Of Mendelssohn, Midsummer Magic and Mushrooms

MendelssohnTHE VERY WORD MIDSUMMER conjures up that youthful overture, which Mendelssohn composed 190 years ago at the age of 17. Yes, without doubt it was – and still is – a masterpiece of magic, wonderment and enchantment, that evokes the fairy world of Shakespeare’s play with the most exquisite delicacy.

The Overture, Op. 21, written in 1826 is also noted for its striking instrumental effects, such as the emulation of scampering ‘fairy feet’ at the beginning. Indeed, contemporary music scholar George Grove called it “the greatest marvel of early maturity that the world has ever seen in music”.  Notably, its first British performance was conducted by Mendelssohn himself, three years later on 24 June 1829, at the Argyll Rooms in London.

  • Let’s listen to his Overture here for a few minutes of your time, while I still have your attention: Midsummer Night’s Dream. It’s performed here by the Moscow City Orchestra “Russian Philharmonic” and conducted by Michail Jurowski.

But where do “mushrooms” figure in this enigmatic post? Well, this is also the time of year – at least where I sit in Englewood, New Jersey, in the aftermath of a warm and humid day – when, if one’s lucky, you may chance upon one of Nature’s miracles: a fairy ring, also known as a fairy circle, elf circle, elf ring or pixie ring. People once believed that mushrooms growing in a circle followed the path made by fairies dancing in a ring.

A Fairy Ring is found in open grassy places and in forests. For the uninitiated, that is a naturally occurring ring or arc of mushrooms. The ring occupies a prominent place in European folklore as the location of gateways into the elfin kingdom, or places where elves gather and dance.

Below is a Fairy Ring I photographed virtually in my own backyard not so long ago:

fairy ringPhoto: Azim Mayadas

I love mushrooms as a culinary delight, but I do know the difference between an edible one and a poisonous toadstool – yikes! – when out foraging.

shakespeare3It was Shakespeare who wrote the comedy, A Midsummer Night’s Dream between 1590 and 1597. It portrays the events surrounding the marriage of Theseus, the Duke of Athens, to Hippolyta. These include the adventures of four young Athenian lovers and a group of six amateur actors who are controlled and manipulated by the fairies who inhabit the forest in which most of the play is set.

Who would, in this day and age, refute the wisdom of his insight, when all around us we are witnesses to the ever-changing world of make-believe, except that fact is stranger than fiction. I’m sure you’ll agree!

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Copyright © 2016 Azim Lewis Mayadas

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