A grimly grand example of political musicology (and musicianship): overhearing the profound connections between Wagner and Mendelssohn. Listening to Midsummer Night’s Dream, it should impossible to miss the resemblances to a score of Wagnerian scores, not only in the flickering textures of the opening (which become the “Forest Murmurs” in Siegfried) and the chorale‑like passages which set the stage for Tannhäuser, but more profoundly still in the movement from idea to idea. The art of infinite transition that Wagner rightly praised in himself was learned from Mendelssohn far more directly than from Beethoven or Weber. Is this art or conception of transition “Jewish” or “German”? It belongs to a German tradition of music, true enough—but further refinements along “racial” lines of what “German” means are not just ugly but plain wrong.
The egregious self‑deception that Mendelssohn’s music is substantively (i.e., racially) different from Wagner’s does not make itself audible in performance, however. There is no easy way, and perhaps no way at all, to tell from performances of either composer who does or does not subscribe to this counter‑intuitive idiocy. But that is precisely because the connections are so close. The musicalskills of a good Wagner performance and a good Mendelssohn performance are so intimately intertwined that the constitutive moments cannot be pulled apart. Those who pretend that they can are deluding themselves, listening to their own political attitudes and not music.
(Next time: how differently gendered is Clara Schumann’s music from her husband’s, and her young North German friend’s?)