“The fine Providence Singers dispatched [the Esperanto text] on lovely rivers of pentatonic melody”
The Boston Globe
15 November 2009
(Harrison La Koro Sutro)
Verleih’ uns Frieden
Hear My Prayer
“What this little man can do in extemporizing and playing at sight borders the miraculous, and I could not have believed it possible at so early an age.”
— Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
(to Carl Friedrich Zelter, Mendelssohn’s teacher, comparing young Felix to the 7-year-old Mozart, whom Goethe had heard in performance. This may be the first confirmed comparison.)
Comparisons to Mozart were inevitable. Mendelssohn began his musical studies at age 6, had his first public performance at age 9, had his first composition (a piano quartet) published at age 13, wrote his first symphony for full orchestra at 15. He also died young, at 38.
Mendelssohn grew up in a family that thrived on cultural and intellectual life and attracted a great range of scientists, artists, authors, philosophers and others to the Mendelssohn home. He and his older sister Fanny showed early talent and received formal musical training in Paris, Berlin and elsewhere in performance and composition. (Fanny became a well-known pianist, though a career in music was not considered proper for a woman. Some of her compositions first appeared under her brother’s name.)
Early in his career, Mendelssohn became well-known both for his compositions and as a conductor. When he was 20, he led a revival the music of J.S. Bach, conducting an acclaimed performance of the St. Matthew Passion in Berlin in 1829 — the first performance of the work since Bach’s death in 1750. Four years later, he did the same for G.F. Handel, leading a performance of Israel in Egypt in Düsseldorf, which revived German interest in Handel’s music.
Like Handel, Mendelssohn found appreciative audiences and a strong following in Britain. He made 10 extended visits during his lifetime. He met and performed for Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, playing a Beethoven piano concerto and conducting his own Scottish Symphony. His oratorio Elijah had its world premiere in Birmingham, using an English translation by William Bartholomew. Bartholomew was a frequent translator and librettist when Mendelssohn was in Britain or working with an English text and prepared the text for Hear My Prayer. Mendelssohn was also an editor, preparing Handel’s oratorios and some of Bach’s organ music for publication.
Mendelssohn’s music was well-regarded and enthusiastically received, although some critics considered him conventionally Romantic and not as inventive as contemporaries like Berlioz or Wagner. His symphonies, chamber music, oratorios, and other works, however, continue to be performed, and many — including “O for the Wings of a Dove” from Hear My Prayer — are standard works in the repertoire of soloists and arts organizations.
Verleih’ Uns Frieden (1831)
Text by Martin Luther
Verleih uns Frieden gnädiglich,
Herr Gott, zu unsern Zeiten.
Es ist doch ja kein andrer nicht,
der für uns könnte streiten,
denn du, unser Gott, alleine.
Mercifully grant us peace,
Lord God, in our time.
There is none other
Who can struggle for us
But you alone, our God.
Hear My Prayer (1844)
English text by William Bartholomew, adapted from Psalm 55
Hear my prayer, O God, incline thine ear
Thyself from my petition do not hide.
Take heed to me! Hear how in prayer I mourn to Thee!
Without Thee, all is dark. I have no guide.
The enemy shouteth, the godless come fast!
Iniquity, hatred upon me they cast!
The wicked oppress me! Ah, where shall I fly?
Perplexed and bewildered, O God, hear my cry!
My heart is sorely pained within my breast,
My soul with deathly terror is oppressed.
Trembling and fearfulness upon me fall,
With horror overwhelmed, Lord, hear my call!
Oh for the wings of a dove!
Far away, far away would I rove.
In the wilderness build me a nest
And remain there forever at rest.