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Christopher Hodgwood on Felix Mendelssohn & The Authenticity of Genius


For the enlightenment, advancement, and inspiration of its members


Proudly presents

With the kind permission of
Gresham College (founded 1597)

A filmed talks in which

Professor Christopher Hogwood CBE

Explores & Demonstrates (!)

The Authentic Genius of
Felix Mendelssohn

Date: Monday April 25, 2011

Venue: Home of Prodos & Barboo, 153 Lennox Street, Richmond


6.30 PM: Doors Open. Microwave activated.

Food: Delicious, healthy, microwave meals from Lite N Easy!

Menu: Honey Soy Chicken … Crumbed Fillet of Fish … Apricot Chicken with Rice … Roast Lamb with Vegetables … Braised Asian Lamb Shanks … Crumbed Chicken Breast … Tandoori Chicken … Roast Beef.

All meals at one-off special price of just $10 (all money raised will be used to purchase a new microwave)

7.30 PM: Commencement of Films + Chaired discussion.

Who: Only registered PRODOS Film Study Group members and guests of members allowed. You can apply to join on the night. To join you need to agree with our purpose and pay the $5 annual fee.

Policy: Leaving straight after a film and therefore skipping the discussion goes against one of the conditions upon which our permission to screen these films is based.

9.30 PM: End of meeting.

Cost: No charge. But if you’d like to make a personal donation to Prodos that’s greatly appreciated. (But please NEVER miss out just because you’re short of cash. We want you with us!)


Brief Description:

Although Mozart is the usual example of genius that springs to mind (a combination of youth and perfection), in this (filmed talk) Felix Mendelssohn is proposed as a more precocious example of the same qualities, with an even greater range of abilities (painting and languages in addition to both composing and performing).

As a test case Professor Hodgwood will examine Mendelssohn’s Octet for Strings, Op. 20, written at the age of sixteen and performed for this lecture by players from the Royal Academy of Music.

Excerpt from the talk …

… it is useful to consider what we mean when dealing with inspired prodigy or genius composers or performers.

We might ask ourselves whether, to be a genius, you have to be precocious, for instance.

… Does a genius have to be novel? They certainly have to be not totally indebted to people who came before.

Does a prodigy have to be young? Do they not only have to be innovative, but also early on in their career? Are you looking for breadth in a genius or depth? Can they be terrifically good at one thing and one thing only? Do they even have to be young?

Einstein does not stand out in most people’s minds as a young face, but a rather older face with wild hair.

Do you have to be polite? I would say, with Rambeau, Beethoven or Van Gogh that you do not have to be sophisticated and civilised if you have that passport of genius behind you.

You do, I think, have to innovate. You have to surprise people probably more than once in order to get this credit, and you actually have to achieve something.

You cannot go around saying “I am a prodigy”, without giving some fairly continuous evidence of this.

In music, the obvious one with whom I imagine everybody expect me to deal would be Mozart, but this has been done to death! You could ask for a lecture on Saint-Saens who was quite extraordinary, Schubert or even Korngold who was writing symphonies aged three. This output has to be sustained, and I think it has to be somebody that we recognise nowadays from mainstream repertoire.

So my candidate for today, as you see, is Mendelssohn.

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  1. Colonel Neville

    Dear Prodos:
    One of my ancestors knew Mendelssohn. Hymie Mendelssohn, the fruiterer. He was renowed for his bananas and symphonies for ukelele, tin drums and bagpipes.

    Of course you spoke of this once, P.J O’Rourke on Adam Smith: “Smith’s genius, O’Rourke maintains, was for understanding what produced wealth (self-interest) and what didn’t (protectionist tariffs and tight government controls). And Smith was bright enough and humble enough to also know what economists couldn’t know: how to make wealth.”

    Clearly then, I am not a genius, though I may be a fruiterer, if I had the latin. No, really. Colonel Neville.

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  2. Margaret

    Thank you for that beautiful example of Mendlessoln’s music. What a great way to start the day! I think he is a wonderful choice to explore as a person of genius. Sorry, but I cannot attend tonight, but wish I could.

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  3. Barboo

    He wrote that piece at the age of 16? Brilliant! I can hardly wait for tonight!

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