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Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy


Incidental music to Sophocles’s tragedy



MDR KLASSIK Vol. 2      CD MDR 1202











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Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy 1809-1847
Incidental music to Sophocles’s Tragedy op. 55 for spoken roles, bass solo, two men’s Choruses and orchestra
(Text adapted by Gerhard Löbling from the translation of Johann Jakob Donner)

01  Introduction. Andante maestoso – Allegro assai appassionato  4:42
02  Declamation »Ismene, traute Schwester« (Antigone, Ismene)  3:18
03  Lautsprechersymbol-klein-1 No. 1  Maestoso »Strahl des Helios« (Chöre, Chorführer)  6:48
04  Declamation »Ihr Männer, fest hob Götterhuld« (Kreon, Wächter)  4:03
05  No. 2  Andante con moto »Vieles Gewaltige lebt« (Chöre)  5:16
06  Declamation »Dich frag’ ich denn« (Antigone, Kreon)  2:19
07  No. 2a  Andante »Dort naht vom Tor« (Chorführer)  0:30
08  Declamation »Auf, sage mir« (Antigone, Ismene, Kreon)  1:24
09  No. 3  Moderato »Ihr Seligen, deren Geschicke« (Chöre; Chorsoli)  7:04
10  Declamation »Mein Sohn, dem Vater nahst du« (Kreon, Haemon)  2:32
11  Lautsprechersymbol-klein-1 No. 4 Adagio non troppo »O Eros, Allsieger im Kampf« (Chöre, Chorsoli, Antigone)  11:54
12  No. 5 Recitativo »Noch toset des Sturmes Gewalt« (Kreon, Antigone, Chöre)  5:07
13  Declamation »Ihr Fürsten Thebä’s« (Kreon, Teiresias)  5:28
14  No. 6 Allegro maestoso »Vielnamiger,Wonn’ und Stolz« (Chöre; Chorsoli)  4:45
15  Declamation »Ihr, die ihr Kadmos’ und Amphions Haus« (Bote)  0:57
16  No. 7 Andante alla marcia »Hier kommt er ja selbst« (Kreon, Diener, Chöre)  13:25
Total time: 79:58

Direction | HOWARD ARMAN


ANNE BERG | Ismene
NIKOLAUS OKONKWO | Guard | Servant

Chorus soloists


TORSTEN FISCHER | Dialogue production

JUN MÄRKL | Conductor

Published by Breitkopf & Härtel

Live recording of the 4th MDR Matinee Concert in the main auditorium of the New Gewandhaus on January 11, 2009
Editor | Gerhard Löbling
Producer | MDR FIGARO, Dr. Michael Oehme
Technials recording supervision | Robert Baldowski
Artistic recording supervision | Klaus Mücke
Booklet in Deutsch & English

Booklet-Autor: Thomas Frenzel
Executiv Producer: Dr. Steffen Lieberwirth
LC 29357


No. 1  Maestoso »Strahl des Helios« (Choire, Chorus leader) 






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The semi-staged performance of “Antigone” at the New Gewandhaus in Leipzig
with MDR SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA and MDR RADIO CHOIR [Men]. Conductor: Jun Märkl.
Left front sitting: Anne Berg (Ismene), prostrated: Anna Franziska Srna (Antigone) and Simon Zigah (Hämon), right next: Dominique Horwitz (Kreon)
Organ loft Choir (men), sitting at the organ: Tilo Prückner left (Teiresias) and Nikolaus Okonkwo (guard and servant)
© Foto aus dem Booklet – MDR-Christiane Höhne


Mendelssohn’s incidental music

In 2009 vol. 1 of our »MDR KLASSIK« CD series presented the recording of a concert of Mendelssohn’s incidental music to Athalia.
We would now like to present Mendelssohn’s incidental music to the drama Antigone.
Like the first, this live recording was made to mark the 200th birthday of Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy in 2009. The intention of Mitteldeutscher rundfunk and its Symphony Orchestra and Choir was to draw attention to his all too seldom performed incidental music.


Woman in mourning robe approaching a mausoleum after Sophocles’s Antigone
The oil painting by Anselm Feuerbach (1829-1880) was done to mark the death of Felix Mendelssohn in 1847

Setting Sophocles’s tragedy to music was a fairly easy matter for Mendelssohn, his perfect knowledge of Ancient Greek making strict adherence to the classical metres no compositional obstacle for him. He enthusiastically wrote to his friend the historian Johann Gustav droysen in 1841:
»The mood and verse rhythms are so truly musical throughout that I do not need to consider the individual words and only have to set those moods and rhythms to music; then the chorus is ready.«

Our recording is based on a text version which impressively elucidates Mendelssohn’s approach to the dramatic genre.
It was derived from Johann Jakob Christian donner’s translations of Sophocles by Gerhard Löbling, dramatic producer of the MDR Concerts and initiator of the concert.
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 sin- gers 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


From childhood upward

Apart from the ubiquitous incidental music to Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy’s stage works are not very well known and are certainly not among the works with which the composer’s life’s work is immediately associated. Yet Mendelssohn began to involve himself with various forms of incidental music in his childhood, when his family established the tradition of organizing musical and theatrical performances at their home to mark holidays and family birthdays, to which both he and his sister Fanny made their own contributions. All through his life, Mendelssohn composed operas, singspiels and incidental music, the latter works not only pandering to the prevailing great popularity of the genre, but also constituting solidly crafted and tasteful pieces that are fully developed in the artistic sense.


In the name of the King


»Friedrich Wilhelm IV. in seinem Arbeitskabinett«, 1846
Friedrich Wilhelm IV., war König von Preußen von 1840 bis bis zu seinem Tod 1861
Ölgemälde von Franz Krüger (1797 – 1857)

After having completed a few works commissioned by the düsseldorf and Leipzig theatres, in the eighteen-forties – against a special historical background – he produced several works of this kind for the King of Prussia.
Friedrich Wilhelm IV, the »romantic on the royal throne«, had been crowned in 1840 and at once assembled a number of important artists around himself, among them the Brothers Grimm, Friedrich
rückert and Ludwig Tieck.
Tieck, who was almost seventy when he was summoned to leave dresden and become reader to the Prussian King, had for a long time been known for his readings, which included the recitation of Greek tragedies.
When Friedrich Wilhelm decided to stage an authentically performed classical drama in the German language for the first time at the Neues Palais in Potsdam, it was only logical to entrust the experienced Tieck with directing the project.



»David d’Angers modelliert die Büste Ludwig Tiecks in Gegenwart seiner Ehefrau Dorothea Tieck, Graf Baudissin, Baron Stackelberg, Carl Gustav Carus und des Malers Carl Christian Vogel von Vogelstein, Dresden 1834
Ölgemälde von Carl Christian Vogel von Vogelstein (1788 – 1868)

The poet decided first of all to produce Sophocles’s Antigone in the recently published translation by Johann Jakob Christian Donner and secured the co-operation of the Berlin classical scholar August Boeckh who, as a connoisseur of Greek theatre, was altogether aware that one decisive element of ancient stage practice could no longer be reconstructed: the music. They thought of Mendelssohn; not only had the famous composer just received the King’s offer of the musical direction at the newly reorganized Berlin Academy of the Arts, but by virtue of his extraordinary education in languages, culture and ancient history he further commended himself for the task of providing such an ambitious project with appropriate music for the stage.

Although the actual composition of the overture and the seven numbers – corresponding with the drama’s seven choral songs, which alternate with the same number of spoken scenes – was complete in a relatively short space of time, it was “not without strict examination” that Mendelssohn applied himself to the task.
He had at once given up his original intention to use in the orchestra only instruments which might have been known to the ancient Greeks and to write the choruses as recitatives throughout, realizing that such an extremely authentic approach could leave the entire project open to ridicule.
He decided instead to set the text “as people express themselves in speech and song nowadays”. 



“… with the rather clumsy text”

All Mendelssohn’s preparations were reported in detail by his long-standing friend, the actor and singer Eduard Devrient, who recited the texts “with full stage expression” before the composer set them to music and who played the role of Haemon in early performances.

After completing the work, Mendelssohn wrote to the historian Johann Gustav Droysen in Kiel, another friend from his youth:
I have of course had trouble with the rather clumsy text; but the mood and verse rhythms are so truly musical throughout that I do not need to consider the individual words and only have to set those moods and rhythms to music; then the chorus is ready. Even today, I could wish for no richer task than that of rendering the diverse chorus moods: victory and daybreak, quiet contemplation, melancholy, love, lament, Bacchus song and serious warning at the end – what more could the likes of us want!



The plot


Antigone mit einem Salbungsgefäß menem dem toten Polyneikes
Nach dem Ölgemälde von Edmund Kanoldt (1845 – 1904)
Abdruck in »Die Gartenlaube«, Leipzig 1885

 The “chorus moods” named in the letter exactly correspond with the sequence of the vocal settings in the incidental music, in which the chorus comments on the progress of the action:

The antagonists of the drama are Antigone, daughter of Oedipus, and her uncle Creon, ruler of Thebes; driven by their excesses and lack of compromise, they both inevitably head for disaster.
Creon triggers the conflict when he forbids the burial of Antigone’s brother Polyneices, who died in an attempt to conquer Thebes. Antigone defies the decree and the incensed Creon sentences her to death; the laws of love between siblings and of obedience to the gods are at odds with the politics of a cruel regime.
The die is cast: Antigone goes to her death unbowed and voluntarily, followed by her lover Haemon, Creon’s son.
The king’s wife also chooses death when the news of the tragic events reaches her.
Creon, having refused to withdraw his decree in spite of warnings from his seer Teiresias, is left behind, a moral outlaw who has hardened his heart against the will of the gods and the standards of moral behaviour.

Mendelssohn’s music contains echoes of Greek colour in accordance with contemporary notions. There are, for example, the male voice chorus (the Attic stage was reserved for men) and the intensive use of harp and flutes, regarded as typical instruments of antiquity. When strophe and antistrophe follow one another, the four-part chorus splits into two, the chorus leader taking recitatives and declamatory solos. In particular, the slow Introduction, Antigone’s lament in the Allegro moderato of  Lautsprechersymbol-klein-1no. 4 and Creon’s entry in the Andante alla marcia of no. 7 are markedly archaic in character.




The Premiere

The first performance of Antigone with Mendelssohn’s incidental music took place before invited guests in Potsdam on October 28, 1841 and was an unexpectedly great success.
I have so far met only with admiration; now, however, the scholars are sure to come along and tell me how I would have had to compose if I had been a Berliner“, wrote the composer the next day to the Leipzig publisher Friedrich Kistner, who would publish the piano score of the work in 1843.
The scholars did indeed come, as well as the deriders, who in numerous parodies caricatured the general passion for Hellenism that was rampant in Prussia and elsewhere.
The caustic note in Friedrich Hebbel’s diary maintaining that Mendelssohn’s music was suited to Sophocles “as a waltz to a sermon” was however the exception rather than the rule, and before long the work was acclaimed in large and small concert halls, while the composer was already giving attention to his next commissions for the theatre of Friedrich Wilhelm IV: Oedipus at Colonos, also after Sophocles, Athalia, after the biblical tragedy by Jean-Baptiste Racine and Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, for which only a concert overture had hitherto existed.

Thomas Frenzel
© Texte aus dem Booklet



The first edition

Titelvignette für die Erstausgabe von Mendelssohns »Antigone«-Partitur, gezeichnet von Julius Hübner (1806 – 1882) für den Leipziger Musikverlag Fr. Kistner & C.F.W. Siegel & Co. K G.

Title page for the first edition of Mendelssohn’s score to Antigone, by Julius Huebner (1806-1882) for the Leipzig music publisher Fr. Kistner & C.F.W. Siegel & Co. KG.

Felix Mendelssohn asked none other than the Dresden painter and Director of the city’s Royal Academy of Arts, Professor Julius Hübner, to provide a frontispiece for the first edition of his Antigone score.
Hübner was well known in arts circles, especially as he had designed the decorative curtain of the Semper Opera House in Dresden.
Mendelssohn’s enthusiasm on first viewing Hübner’s Antigone illustration is clear from the letter he wrote to the artist:
… And I really do not know where to start, my dear Hübner, in expressing to you my gratitude and to say how honoured I am that you have shown me such benevolence; indeed, more generosity than I am worthy of. As I was walking last week through Leipzig, I met Kistner, who was over the moon; he came at 10 o’clock in the evening to the garden of the house in which I was residing, carrying the illustration of Antigone between two boards, and talked about it distractedly. Yet after all I had dared to expect, I was most surprised and happy; for I had truly not expected such a beautiful, rich picture as this, and I can tell you that the matter of publication of the score, which I have so far approached with a measure of reluctance, will now be a duty from which I shall draw the greatest delight and enjoyment. The public will no doubt feel the same. The motif is lovely and its execution equally lovely! It is so very typical of Julius Hübner! Allow me to send you, across this distance that separates us, a hearty handshake and to thank you a thousand times over.” …

The success of this title page for Antigone persuaded the composer to commission a second work from Hübner: the design of the small Bach memorial located in Leipzig between Georgiring and St Thomas’s church, which Mendelssohn paid for.



Libretto zur Schauspielmusik der “Antigone”-Tragödie von Sophokles

download_pdf_buttonTexteinrichtung von Gerhard Löbling
nach der Übersetzung von Johann Jakob Christian Donner 





Photo-impressions from the “Antigone” rehearsal






 »Mit einem regelrechten Paukenschlag betritt der MDR den CD-Markt«,
schreibt die in Luxemburg publizierte und international renommierte Musikzeitschrift »Pizzicato” in ihrer Novemberausgabe 2012:
»Jun Märkl und seine MDR-Ensembles sind unbestreitbar hervorragende Sachverwalter des Mendelssohnschen Erbes.«

 Kurz nach ihrer Veröffentlichung wurden die CD-Einspielungen unter die zehn besten Neuerscheinungen gesetzt (Pizzicato’s Supersonic Awards).





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