At this time of heightened tension in Eastern Europe and the Mideast, I felt it was time to hold ones breath collectively around the world and allow better senses to prevail and gain prominence in the minds of men and women of all faiths – if not today, if not tomorrow, then certainly in the very near future.
Pope Francis will be traveling from the Vatican to visit the United States come September before heading to Cuba and elsewhere. The Holy Father has already made great strides around the world in striking the correct humane and pragmatic balance in his approach to the Israel-Palestine standoff, and has in addition been instrumental in gaining the rapprochement between us and the island just south of us. It’s taken many decades to clear the air of distrust, but as always it requires someone with a certain charisma, a certain clarity of mind and a deep innate conviction in what is right to bring it off.
In that context, and as a lifelong musician, I decided to devote this posting to a Jewish-born composer, whose family turned to Christianity when he was quite young, and who transformed the Classical Music world with his enduring works that live on today everywhere – Felix Mendelssohn!
[b. February 3, 1809 in Hamburg-d. November 4, 1847 in Leipzig]
His grandfather, Moses, a distinguished philosopher, and his father, Abraham, a successful banker were both of the Jewish faith. But during Felix’s boyhood in Hamburg, he and his immediate family converted to Christianity. On that occasion, Abraham added the name Bartholdy to distinguish himself and his family from the other Mendelssohns who had remained true to their Jewish faith.
190 years ago, in 1825, the Mendelssohn family moved to Berlin, and a theater was built in the garden of its spacious quarters where Sunday morning musicales were held. At one of them, the 17-year old Felix introduced – in a two-piano version – his first masterwork, the Overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The rest is history: Many memorable milestones in his short 38 years of life on this planet followed, including his revival of Bach’s music throughout the world; his visit to England where he – as a foreign musician – soon became as venerated as Handel and was elected Honorary Member of the Royal Philharmonic; and back in his homeland in 1835 he was appointed at the age of only 26 as principal conductor of the Gewandhaus Orchestra in Leipzig. That wasn’t all! In 1843 he helped found the Leipzig Conservatory with an outstanding faculty that included Robert Schumann and Ignaz Moscheles.
Amidst all that hectic activity, which ultimately sapped his physical and mental health, Felix wrote some of the most heartfelt melodic works encompassing many musical forms. For me, my favorite among many others has been Hear My Prayer that has two distinct parts – one exhortative, the other plangent. The words are all given below, and I sincerely hope they suit my current purpose, especially those in italics, of getting the pithy and persuasive message across to the leaders of all nations in conflict – among themselves and with us in America. May the dove of peace prevail!
“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?
Perplex’d and bewilder’d, O God, hear my cry!
My heart is sorely pained, within my breast,
my soul with deathly terror is oppress’d,
trembling and fearfulness upon me fall,
with horror overwhelmed, Lord, hear me call,
O for the wings, 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.”
35 years ago, my wife Lolita and I were in England and listened raptly to the Choir of New College in Oxford, England. Its singing of Mendelssohn’s Hear My Prayer left an indelible impression on us—both musicians. You may follow the score of the composer’s work along with the inspired singing by clicking the YouTube hotlink below. The clip is in two parts, so if you want to listen to the portion in italics, O for the wings, you’ll need to select it separately when the first part – ‘Hear my prayer’ – comes to an end.
Copyright © 2015 Azim Lewis Mayadas