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The Lonely Island: Mendelssohn's Hebrides Overture

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The Lonely Island

Inspiration can be found in the strangest of places, amongst the strangest of things. In 1829, Felix Mendelssohn was inspired by a great cavern, rich with Scottish mythology. While sailing through the Hebrides Islands off the coast of Scotland, he saw the famed Fingal's Cave and was so moved by its beauty that he jotted down a full orchestration that became the beginning of one of his most famous works, The Hebrides Overture. Originally titled, The Lonely Island, this masterpiece has become a staple in today's orchestral repertoire.

Felix Mendelssohn was born on February 3rd, 1809, in Hamburg, Germany. His father was Abraham Mendelssohn, who was a wealthy banker. Abraham was the son of Jewish rabbi and philosopher Moses Mendelssohn. As a Jewish philosopher, Moses discouraged Jews from turning away from their religion in order to make social gains. This, however, did not stop Abraham and his wife, Leah Salomon, from baptizing their four children as Lutherans, and ultimately converting to Lutheranism themselves. At the time of their conversion, the family added the surname Bartholdy and relocated to Berlin. Felix had three siblings: Fanny, Rebekah, and Paul.

At a young age, Felix began to show signs of virtuosity, excelling on the piano and the violin. Despite this, Abraham thought that Fanny, who was a very gifted pianist, would be the most musical of his children. In her life, she became well known as an amateur pianist and composer, but because of the view of the time that women could not be professional musicians, she remained an amateur. It was Felix who became legendary. He studied the works of Beethoven, Bach, Handel, and Mozart, and had his own private orchestra to play the pieces he composed. Before he was 14, Felix had written 12 symphonies for string orchestra. At 15, he had written his first symphony for full orchestra. He wrote one of his most well known pieces, A Midsummer Nights Dream, based off of Shakespeare's play, at the age of 17. A year later, his opera, Die Hochzeit des Camacho was debuted. This performance, however, was a failure and consequently the only time it was to be performed during his lifetime.

Mendelssohn was a man who not only excelled at performing music. He could speak several different languages and was a prolific composer and conductor. As a conductor, he helped to revive interest in the classic composers, such as Mozart, Bach, and Beethoven. In 1829, he conducted St. Matthews Passion, a piece written by Bach for solo voice, choir, and orchestra. This was the first time the piece had been performed since Bach's death in 1750. This performance was successful and helped bring about a revival of the classics. Mendelssohn was also a gifted artist, writer, and critic. In March of 1837, Mendelssohn married Cecile Jeanrenaud. Together, they had five children: Carl, Marie, Paul, Felix, and Lilli.

The mythological druidic man named Fingal has been the source for many great literary works, and according to legend, is responsible for creating many natural phenomena. It is said that he created the Giant's Causeway and the Isle of Man. The great basaltic cavern on the island of Staffa in the Hebrides is named after Fingal. The cave is roughly 275 feet deep and 75 feet high. The walls are made of hexagonally shaped pillars of basalt, giving it the appearance of a dark and giant organ. Fingal's Cave is a sea cave. Sea caves are formed when the beating winds and waves tear away at a weak spot in the rock. In this case, the weak spot was a fissure, left behind from ancient lava flows, which also explains why the rock is in columns.

Mendelssohn visited Fingal's Cave in the summer of 1829. As was the custom with most rich young men, Mendelssohn toured through Europe, seeing all the sights and visiting all the places. He was so inspired by the beauty and awe of the cave, that he sketched the first 20 bars of what would become the Hebrides Overture and sent them off in a letter to his sister, Fanny Mendelssohn. This overture depicts the crashing of waves and the swelling and stirring of the ocean as he saw it. Mendelssohn finished the piece on December 16, 1830 and was revised on June 20, 1832. When he finished

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