Jakob Ludwig Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy (1809 – 1847),
born and widely known as Felix Mendelssohn, was a
German composer, pianist, organist and conductor of the
early romantic period. Mendelssohn wrote symphonies,
concertos, oratorios, piano music and chamber music.
His best-known works include his Overture and
incidental music for A Midsummer Night's Dream, the
Italian Symphony, the Scottish Symphony, the overture
The Hebrides, his mature Violin Concerto, and his
String Octet. His Songs Without Words are his most
famous solo piano compositions. After a long period of
relative denigration due to changing musical tastes and
antisemitism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries,
his creative originality has been re-evaluated. He is
now among the most popular composers of the romantic
The eight volumes of Songs Without Words, each
consisting of six "songs" (Lieder), were written at
various points throughout Mendelssohn's life, and were
published separately. The piano became increasingly
popular in Europe during the early nineteenth century,
when it became a standard item in many middle-class
households. The pieces are within the grasp of pianists
of various abilities and this undoubtedly contributed
to their popularity. This great popularity has caused
many critics to under-rate their musical value. He
composed Book 4 (Opus 53) between 1839–41
The first song is "On the Seashore" (Andante con moto).
Suitably it opens with sempre tenuto e legato. Each of
the melody notes should be given their full value.
Mendelssohn is given the opportunity to show off his
talent with being able to supply the perfect undertones
with the main body of melody lines. "On the Seashore"
provides a clear, tender, and concise style that is
typical with Mendelssohn.
"Clouds" (Allegro non troppo) is also known as "The
Fleecy Clouds". Thought to have been written for his
sister Fanny as Mendelssohn truly thought that his
music would speak in larger volumes than his words.
Compare this song with Book Three No. 3, and there
appears to be some common resemblance. The piece is
impulsive and is very much influenced by Schumann.
"Agitation" (Presto Agitato). Not until the Ninth
measure is the subject of this piece loudly apparent.
There lies the effective monotony that is prevalent
throughout this song. In measure 69, he inserts
additional notes on the weaker beat with the left
"Sadness of Soul" (Adagio) is expressive, but perhaps
overly sentimental. It is a prime example of a
cantabile (singing) style of playing. The song is very
similar to his composition of "On wings of Son" op.34
No. 2. The use of the sustain pedal adds an ingenious
"Folk Dance" (Allegro con Fuoco) is certainly his best
out of this book. As the term "Fuoco" is implied, it is
to be played with fire and passion. Felix composes with
this fury, and has an almost patriotic march.
Basically, this song has been elaborated on from the
forth song in book One. This has none of Mendelssohn's
usual traits of politeness and gentle mannerisms, but
is attacked with more aggression and roughness.
"Flight" (Molto allegro vivace). Instead of using
cadence forms as was used in No. 5, Mendelssohn's use
of chromatic seconds give the listener a sense of being
caught up in a hurricane. Later in the piece, it
presents a pure display of raw technical power. The
piece builds, until the last few measures dwindle down
to a surprising diminuendo.
The book on a whole is certainly worth mentioning.
Mendelssohn shrugs off his polite way of being, and
occasionally opts to be somewhat more aggressive. The
piece contrasts in mood, showing that even this
composer can be found in his own kind of personal tug
of war, and leave the comfort that is his nature.
I created this Transcription of the "Agitation" from
"Lieder ohne Worte" (Op. 53 No. 3) for Piano.