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Title: Felix Mendelssohn as Romantic Conductor
Authors: Tkalych, Lisa
Advisors: Burnham, Scott
Contributors: Music Department
Keywords: 1830s
Subjects: Music history
Issue Date: 2019
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: This dissertation explores Felix Mendelssohn as the prototypical Romantic baton conductor in Germany and England. Drawing extensively on German and English music criticism from the 1830s and 1840s as well as memoirs and letters, my project is the first large-scale attempt to illuminate how Mendelssohn’s contemporaries understood his authoritative conducting at a time before there was a critical language for discussing the conductor’s role in musical performance. The dissertation is structured as a chronological unfolding of a typical Gewandhaus Orchestra concert under Mendelssohn’s tenure (1835-1847), with chapters on the overture, concerto, and symphony. Each chapter focuses on Mendelssohn’s overlapping roles as conductor, composer, and performer as well as his progressive influence on orchestral repertoire and listening culture. Chapter 1 presents performance reviews of Mendelssohn’s Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage overture and how critics’ perceptions of the music changed according to whether Mendelssohn or someone else led the orchestra. Chapter 2 surveys Mendelssohn’s spiritually animated performances and cadenzas in the piano concertos of Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven. I argue that Mendelssohn’s pianism and celebrated concertos established him as the heir to the classical piano concerto. Chapter 3 discusses Mendelssohn’s state-of-the-art performances of Beethoven’s symphonies, which comprised one-third of all symphonies heard at the Gewandhaus during these years. Mendelssohn’s Leipzig displaced Vienna as the center for classical and contemporary symphonic performance; it was also a center for debating aesthetic ideas before they took hold elsewhere in the 1850s. Chapter 4 focuses on Mendelssohn’s reputation as the leading music festival conductor and composer of his time; he introduced the oratorios of Bach and Handel to new generations, and in his own compositions advanced the symphony and oratorio on paths laid out by Beethoven, Bach, and Handel. Mendelssohn’s approach to musical leadership in Leipzig was sober, steady, and straightforward, but the language his contemporaries used to describe his efforts was infused with magic and mystery, referencing Romantic literature, science, pseudo-science, and politics. As the intermediary between composers, musicians, and audiences, Felix Mendelssohn elevated the Gewandhaus Orchestra to new heights. In doing so he established the Romantic conductor’s star as one of the brightest lights in modern orchestral culture.
Alternate format: The Mudd Manuscript Library retains one bound copy of each dissertation. Search for these copies in the library's main catalog:
Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:Music

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