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 / Performer Label / Catalog # AllMusic Rating
    2018
    Hänssler Classic
    HC 17082
    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
    MDG
    6021656
    2011
    Profil / Profil - Edition Günter Hänssler
    PH 07019
    2011
    Indianapolis Symphonic Choir
    2011
    Indianapolis Symphonic Choir
    2010
    EMI Classics / Warner Classics
    5099945609
    2010
    Warner Classics
    2010
    Naxos
    8.572228-29
    2009
    Various Artists
    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
    2006
    EMI Classics
    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
    Philips
    420106
    1999
    Haenssler
    98928
    1997
    London
    455688
    1996
    EMI Music Distribution
    68938
    1995
    Harmonia Mundi
    901463
    1995
    Telarc Distribution
    80389
    1995
    EMI Music Distribution
    568601-2
    1993
    Philips
    438 368-2PM2
    1993
    Teldec
    73131
    1992
    Philips
    432984
    1989
    Chandos
    8774/5
    ABC Classics
    4763769
    Brilliant
    99953/1-2