German birthday cake

By EMILY PARKHURST  |  March 25, 2009

While the story of Elijah contains a fair amount of drama, the original premiere of the work had its own. Mendelssohn was a German composer and, as such, composed the work in German. However, when he was commissioned by the Birmingham Festival to compose an oratorio, he had the libretto translated into English at the last minute. The English librettist was working right through the eve of the performance. The work was premiered in England in English, an unusual circumstance for a German composer. It was was well received there, and has endured as a very popular work in English-speaking countries since then.

"Mendelssohn was a deeply educated person. He was in this circle of artists, philosophers, and pastors. To have this man-about-town who also composed 300 to 400 works in his free time and was a successful conductor is amazing. I am fascinated by how erudite he was and how well-connected at the same time," says Russell.

Emily Parkhurst can be reached at

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