3rd Symphony Concert 2013/14 //
Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy “St. Paul” Oratorio based on passages of the Holy Scriptures op. 36
In a letter to his friend Eduard Devrient in 1832, Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy wrote: »I’m supposed to write an oratorio for the ›Cäcilienverein‹ … the subject should be Paul the Apostle, in the first part: the stoning of St. Stephan and the persecution, in the second part, the conversion, in the third, the Christian life and preaching and either the martyr’s death or him leaving the congregation.«
This thematic outline apparently inspired the 27-yearold composer to develop an impressive musical work, for which his decision to condense the story into ›only‹ two large parts proved to be of additional benefit. Mendelssohn skilfully combined the Baroque tradition with innovative tendencies; he succeeded in transforming romantic emotional warmth and backward-looking severity of form into a work of a uniquely distinctive acoustic character. As with Bach, whom he esteemed above all others, the recurring choral plays an important role in evoking moments of introspection, and the famous line »Awake, the voice is calling« is repeated several times as the central message of »St. Paul«. This historicised approach may have been confusing for his contemporaries, but for Mendelssohn, it was a matter of veneration!
The narrative power of his music with its finely sketched characters is remarkable – the plain style of the heathens, the incredible breadth of compositional detail in the choirs of the Jews, the dramatic recitative in sharp contrast to the polished lyrical forms. In as much as the choir and soloist narrate the plot, so too does the orchestra with its sometimes delicate chamber-musical flourishes and at other times, gripping ›tutti‹. In the end, the audience experiences »St. Paul« as a work with a completely individual acoustic language – a journey of self-discovery in the form of a romantic oratorio and in the person of an avid Bach apologist.