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Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy


Incidential music for the play by Jean Racine op. 74














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Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy 1809 – 1847
»ATHALIA« Incidental music for the play by Jean Racine op. 74
(with spoken interludes by Eduard Devrient) for two sopranos, two altos, narrator, Chorus and orchestra

01 Overture 8:15
02 Declamation: »Ein Vorgang ist’s aus heiligen Geschichten« 2:24
03 No. 1 Allegro maestoso vivace »Herr, durch die ganze Welt« (Sopran I, II; Alt I, II; Chor) 10:23
04 Declamation: »Die reines Herzens sind, sie haben Frieden« 3:12
05 No. 2 Andante quasi Recit. »O seht, welch ein Stern uns erschienen« (Sopran I, II; Alt; Chor) 12:50
Lautsprechersymbol-klein-1 »O wie selig ist das Kind«
06 Declamation: »Verschwunden aber ist nicht die Gefahr« 1:34
07 No. 3 Con moto »Lasst uns dem heil’gen Wort des Höchsten lauschen« (Chor) 0:54
08 Melodrama: »Vernimm o Himmel, Joad, deinen Priester« (Sprecher) 5:05
09 No. 4 Andante con moto »Ist es Glück, ist es Leid« (Sopran I, II; Alt; Chor) 5:00
10 Declamation: »Dem Frieden eine Stätte zu bereiten« 0:22
11 Kriegsmarsch der Priester. Allegro vivace 4:37
12 Declamation: »Hebt eure Augen auf, ihr Söhne Levi!« 1:23
13 No. 5 Allegro maestoso »So geht, ihr Kinder Aarons, geht!« (Sopran I, II; Alt; Chor) 6:03
14 Declamation: »Hört ihr Athalias Trompeten klingen?« 0:34
15 Declamation: »Herein dringt jetzt die Tempelschänderin« 1:18
16 No. 6 Allegro maestoso »Ja, durch die ganze Welt« (Chor) 2:24
CD total time: 66:27

Andreas Hartmann | Leader


Gerd Müller-Lorenz | Rehearsal director

Dominique Horwitz | Narrator
Ruth Ziesak | Soprano
Jana Büchner | Soprano
Antigone Papoulkas | Alto
Anette Wiedemann | Alt (Chorus soloist)

Jun Märkl | Concuctor

Publisher: Breitkopf & Härtel
Recording of the 8th Concert of the MDR series »ZAUBER DER MUSIK« [Magig Of Music] on June 7, 2009 in the New Gewandhaus in Leipzig, Great Hall
Editor: Gerhard Löbling
Producer: Dr. Michael Oehme, MDR FIGARO
Technical recording director: Robert Baldowski | Artistic recording director: Klaus Mücke
Booklet in Deutsch & English
Booklet-Autor: Thomas Frenzel
Executiv Producer: Dr. Steffen Lieberwirth
LC 29357

Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy:
Aus Athalia
Duett Nr. 2 »O wie selig ist das Kind«
Ruth Ziesak und Jana Büchner




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MDR Sinfonieorchester und MDR Rundfunkchor

Performance of »Athalia« with the MDR Leipzig Radio Symphony Orchestra and the MDR Choir in June 2009 in the congress centre in Suhl
© Foto aus dem Booklet – MDR-Christiane Höhne


MDR musicans as global ambassadors of the Mendelssohn Bartholdy legacy

www 01 Mendelssohn

Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy (1809-1847)
Gedruckte Lithographie von J. G. Fritzsche Leipzig
© Repro aus dem Booklet

In 2009 the symphony orchestra and choir of the Mitteldeutscher Rundfunk broadcasting station celebrated the 200th birthday of Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy by bringing to the public’s attention some of the all too seldom performed incidental music by the former kapellmeister of the Leipzig Gewandhaus, composed to support an effort, from 1840 onwards, to revive interest in the classics at the Prussian court.
After the accession of Friedrich Wilhelm IV an attempt was made for a time to transform the Berlin-based military state of Prussia into a cultural state by giving priority – in conscious competition with the activities of the Bavarian »fairy-tale king« Ludwig II – to the fine arts above all else.
In line with these aims, Mendelssohn was encouraged to move to Berlin as GMD and court composer. Following the composer‘s hesitant agreement to the move, at the end of July 1841, he was initially commissioned to compose incidental music for Sophokle’s Antigone (premiered on October 28, 1841). This was followed in 1843 by Athalia (Racine) and A Midsummer Night‘s Dream (Shakespeare). In 1844, when Mendelssohn had turned his back on commitments in Berlin, he did in fact complete another commission to write the incidental music to Oedipus at Colonus, also by Sophocles.
The versions of the play scripts used for this recording demonstrate clearly the way in which Mendelssohn had approached the task of composition by referring to relevant historic sources (Eduard Devrient for Athalia); indeed, some of the scripts were based on the Sophocles translations by Johann Jakob Christian Donner (Antigone and Oedipus) by the MDR‘s Literary Director Gerhard Löbling, the initiator of the concert project.
The Europe-wide transmission of the MDR FIGARO anniversary broadcasts, especially the European Broadcasting Union‘s »Mendelssohn Special Day« programme from Leipzig on February 1, 2009, offered the MDR orchestras and the famous actors and singers contracted expressly for the project an impressive opportunity for artistic exposure.
The reaction to the broadcasts was phenomenal. The majority of the responses received from around the world expressed gratitude for the opportunity to become acquainted with an almost unknown facet of Mendelssohn‘s oeuvre.

Steffen Lieberwirth





»Racine reading his tragedy Athalie for Louis XIV. and Madame de Maintenon«
Oil painting of 1819 by Julie Phlipaut (1780-1834)
From 1685 Racine was »Reader to the Court of Louis XIV«. Madame de Maintenon, the king‘s wife, persuaded him, in 1688 and 1690, to write more plays, and he produced his drama Athalie for performance by pupils at the convent for the nobility and girls‘ boarding school at Saint Cyr.

The french Playwright Racine

www 01 Racine

The French playwright Jean Racine (1639-1699)
Copperplate engraving by George Vertue (1684-1752)

Premiered in 1691 at the court of Louis XIV of France, Jean Racine’s drama Athalie occupied a special place in the theatre of the period.
The playwright, justly acclaimed for his love tragedies based on themes from Greek and Roman history, took a break of twelve years towards the end of his life before turning to biblical themes in two works (the first, Esther, completed in 1689) that broke new ground both in form and content.

Racine‘s clear aim was to present the Almighty as the prime mover in the tragedy‘s shattering events and so awaken true religious feelings in his audience: altogether in keeping with the commonly held general beliefs of his age, his treatment was of unique artistic merit in its psychological penetration of the subjectmatter and the precision of its expression in language.
Athalie thus represents a high point in the portrayal of biblical events in classical French literature.



The Plot

www 01Athalia Tod

The Death of Athaliah

The plot and characters are drawn from the Old Testament accounts in 2 Kings 11 and 2 Chronicles 22 – 23. The kingdoms of Israel and Judah are divided, and Judah‘s apostate queen Athaliah, widow of former king Joram, rules in Jerusalem. All Joram‘s descendants, in the line of David from which the Messiah shall come, have been killed at Athaliah‘s behest – save for Joash, her grandson and potential successor.
He is kept hidden by priests in the temple, where Athaliah finally discovers him, having seen a vision of him in a dream. She questions him and, seeing the threat he represents, demands that he be surrendered to her.
But the high priest Jehoiada, who has secretly nurtured the seven-year-old Joash, frustrates her plans and proclaims the boy as the rightful King, obedient to the law of Jehovah.
Now Athaliah enters the temple again; forewarned of her approach, armed priests and Levites stand ready.
Joash is revealed upon his throne, and finding herself abandoned by her followers, unrepentant Athaliah goes to her death cursing Joash and David‘s line, while the Jews of Judah proclaim their new King.



The crative process of the incidental musice


Friedrich Wilhelm IV. um 1855
King of Prussia
© Repro from Booklet

Mendelssohn‘s incidental music, like his compositions to Sophocles‘s Antigone and Oedipus at Colonus, was prompted by the cultural aspirations of Friedrich Wilhelm IV.
Upon his accession in 1840, the Prussian king had gathered together a circle of leading artists and writers, including the brothers Grimm, Friedrich Rückert and Ludwig Tieck, to stage ancient and classical dramas in new translations while respecting the historical traditions of their performance, for which he envisaged music by Mendelssohn.

The composer had his reservations and carefully weighed the merits of each commission, despite a lifelong love of music for the theatre that went back to singspiels and other early works he and his elder sister Fanny had performed for their family, and the music to Athalia represents the culmination of a whole series of compositions and fragments notably including works for the theatres of Düsseldorf, Leipzig and eventually Berlin and Potsdam.

Friedrich Wilhelm‘s enthusiasm for Classical antiquity was no bar to the staging of Shakespeare and other dramatists at the Prussian court, and indeed Racine‘s play conformed to the norms and practices of Greek tragedy – including a chorus as commentator upon the action – while remaining suitable for the modern theatre.

Mendelssohn was not the first composer to tackle Racine‘s drama: Johann Simon Mayr and Johann Nepomuk Poissl had written complete operas in the 1820s, and there was stage music by François-Adrien Boieldieu and Georg Joseph Vogler and in 1785 by Johann Abraham Peter Schulz.
It was the failure of this last at an 1841 production in Berlin that prompted the Prussian king to commission a new work a year later and take a close interest in its progress until its premiere in 1845.

Given the special situation in Berlin and the composer‘s tendency to self-criticism, the gestation of Athalia was prolonged:
»I have recently done a large work for the private use and at the private commission of the King of Prussia, namely the choruses to Racine‘s Athalia, which I composed in French, for female choir only, but with large orchestra, and which must now be translated into German, to be given privatissime before his Majesty,« as Mendelssohn wrote to his friend Carl Klingemann in June 1843.

The French-language choruses and a melodramatic scene from the third act of the play formed the first version of the work – originally with piano accompaniment, then with full orchestra – and it could have been continued in the same manner had not the king directed the composer to use the German translation by Ernst Raupach, who had previously provided spoken texts for Schulz‘s music and who now translated Mendelssohn‘s choral passages.
However, Raupach‘s verses, to which Friedrich Wilhelm had contributed, clearly did not satisfy Mendelssohn, who eventually prepared his own German translation of the sung texts and took the opportunity for a thorough revision of the music, adding male voices to the choir and writing a closing chorus.

Right up to the premiere, which was postponed several times to Mendelssohn‘s dismay, alterations and additions were constantly being made: whole sections were cut, an overture and a »War March of the Priests« added, the closing chorus repeatedly revised.

The work was only performed twice in Germany in Mendelssohn‘s lifetime, for »His Majesty the King and the Highest Court« in Charlottenburg Palace in December 1845 and for the general public, also at the request of the king and conducted by the composer, at the city theatre in Potsdam in January 1846.
The play and its complete music were next performed at the celebrations in memory of the late composer at the Royal Theatre in December 1847.

Der Sänger, Dichter, Regisseur und Theaterdirektor Eduard Devrient (1801-1877) Stich eines unbekannten Künstlers c Abbildung aus dem Booklet

The singer, writer, director and theatrical manager Dduard Devrient (1801-1877)
Etching by an unknown artist

But the story does not end there. Only two years after Mendelssohn‘s death, Eduard Devrient wrote his »connecting passages for Mendelssohn-Bartholdy‘s music to Athalie« condensing the central features of Racine‘s drama into a coherent narrative that complements the musical numbers.
The posthumous publication as opus 74 by Julius Rietz at Breitkopf & Härtel soon followed, a sign of the continuing interest in the music of Athalia, which received its first Leipzig performance, conducted by Rietz and using Devrient‘s texts, in the Gewandhaus in February 1849.

In contrast to the other music for plays written for the Prussian king by the adult Mendelssohn, includ- ing his music to Shakespeare‘s A Midsummer Night‘s Dream, Athalia (except for the spoken scene with Jehoiada‘s vision) consists entirely of self-contained instrumental and vocal pieces, in which the composer varies his approach to the solo and choral writing. One striking feature, which reflects the contemporary approach to biblical subjects, is the incorporation of two Protestant hymns into the score: no. 2 sets the words »Nur Angst and Weinen, Herr« to the tune of »Ach Gott, vom Himmel sieh darein« and no. 3, the High Priest‘s melodrama, is set to »Vom Himmel hoch, da komm ich her«.
Then there is the leitmotivic use of characteristic phrases, as with the measured opening motif of the overture to herald the passage »Herr, uns zu helfen, erwache« in no. 5. Reviewers were uniformly impressed by the work – both in its original French and concomitant German versions and in the English translation that soon followed early French-language performances in the British Isles – as it increasingly became better known:
»Of beautiful and noble bearing throughout, the music at all times adheres most sincerely to the spirit of the narrative, in that the composer, as in his ‚Antigone‘ and his ‚Oedipus‘, consummately succeeds in applying the resources of the present day to his purposes in the most rational manner.
»The very overture is a characterful and individual piece of music … Likewise the choruses bear a highly original stamp; they frequently show themselves to be of truly poetical beauty and, even when they are accentuated to express passion, always maintain the right balance, so that the splendid music offered the richest enjoyment and as it were formed the communicative element.«

And Friedrich Nietzsche, who was particularly taken by the German version of the tragedy, was of the opinion that these weighty scenes might yet be formed into a veritable oratorio.

Thomas Frenzel
Translation: Janet and Michael Berridge


"Athalia"-Aufführung mit dem MDR SINFONIEORCHESTER und dem MDR RUNDFUNKCHOR im Juni 2009 im Congress Centrum Suhl mit Gerd Müller-Lorenz, Dominique Horwitz, Anette Wiedemann, Antigone Papoulkas, Jana Büchner, Ruth Ziesak und der damalige Chefdirigent Jun Märkl  Foto aus dem Booklet - MDR-Christian Höhne

Performance of »Athalia« by the MDR Leipzig radio Symphony orchestra and the MDR Leipzig radio choir in June 2009 at the congress centre in Suhl
with Gerd Müller-Lorenz, Dominique Horwitz, Annette Wiedemann, Antigone Papoulkas, Jana Büchner, Ruth Ziesak and principal conductor Jun Märkl
© Photo from Booklet – MDR-Christian Höhne



The Plot from »Athalia«

download_pdf_buttonPlay by Jean Racine with interludes by Eduard Devrient







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»Jun Märkl und seine MDR-Ensembles sind unbestreitbar hervorragende Sachverwalter des Mendelssohnschen Erbes.«

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