Invitation: Department of English Distinguished Lecture Series – ‘“Please me, honey, squeeze me to that Mendelssohn strain” – Visual, Audio, and Multimedia Adaptations of Felix Mendelssohn’s “Spring Song’ by Dr. Monika Hennemann, Cardiff University, UK
|7 Apr 2016|
Felix Mendelssohn’s so-called “Spring Song,” Op. 62 no. 6 is one of the most instantly evocative – and self-consciously trivial – nineteenth-century piano pieces. From its first twice-encored performance in 1843 (given by Mendelssohn himself as a birthday present for his colleague Clara Schumann) the work has gradually become a musical signature of the composer – inspiring many copies, arrangements, and even derangements. A profusion of nineteenth-century editions printed the much-beloved work in unaltered format (except for the occasional addition of a text of greater or lesser sentimentality), but twentieth-century adaptations became looser – almost surreally so. Among numerous arrangements are those for mandolin orchestra, ukulele, and Big Band, besides the inevitable “simplified” version for piano solo. Textual additions became less and less stylistically congruent with the music (“It’s Spring, it’s Spring, and love has made me king.”), but it was not until American composer and lyricist Irving Berlin’s (inaccurate) quotation of the two initial measures in his “Mendelssohn Rag” of 1909 that the song finally became reduced to the emblematic function of this opening. It appears as a musical inscription (above wispy clouds) on a 1984 Mendelssohn postage stamp, on a postcard, in which the composer’s musings on the “Spring Song” take tangible (if predictable) shape as a group of scantily clad fairies – and even in Hitchcock’s Rear Window. This paper traces the price of Mendelssohn’s fame and ongoing popularity through the often distorted iconography of the “Spring Song.” It will be argued that the work’s twentieth-century adaptation history fundamentally, and harmfully, influenced the popular image of Mendelssohn – that of an approachable, elegant, but effete and ultimately second-rate composer.
Dr Monika Hennemann is a cultural historian, linguist and musicologist with strong multidisciplinary interests, especially in relation to intercultural transfers and multimedia adaptations in the German- and English- speaking world from the nineteenth century onwards. She was educated at Gutenberg Universität, Mainz (Germany), and at the Florida State University (US). Her teaching career began at the latter institution. She subsequently held posts at the University of Rhode Island (US), University of Cincinnati (US), and Birmingham University (UK) before taking up her present position at Cardiff University (UK), where she is currently Head of the Department of German and Lecturer in German and Translation Studies, as well as Co-Director of the Centre for Interdisciplinary Research into Opera and Drama (CIRO).
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