How did Mendelssohn play the organ?

by Han Leentvaar | Het ORGEL | Year 93 | (1997) | Issue 3

Ewald Kooiman

How did Mendelssohn play the organ?

Het ORGEL 93 (1997), nr. 9, 6-12 [summary]

In order to investigate how Mendelssohn played the organ, the author first describes three ways of gaining information about organ playing in former centuries.

1. One can study the insights and opinions of the teacher of the organist. But a pupil does not necessarily play like his teacher for his entire life. 2. One can try to find testimonies of contemporaries who actually heard the organist play. These testimonies do require a critical approach. 3. A third possibility is to study the context, which means in Mendelssohn’s case the organ methods of his time.

With regard to Mendelssohn the first approach teaches that he certainly came into contact with 18th century techniques via his teacher A.W. Bach. Whether Mendelssohn used these techniques his entire life, we do not know. English sources in particular show that Mendelssohn’s organ playing was very lively and energetic, with a good sense of stop changes. When studying organ methods in Mendelssohn’s time, one has to distinguish between authors who favoured the style galant and those who represent a tradition based on Bach and classical organ playing. On the evidence of Rinck (opus 121) and Werner (Orgelschule) we can assume that Mendelssohn’s fingering was based on older traditions. Johan Schneider’s Orgelschule points out that Mendelssohn mingled the old and the new style.

The fingerings in the Peters edition of Mendelssohn’s Organ Works provide totally misleading information on fingering in Mendelssohn’s days.