Elijah Op.70
Felix Mendelssohn

287

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The first of Mendelssohn's 5 entries in the Ultimate Hall of Fame. This has appeared in the Hall of Fame 14 times but hasn't managed to climb higher than its debut position of 180 in 1996.

Mendelssohn was evidently bursting to write his glorious oratorio Elijah quite some time before he actually composed the music. Soon after the premiere of his first oratorio, St. Paul, in 1836, his thoughts turned to the subject of this Old Testament prophet a person who intrigued the young Mendelssohn and who would, he thought, be a perfect musical subject. Frustratingly, though, no librettist could be convinced of this. So, the work remained on the back-burner for a good ten years, during which time Mendelssohn cracked on with writing his Piano Concerto No. 2 instead.

In the end, the composer penned most of the libretto himself, spurred on by a commission from the Birmingham Festival to write an oratorio for performance in the city in 1846. It was very much the Messiah of its day: a hugely popular work that absolutely cemented Mendelssohn's position as one of the greatest composers of sacred music.

Prophet Elijah in the Desert by Dirk Bouts (c.1465).