How did Mendelssohn play Bach?

by Han Leentvaar | Het ORGEL | Year 93 | (1997) | Issue 9


Andreas Sieling

How did Mendelssohn play Bach?

Het ORGEL 93 (1997), nr. 9, 13-20 [summary]

In order to answer the question how Mendelssohn played J.S. Bach’s organ music, the author investigates which organ compositions of Bach Mendelssohn played. Then the author describes two traditions which seem to contradict each other.

A.W. Bach, organist of the Wagner/Buchholz-organ in the Marienkirche and teacher of Mendelssohn dominated the Berlin organ culture in Mendelssohn’s days. Bach’s disposition was relatively traditional. In combination with the nature of the Wagner-organ and other 18th-century Berlin instruments, we have to assume that Mendelssohn played Bach with good articulation and without changing stops. However, testimonies of Otto Dienel (1891), Emil Naumann and Robert Schumann (both contemporaries of Mendelssohn) and Mendelssohn himself (in a letter of 24 October 1828 and in his prefaces to his editions of some organ works by J.S. Bach) make clear that Mendelssohn certainly changed stops while playing Bach’s organ music. One tradition for Mendelssohn did not exclude the other: sometimes he used the older tradition and sometimes he preferred the new one.