This post is part three in a series unpacking classical music inspired by great works of literature. Previous post HERE on Rimsky-Korsakov’s take on the Arabian Nights. Head HERE for our first pass at the great works of Shakespeare.
Our last lesson took a dive into a Shakespeare tragedy, so today we will balance that with a little Shakespeare comedy.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream has a pretty complicated plot and actually reading the entire thing is probably best left to high school or college students. The point of this literature blog series is help children see how music and literature are connected, so all younger children need to know is this: a great playwright wrote a play, and said play was the inspiration for a great composer to write great music. Don’t worry too much about unpacking all the plot points.
Felix Mendelssohn’s relationship with this work has a long and interesting history. As a child, he was afforded a great education, courtesy of his wealthy banker father. And as a result, he was exposed to the works of a popular playwright named William Shakespeare.
At only 16 years old, you know, just for fun, Felix composed a little overture inspired by Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Just because he had some time on his hands and it felt like a fun thing to do. Not for money, not for fame — simply to entertain his parents.
Behold, Felix as a 16-year-old:
No big deal. It’s all fine.
Fast forward 16 years.
By now Mendelssohn was quite a successful composer. The King of Prussia came calling, requesting some music to the same famous play that had inspired teenage Felix. This time he composed a whole slew (that’s a technical term) of tunes to match the story, including this one for the famous wedding scene:
That’s because a few years later, the aforementioned King had a descendant marrying the daughter of this lady. Someone remembered Felix’s Midsummer wedding tune and suggested it be used in the ceremony. Royal trend-setting being what it is, that’s all it took for Felix’s tune to become popularized to this day as a piece of wedding music. It’s most commonly used as a recessional – the joyful music played as a bride and groom exits down the aisle.
Now, for some book pairing options for all ages:
- If you have older students ready to tackle Shakespeare’s full text, head HERE.
- School-age kids can get the story through a beautiful picture book. Try THIS ONE.
- And don’t leave out the preschoolers! They can start to learn about the story through the adventures of my favorite little ballerina. Head HERE.
Enjoy Shakespeare’s famous story paired with Mendelssohn’s famous music!