Arnold Mendelssohn is just beginning to be rediscovered. Recordings such as this will help immensely.
Mendelssohn was the great nephew of Felix and rose to prominence at the turn of the 20th Century. He was an accomplished organist and held several Protestant church positions. He was a colleague of Hugo Wolf and counted Paul Hindemith among his students.
As a composer, Mendelssohn was philosophically close to Brahms. He was quite comfortable with traditional classical forms and felt music should be abstract rather than representational.
The few works he composed for piano have strong similarities to those of Schumann and Brahms. The shorter pieces, such as the Federzeichnungen (Pen and Ink Drawings), and the Albumblatt are finely crafted miniatures.
They reminded me of similar works by Schumann. The music is full of inventiveness and technical challenges, with perhaps a bit more restraint than Schumann’s.
The Piano Sonata in E minor is a full-blown Brahmsian sonata. Mendelssohn’s late-Romantic harmonies reinforce the resemblance. His melodies are memorable and developed logically in a standard sonata-allegro format.
Mendelssohn wasn’t entirely satisfied with his sonatina and second piano sonata. They remained unpublished at the time of his death. Listening to them now, I think their fine works. Mendelssohn seemed to be pushing the limits of the forms. At the same time, the harmonies sound sparser and perhaps more taciturn.
Mendelssohn may not have liked these pieces, but I do.
Pianist Elzbieta Sternlicht has a solid foundation in the repertoire of the early 20th Century. She’s also recorded three albums of Fanny Mendelssohn-Hensel’s piano music. Her performances hear bring out the late-Romantic nature of Mendelssohn’s music.
I especially enjoyed her performance of the two sonatas. Sternlicht brought out the underlying structure of the works, giving the motifs the context they needed.
If you like Mendelssohn (Fanny or Felix), Schumann, or Brahms, you’ll hear a kindred spirit in these works.
Arnold Mendelssohn: Complete Piano Music
Elzbieta Sternlicht, piano
Hanssler Classics HC17088
2 CD Set