I just returned from an incredible week at The Eastman School of Music, where a group of us studied, conducted, and sang Mendelssohn’s Elijah with William Weinert and Craig Hella Johnson. Though I had sung the great work before, this institute afforded me the opportunity to examine it on a much deeper level. In doing so, I came to be reminded yet again just what a genius Mendelssohn was and what a wealth of music he left behind from his short time on the earth. Much of his choral music is quite difficult, but in this week’s post I will explore a few of his more accessible works.
First is the well-known “Verleih uns Frieden”. There are many editions out there, including several on public domain sites, so I will not cite any particular one. This piece works so well for so many different kinds of choirs and occasions. Though the opening entrance for the choir is scored for basses only, you could easily have all tenors and basses sing it, and you could do the same for the following passage where just the altos are called for with the sopranos as well. There are only 29 measures of four-part singing, and, while it is not always easy, it is certainly “gettable” and there are great teaching moments where you can focus on intervals, dynamics, and phrase shaping.
The next piece is “Laudate Pueri Dominum”, the second of three motets for women’s chorus that are catalogued as Op. 39. This is an excellent work for teaching independent part-singing to your singers, as much of it is polyphonic. It is also much more “solfeggable” than many pieces from the Romantic era you may find. The vocal ranges are very comfortable for singers from high school to adult, and much can be taught from the piece’s long phrases. Finally, “Laudate Pueri Dominum” is in Latin, which allows for easy vowel placement (and doesn’t stress out your singers like German sometimes can!). As with most of Mendelssohn’s works, there are many great editions of this piece, both published and in the public domain.
Finally, Mendelssohn wrote many collections of short lieder designed for one voice on a part. Many are for four voices, and some are for two. I will highlight two works from such collections, and then I would encourage you to go explore them on your own and find other pieces that might work for your choirs. The first is a set of “Drei Volkslieder” (three folk-songs) from Op. 41 for four voices (SATB). “Entflieh’ mit mir”, “Es fiel ein Reif”, and “Auf ihrem Grab” are delightful pieces that you could easily program as one set. All three are strophic, so there is less musical material to learn (but more text), and the music is as diatonic as would be appropriate for a Romantic-era song. The chromatics are elegant, subtle, and logical, and they do not detract from the accessibility of the piece. There are a couple of published editions of this piece and also several available on public domain sites.
Mendelssohn’s duets for two voices work equally well for a small women’s chorus. Unlike those for four voices, these are accompanied. Appropriate for the season not too far away from us, I will highlight “Herbstlied”, from Op. 63. This lovely duet in 6|8 alternates between harmony in thirds and melodic lines that trade off between voices, encouraging confidence in all singers. While some of the material is repeated, Mendelssohn plays around with the melody just enough to keep singers and listeners on their toes. There are several other Mendelssohn duets that work well for choirs in Op. 11 and Op. 77.
Did I miss a particular Mendelssohn work that you have found to be accessible to your choirs? Please consider sharing in the comments, and, as always, feel free to e-mail me ideas for pieces you would like to see featured in “Music Within Reach” at .
Brandon Moss is a choir director, teacher, and composer/arranger living and working in Central Ohio. He teaches at Central Crossing High School, directs the Chalice Choir at the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Columbus, and serves in leadership roles with the Ohio Choral Directors Association and the Ohio Music Education Association. He is currently working on the Doctor of Musical Arts degree in Conducting at The Ohio State University.