If claims could be made for a certain composer to have invented a genre single-handedly, Felix Mendelssohn would be a strong candidate with his ‘Songs without Words’. The term itself can be traced back to 1828, and a letter in which Fanny Mendelssohn mention having received a ‘song without words’ as a birthday present from her brother. Although Mendelssohn continued an existing tradition of writing short lyrical pieces for the piano, the concept of ‘wordless songs’ was new, and indeed the great majority of the Lieder ohne Worte display some sort of song-like structure (melody in the upper voice, an accompaniment that is predominantly chordal or arpeggiated, ABA-form). Immediately popular with a wide audience, and soon a staple ingredient in domestic music-making all over Europe, the Lieder ohne Worte were also highly regarded by fellow composers, who imitated the style of Mendelssohn’s pieces, and sometimes adopted his title for them as well. One such admirer was Robert Schumann, who was captivated by the ‘Duett’ (Op. 38, No. 6), hearing in it: ‘lovers… conversing quietly, intimately and confidently’. (The piece was in fact written for Cécile Jeanrenaud, who would later become Mendelssohn’s wife.) Gathered on this disc are the first four books of the eight published collections of Lieder ohne Worte (two of which appeared posthumously) and an appendix consisting of five individual pieces which Mendelssohn never included in any collection but which nevertheless belong to the genre. One of today’s leading exponents on the fortepiano, Ronald Brautigam has released complete sets of the piano music by Mozart and Haydn, and is currently recording a highly regarded series of the solo piano works by Beethoven. For the present disc he has chosen to play on a replica by the renowned maker Paul McNulty of a Pleyel instrument built in 1830, and thus contemporary with the music performed on it.
after an instrument by Pleyel 1830