melusine Op32, and the one included in this programme, which was inspired by two short poems by the German writer and poet Gõethe (1749-1832). The first was entitled Calm at Sea, and the second, The Prosperous Voyage. Mendelssohn chose to give his work a composite title, and no doubt these overtures in post Lisztian years would have been called Tone Poems.

Mendelssohn’s score for the most part follows the sentiment of the poet’s text. To the sailors aboard a becalmed ship, being motionless on a slumbering ocean is not comforting; “not a zephyr is in motion, sunk to rest is every wave”. Out of the “fearful silence” a breeze begins to stir the rigging, the ship makes headway, the alert sailors “see land beyond” and the poem ends. However, Mendelssohn goes a little further and conjures up a triumphant homecoming, exemplified by the fanfares from the three trumpets held in reserve throughout the score, and the piece finally resolves into the shortest of a short prayer of thanksgiving.