Fair Melusina Overture

Felix Mendelssohn

Fair Melusina Overture in E major

Op. 32

About this work

A medieval French romance, first recorded in 1387 by Jean d'Arras, tells of a water sprite, or mermaid, named Melusine (in English, Melusina). She is able to render her fishy bottom half human for several days at a time to go about on land. She is able to marry Count Raymond of Poitiers, but only on the condition that he never see her on Saturdays, as that's when she must resume her mermaid form. Eventually, of course, Raymond does spy on her one Saturday, with dire results according to a few versions of the story. However, most versions are, so to speak, watered down. Mendelssohn was captivated by the tale and wrote a concert overture on the subject. The music does not narrate a specific sequence of events, but, like Tchaikovsky's later Romeo and Juliet, simply evokes certain characters and situations from the story. The first section employs a gracefully burbling theme introduced by clarinets, suggesting Melusine and her natural environment. There soon follows a long, turbulent passage relating to the storm and stress of life among humans, which subsides into a less strenuous melody under which the rhythm of the more violent section remains. That rhythm, incidentally, is derived from the fluid, watery figure in the overture's opening bars. Mendelssohn subjects all this material to a substantial development. The final section returns to the gentler music of the opening, which gradually slows, thins, and trickles away.