Mendelssohn: Midsummer Nights Dream

Mendelssohn became familiar with Shakespeare by reading German translations as a young boy of seventeen. He was inspired to write an overture to accompany Shakespeare’s comedy which quickly became a popular favourite throughout Europe. Twenty-five years later, the Prussian King, Frederick William IV requested that Mendelssohn composed a set of incidental pieces to accompany an upcoming production of a Midsummer Night’s Dream in 1843. This is when the fourteen short pieces were developed using the extracts from the original piece composed in 1827. The ‘Wedding March’ was written to accompany the multiple weddings at the end of the play, the Scherzo, a haunting nocturne, for the nimble fairies and many more.

This evening the Orchestra will be playing four movements.

The Overture
Mendelssohn was a child prodigy and wrote the Overture at seventeen. It was originally written as a piano duet, then orchestrated for public performance the following year. It is in E major and begins with four opening chords and is followed by a scurrying, busy theme in E minor representing the fairies, leading to a second, more lyrical theme for the lovers. The braying of the donkey can also be heard in this movement.

The Scherzo
There is playful interplay between the strings and woodwind in this movement which acts as an intermezzo between Acts 1 and 2.

The Nocturne
The Nocturne includes a beautiful horn solo doubled by bassoons, and accompanies the sleeping lovers between Acts 3 and 4.

The Wedding March
Act V contains more music than any other, to accompany the wedding feast. There is a brief fanfare for trumpets and timpani, a parody of a funeral march, and a peasant dance. The dance uses Bottom’s braying from the Overture as its main thematic material. The Wedding March is a popular piece at weddings to this day.

Louise Henkel and Hilary Mortimer, 2nd Violins