Mendelssohn – The Fair Melusine Overture (Die Schöne Melusine), Op. 32 – Allegro con moto

by Max Derrickson

Felix Mendelssohn     (b Hamburg, February 3, 1809; Leipzig, November 4, 1847)


The Fair Melusine Overture (Die Schöne Melusine), Op. 32 – Allegro con moto


The legend of the half-mermaid, Melusine, appears to date back over nearly twelve centuries.  The arrestingly beautiful Melusine, born of a mortal father and water sprite mother, is cursed to take the form of a serpent from her waist down (a mermaid) one day each week.  This was done by her mother, furious with Melusine for entombing her father in a mountain for his mistreatment of her mother.  Some years later Melusine is proposed to by a man of nobility.  As did her mother years before, she agrees to marriage but with the one condition that she maintain absolute privacy on her “serpent day” of secrecy.  Great happiness envelopes the two lovers, until the inevitable day arrives when the condition is broken.  Upon being discovered she is doomed to remain in her mermaid form for eternity.


Goethe set the famous legend as part of a novel in 1807, and shortly thereafter the distinguished Austrian playwright, Franz Grillprazer, set Goethe’s rendition for the stage.  From that, Grillprazer wrote a libretto and approached Beethoven to write the rest of the opera, The Fair Melusine.  Eventually, Beethoven denied the project,    [. . .]


The Overture follows the legend only in the barest of ways, depicting general impressions of the story through musical themes.  The opening theme, with its delightfully cascading, arpeggiated clarinet motive certainly represents the gracefulness of Melusine, the beautiful mermaid, in water.     [. . .]