Elias (Mendelssohn)

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Manuscript of Mendelssohn's Oratorio 'Elijah'.jpg

Elias op. 70 ( MWV A 25 ) is an oratorio by Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy about the story of the biblical prophet Elias . After the subject had occupied Mendelssohn for ten years, the work was premiered on August 26, 1846 at the Birmingham Triennial Music Festival in Birmingham . To this day, it is one of the composer's best-known works.


Elias gave Mendelssohn Bartholdy the opportunity to compose “very thick, strong, full choirs” (letter of February 18, 1837 to Karl Klingemann ); this also with regard to the strengthened singing clubs, which often comprised hundreds of singers. The choir takes part in the action as the people of Israel, the Baal priesthood or the choir of the Seraphim. The orchestra consists of 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, 1 ophicleide (today often played by a bass tuba), timpani and strings (1st and 2nd violins, violas, cellos and double basses); Organ.

The oratorio provides the following solo roles:

  • Elias - bass
  • The widow - soprano
  • Obadjah - tenor
  • Ahab - tenor
  • The queen - alt

In addition, a large number of solo parts (up to eight in a double quartet) and a boy's voice are required .


As early as 1836 Mendelssohn read his friend Ferdinand Hiller “with a moving voice” the passage The Lord went past from the Elias story in the 1st Book of Kings ( 1 Kings 19.11-13  EU ) (in the final version of the oratorio No. 34 ). He found the passage "wonderful for an oratorio". Mendelssohn was fascinated by the figure of Elias and wanted such a prophet for his own time, "strong, zealous, also probably angry and angry and dark" (from a letter to Schubring, 1838). Mendelssohn's first explicit announcement that he was planning to set the Elias material to music can be found in a letter he wrote to his childhood friend Karl Klingemann in 1837 .

In the summer of the same year, together with Klingemann, he designed a scenario for Elias within two weeks , which Klingemann should have supplemented with his own verses and biblical prose . However, the latter did not respond to Mendelssohn's repeated requests to complete the verses. Therefore, in May 1838, Mendelssohn ended his collaboration with Klingemann and instead turned to the Dessau pastor Julius Schubring , from whom the text on Mendelssohn's Paulus came from.

At first, however, work was suspended until Mendelssohn was invited in June 1845 by the manager of the Birmingham Triennial Music Festival to perform a new oratorio there. However , Mendelssohn only used Schubring's original text, who wanted to interpret the material in the New Testament and insert references to Christ in many parts of the text , that served his own ideas. B. the passage suggested by Schubring Mt 13,43  LUT , which became the basis of No. 39. However, he did not want to "stray too far from the attitude of the (Old Testament) whole" (letter to Schubring, February 3, 1846), but quite naturally designed a Christological outlook that prophesied the coming of the Messiah , not just a simple one Concession to Schubring, but a theological positional statement by the composer of Paul and baptized Christians.

While Mendelssohn's work on the piece was initially characterized by purely artistic and ethical demands, he now had to deliver a work under time pressure that did justice to the framework of the Birmingham Music Festival , which resulted in a profound reworking after the first performance .

The English translation required for the Birmingham performance was provided by William Bartholomew (1793–1867).

In Germany, the premiere took place on November 27, 1846 in the Berlin Singakademie as a benefit performance for the benefit of the Friedrichsstift.

Drama and music

The first part of Elias shows a strong, combative prophet who rebels against the polytheism of the queen in the northern kingdom . B. adhered to the cult of Baal. Elias tried to end this development and turn all Israelites to one God: Yahweh . The focus is therefore on the dispute between polytheism and monolatry . The second part shows a resigned Elijah, tired of life, who only goes back to the people after a time in the desert at the lowest point of his life and experiences a theophany - similar to Moses before and then Jesus Christ. According to Mendelssohn's will, his ascension was supposed to conclude the play. However, Schubring persuaded him to compose an appendix which, with the setting of prophetic references to a coming Messiah (but not explicitly to Christ), still establishes the connection to the New Testament.

Concern for water forms the dramatic arc of tension in the first part of the oratorio. The introductory announcement of a perennial water shortage by the prophet Elias (“So true the Lord”) is underlined by three descending tritoni . In the overture, the orchestra climbs to a mighty crescendo , whereupon the choir begins with a supplication (“Help, Lord!”) And an a cappella recitative (“The depth has dried up!”). After the episode with Elias and the widow of Zarpath (“What have you done to me”) comes the argument with King Ahab and the Baal priests. Their calls: “Baal, hear us!” Are mocked by Elias with “Shout louder!”. The first part is rounded off by the large-scale “rain miracle”, introduced by a dialogue between Elias and a boy watching the sky, until finally a small cloud rises from the sea, causing rushing downpours to cheer the crowd.

The second part begins with the aria “Hear, Israel”, which was originally written for the soprano Jenny Lind . It is less dramatic than the first part, but contains numerous lyrical moments, especially the aria "Es ist noch", in which Elias' desperate weariness with life is expressed. This aria is followed as a calming contrast by the a cappella trio “Hebe your Augen auf” for three female voices, followed by the chorus “See the guardian of Israel”, both from Psalm 121  LUT .

The second part shows the overall bitter defeat of the prophet. The queen incites the people to murder the inconvenient admonisher Elias, who is led by choirs of angels to Mount Horeb in the desert and who experiences the climax of his life as a prophet in the encounter with the invisible God. He goes out again with renewed courage to fight against the worshipers of the gods and at the end of his life drives to heaven in a fiery chariot. The conclusion then heralds the arrival of the Messiah who will continue his ministry.


(in numerical order)

First part

  1. Introduction (“So true the Lord”), overture
  2. Choir and recitative ("Help, Lord!" / "The depth has dried up!")
  3. Duet with choir ("Lord, hear our prayer!")
  4. Recitative ("tear your hearts apart")
  5. Aria ("If you seek me with all your heart")
  6. Chorus ("But the Lord does not see it")
  7. Recitative ("Elias! Go away from here")
  8. Double quartet and recitative ("Because he has commanded his angels" / "Now the brook has dried up too")
  9. Recitative, aria and duet ("What have you done to me")
  10. Choir ("good fortune to him who fears the Lord")
  11. Recitative with choir ("As true as the Lord Zebaoth lives")
  12. Choir ("Baal, hear us!")
  13. Recitative and chorus ("Shout louder! Because he is God!")
  14. Recitative and chorus ("Shout louder! He can't hear you!")
  15. Aria ("Lord God of Abraham")
  16. Quartet ("Throw your cause on the Lord")
  17. Recitative with choir ("You make your servants")
  18. Aria ("Is not the word of the Lord")
  19. Arioso ("Woe to them that they leave me")
  20. Recitative with choir ("Help your people")
  21. Choir ("Thank you, God")

Second part

  1. Aria, recitative and aria ("Hear, Israel, hear the Lord's voice!" / "Thus says the Lord" / "I am your Comforter")
  2. Choir ("don't be afraid")
  3. Recitative with choir ("The Lord has lifted you up")
  4. Choir ("Woe to him, he must die!")
  5. Recitative ("You man of God, let my speech")
  6. Aria ("It's enough")
  7. Recitative ("See, he's sleeping under the juniper")
  8. Trio ("Lift up your eyes to the mountains")
  9. Chorus ("Behold, the guardian of Israel")
  10. Recitative ("You get up, Elias")
  11. Aria ("Be quiet to the Lord")
  12. Choir ("Who persists to the end")
  13. Recitative ("Lord, night is falling around me")
  14. Choir ("The Lord passed by")
  15. Recitative, quartet with choir ("Seraphim stood over him" / "Holy, holy, holy")
  16. Choir and recitative ("Go down again")
  17. Arioso ("Yes, there should be mountains")
  18. Chorus ("And the prophet Elias broke out")
  19. Aria ("Then the righteous will shine")
  20. Recitative ("That is why the prophet Elias was sent")
  21. Choir and quartet ("But someone wakes up from midnight" / "Well, all of you who are thirsty")
  22. Final chorus ("Then your light will be")

The average length of the performance is just over 60 minutes per part.

Impact history

For the first time in the history of music, a special train brought around 300 performers from London to the premiere in Birmingham, the part of Elijah was sung by Joseph Staudigl . The reaction of the audience and critics to the premiere on August 26, 1846 at the Birmingham Music Festival with bassist Henry Phillips in the title role has been consistently positive. After the three and a half hour performance, in which Haydn's oratorio The Creation and parts of Beethoven's Missa solemnis were performed, the audience asked for several encores.

After the premiere, Mendelssohn revised his work. He composed some numbers from scratch, and only revised others. The composer presented the now final version to the English audience between April 16 and 30, 1847 in six concerts in London, Manchester and Birmingham. One of the concerts in London's Exeter Hall was attended by Queen Victoria and her Prince Consort Albert , who granted Mendelssohn an audience and expressed their appreciation by an entry in his libretto. Mendelssohn was celebrated by the English royal court as the "Elijah of the New Art".

In the middle of the same year the work appeared in print and in the German-speaking countries one also began to prepare performances in different places. The first German-language performance took place on August 29, 1847 in Cologne .

For the fall, Mendelssohn planned performances in Berlin and Leipzig that he himself directed, and inquiries from Vienna were also made . But since he suddenly fell ill and died on November 4, 1847 as a result of several strokes , he could no longer hear his work in German himself. His self-planned performances took place in the form of memorial services on November 27, 1847 in Berlin under the direction of Wilhelm Taubert and in Leipzig on February 3, 1848 - the composer's birthday - under the direction of Niels Wilhelm Gade . Even Jenny Lind , the Mendelssohn had originally intended for the part of the widow sang this role only after his death as part of a memorial service in London.

While the work has maintained its popularity in England and America (first performance in New York in 1847) to this day, the recording in Germany was cooler. The more sober public of the early 20th century found the music too romantic . In the period of National Socialism from 1933 , like all of Mendelssohn's works, Elias was also prohibited from performing for anti-Semitic reasons. Even after the Second World War, it was only reluctantly able to re-establish itself in concert business. Today, however, Elias - together with Mendelssohn's Paulus - is once again an integral part of musical life: Due to its gripping scenic drama and rousing choirs, it is particularly popular with amateur ensembles and is even considered by some to be the highlight of Mendelssohn's work.


  • Literature by and about Elias in the catalog of the German National Library
  • Eka Donner: Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy. From the score of a musician's life. Droste, Düsseldorf 1992, ISBN 3-7700-0989-4 . On Elias in particular p. 147 ff.
  • Hans Christoph Worbs: Elias (Elijah) op. 70. In: Hans Gebhard (Hrsg.): Harenbergs Chormusikführer - From the Chamber Choir to the Oratorio. Harenberg, Dortmund 1999, ISBN 3-611-00817-6 , pp. 569-571.
  • Andreas Eichhorn: Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy: Elias. Bärenreiter, Kassel 2005, ISBN 3-7618-1254-X .
  • Klaus Rettinghaus: Julius Schneider and the Berlin premieres of Mendelssohn's oratorios Paulus and Elias. In: Mendelssohn Studies 18 (2013), ISSN  0340-8140 , pp. 199–211.
  • Correspondence between Mendelssohn-Bartholdy and Schubring. Duncker & Humblot, Leipzig 1892 (reprint: Sendet Verlag Wohlwend, Vaduz 2009, ISBN 978-3-253-02821-2 ).
  • Text edition: Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy: Paulus. Elias. Reclam, Ditzingen 2006, ISBN 3-15-018393-6 .

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Karl Klingemann (ed.): Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy's correspondence with Legation Councilor Karl Klingemann in London. GD Baedeker, Essen 1909, p. 211 ( digitized versionhttp: //vorlage_digitalisat.test/1%3D~GB%3D~IA%3Dfelixmendelssohn09mend~MDZ%3D%0A~SZ%3D211~ double-sided%3D~LT%3D~PUR%3D ).
  2. ^ Ferdinand Hiller: Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy: Letters and Memories . DuMont-Schauberg, Cologne 1878, p. 150 ( digitized versionhttp: //vorlage_digitalisat.test/1%3D~GB%3D~IA%3Dfelixmendelssoh00hillgoog~MDZ%3D%0A~SZ%3Dn170~ double-sided%3D~LT%3D~PUR%3D ).
  3. Hans Christoph Worbs: Elias (Elijah) op. 70. In: Hans Gebhard (Hrsg.): Harenbergs Chormusikführer - From the Chamber Choir to the Oratorio. Harenberg, Dortmund 1999, ISBN 3-611-00817-6 , pp. 569-571, here p. 569.
  4. Rante: signals from Berlin . In: Signals from the musical world vol. 5 (1847), no. 50 (December), p. 383 ff. ( Web resource ).
  5. ^ Karl-Heinz Köhler: Mendelssohn . Metzler, Stuttgart and Weimar 1995, ISBN 3-476-01380-4 , pp. 70 .
  6. ^ Armin Koch: Chorales and chorales in the work of Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy . Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen, 2003, ISBN 3-525-27911-6 , p. 104.
  7. Eka Donner: Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy . Droste, Düsseldorf 1992, ISBN 3-7700-0989-4 , p. 147.