Felix Mendelssohn

Elijah (Elias), oratorio, Op. 70

    Description by Michael Rodman

    The immediate success of Elijah (1846) may in some way be regarded as inevitable, given the confluence of elements central to Mendelssohn's being as a composer: his cultish following in Victorian England, his lyric and dramatic gifts, his devotion to the genius of Bach and to his own ideals of religious music. The Mozartian fluency that was usual in Mendelssohn's compositional process gave way during the creation of Elijah to constant, extensive reworkings of the musical materials as he divined the possibilities of the biblical texts. After nearly ten years of intermittent collaboration with librettist Julius Schubring, an invitation sent to Mendelssohn in June 1845 from the committee of England's Birmingham Festival provided the composer with the necessary impetus to have the project completed in time for a premiere there in August of the following year. The long-anticipated first performance was prepared amid great ceremony. After two full rehearsals in London, the entire contingent of performers, numbering nearly 400, was bundled onto two chartered trains which ran to the festival site. The performance met every expectation as an unqualified triumph.

    In a brief but dramatically crucial introduction, Mendelssohn sets the stage for the remainder of the work: the prophet Elijah foretells of the drought which is to plague the people of Israel. Later, the terrified cries of the people to the idol Baal are repeatedly greeted with stunningly bleak, Godless silences. This skillful use of the ensemble in the illustration of the text is again evident in the chorus "Thanks Be to God," which ends the first section. Here the drought is relieved amid surging arpeggios in the strings, while the bright, kinetic sonorities of the brass and the chorus suggest the deliverance and spiritual triumph of the people. The operatic analogies which might be drawn from Elijah extend even to Mozart. The terzetto for women's voices "O Lift Thine Eyes," for example, at once evokes the spirit of the Three Ladies from The Magic Flute. In what is perhaps the oratorio's most famous aria, "It is Enough," an almost Baroque gravity predominates, heightened by the darkly scored sarabande rhythm that underpins Elijah's desolate plea. In the expertly crafted passages that abound in fugal writing and four-part chorales, Mendelssohn again acknowledges his lifelong debt to the music of Bach. The composer's own gift of song is evident in several of the arias; "If with All Your Hearts" demonstrates a particular expansiveness. In choruses such as "He, Watching over Israel," the effect resembles nothing so much as a lied set for the entire chorus.

    After the work's premiere, Mendelssohn made extensive changes to the score, noting, "I am right not to rest till such work is as good as it is in my power to make it; even though very few people care to hear about such things, or notice them, and even though they take very much time; yet the impression such passages, if really better, produce in themselves and on the whole work, is such a different one, that I feel I cannot leave them as they now stand." He did not, in fact, allow the publication of the score until the revisions were complete. It is this final version which remains not only Mendelssohn's last completed work of this scope, but perhaps also the work that best reveals those elements -- steadfast religious faith, an affinity with his musical forebearers, and an unerring dramatic sense -- which remained central during the relatively brief but prodigious span of his career.

    Parts/Movements

    1. Introduction
    2. Overture
    3. Help, Lord!... The deep affords no water
    4. Lord! bow Thine ear
    5. Ye people, rend your hearts
    6. If with all your hearts
    7. Yet doth the Lord see it not
    8. Eilijah! get thee hence
    9. For He shall give his angels
    10. Now Cherith's brook is dried up
    11. What have I to do with thee?
    12. Blessed are the men that fear Him
    13. As God the Lord,
    14. Baal, we cry to thee
    15. Call him louder... Hear our cry
    16. Call him louder... Hear the answer, Baal!
    17. Lord God of Abraham
    18. Cast thy burden upon the Lord
    19. O Thou, who makest Thine angels spirits
    20. Is not his word like a fire?
    21. Woe onto them
    22. O man of God... O Lord, Thou hast overthrown
    23. Thanks be to God!
    24. Hear ye, Israel
    25. Be not afraid
    26. The Lord hath exalted thee
    27. Woe to him
    28. Man of God
    29. It is enough
    30. See, now he sleepeth
    31. Lift thine eyes
    32. He, watching over Israel
    33. Arise, Elijah
    34. O rest in the Lord
    35. He that shall endure to the end
    36. Night falleth round me
    37. Behold! God the Lord passeth by!
    38. Above Him stood the Seraphim
    39. Go, returm upon thy way!... I go on my way
    40. For the mountains shall depart
    41. Then did Elijah
    42. Then shall the righteous shine forth
    43. Behold, God hath sent Elijah
    44. But the Lord... O come everyone that thristeth
    45. And then shall your light break forth

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2016 Troubadisc TROCD 01445
    2016 Accentus ACC 30356
    2014 Andromeda ANDRCD 5155
    2014 Chandos CHAN 24148
    2013 Hänssler Classic 098017
    2013 Carus CARUS 83021
    2012 Profil - Edition Günter Hänssler PH 12034
    2012 Warner Classics 2564569391
    2012 Signum Classics SIGCD 300
    2011 Profil / Profil - Edition Günter Hänssler PH 07019
    2011 MDG 6021656
    2011 Indianapolis Symphonic Choir
    2011 Indianapolis Symphonic Choir
    2010 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099945609
    2010 Warner Classics
    2010 Naxos 8.572228-29
    2009 Haenssler 98537
    2009 Warner Classics 4692699
    2009 Sony Music Entertainment 88697420722
    2009 Brilliant Classics 93888
    2008 Carus 83215
    2008 Brilliant Classics 93672
    2007 Elatus
    2006 K&K Verlagsanstalt 78
    2006 EMI Music Distribution / Warner Classics 0946350884
    2005 EMI Music Distribution / Warner Classics 7243586257
    2005 Divine Art 27802
    2004 Document 220759
    2004 Brilliant 92393
    2003 Arte Nova 43324
    2003 Brilliant 99953
    2003 EMI Music Distribution 575975
    2002 Golden Music 40058
    2001 EMI Music Distribution 56475
    1999 Haenssler 98928
    1999 Philips 420106
    1997 London 455688
    1996 EMI Music Distribution 68938
    1996 Forlane 16734/35
    1995 Telarc Distribution 80389
    1995 EMI Music Distribution 568601-2
    1995 Harmonia Mundi 901463
    1993 Philips 438 368-2PM2
    1993 Teldec 73131
    1992 Philips 432984
    1989 Chandos 8774/5
    ABC Classics 4763769
    Brilliant 99953/1-2