Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy

A Midsummer Night's Dream

Explained using the 5-4-3-2-1 Method

Duration:60 Minutes (Overture (13 Minutes) + Incidental Music (47 minutes))
Genre: Overture and Incidental Music
Time of Creation: 1826 (Overture)/1842 (Incidental Music)
World Premiere: February 20, 1827 (Szczecin – Overture)/October 18, 1843 (Berlin – Incidental Music)

Table of Contents

Mendelssohn's A Midsummer Night's Dream in 5 Sentences

There are actually two works by Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy titled A Midsummer Night’s Dream: Mendelssohn first created an overture in 1826 and added incidental music 16 years later (!). The play that Mendelssohn set to music with this work is William Shakespeare’s comedy “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”. Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a multifaceted work (the orchestration, in particular, is remarkably transparent and sophisticated) and is one of the composer’s best-known pieces, thanks especially to the world-famous Wedding March (see below, “Highlight 2”). During the Nazi era, Mendelssohn’s works were rarely performed in Germany, so several other composers created “substitute” works for A Midsummer Night’s Dream, such as Carl Orff (the composer of Carmina Burana).

Note: This work belongs to the Classical Music Top 100.

4 Highlights from Mendelssohn's A Midsummer Night's Dream

Highlight 1: Overture

When Mendelssohn wrote the overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream, he was just 17 years old. That alone is astonishing, but all the more remarkable is how this overture begins: four wind chords in which the order of the harmony is “reversed.” Mendelssohn thus makes clear from bar 1: We are in an enchanted forest – everything is upside down here.

Highlight 2: Wedding March

This piece is so famous that many people are surprised to learn that someone actually composed it 😊 Now you know – the most famous wedding march in the world comes from Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream:

Highlight 3: A dance of clowns

Well, these “clowns” are not difficult to identify 😉

Highlight 4: Finale

Mendelssohn was a master of composing finales. Do you still remember the beginning of the overture (Highlight 1) with the “reversed” harmonies? It is taken up again here and thus spans the entire work as a so-called “leitmotif”.

This is all the more astonishing because there were 16 years between the composition of the overture and the rest of the incidental music…

3 Questions and Answers about Mendelssohn's A Midsummer Night's Dream

Question 1: What is the original play for Mendelssohn's A Midsummer Night's Dream about?

Mendelssohn’s composition is based on the comedy “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” by William Shakespeare. Shakespeare’s play is set in an enchanted forest near the ancient city of Athens. The main event is the wedding of a ruling couple.

Question 2: Are there other settings of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream?

Yes. In addition to Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy, composers Henry Purcell (“The Fairy Queen”), Benjamin Britten (“A Midsummer Night’s Dream”), and Michael Tippett (“The Midsummer Marriage”) also set Shakespeare’s material to music.

Question 3: Is Mendelssohn's A Midsummer Night's Dream used in other contexts?

Yes, the piece is very often seen as a ballet, for example.

2 Recommended Recordings of Mendelssohn's A Midsummer Night's Dream

Recording 1: hr Symphony Orchestra, Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir, Miah Persson, Golda Schultz, Paavo Järvi (live, 2014)

Excerpts from Mendelssohn’s work opened the 2014 Rheingau Music Festival:

Recording 2: Royal Scottish Orchestra, RSO Junior Chorus, Alison Hagley, Louise Winter, Walter Weller

Mendelssohn wrote, among other things, a “Scottish Symphony”. So, of course, the interpretation of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra must be heard for A Midsummer Night’s Dream as well 😉

1 Quote about Mendelssohn's A Midsummer Night's Dream

The leitmotif leads into that shimmering dream world of the fairy kingdom, which in its atmospheric condensation makes Shakespeare's poetry resound. Courtly festive glamor, love passion and burlesque coarseness provide effective contrasts. All associations that can be associated with a romantic Midsummer Night's Dream are musically redeemed in this overture. This is due not only to the high integrative power of the thematic material, but also to the immense transparency of the orchestration.

Florian von Heintze

Leave a Reply