Symphony No.5, The Reformation by Felix Mendelssohn (1830)

Watercolor by Felix Mendelssohn

Felix Mendelssohn

I know perfectly well that no musician can make his thoughts or talents different to what Heaven has made them; but I also know that if Heaven has given him good ones, he must also be able to develop them properly.

Some people make it look easy.  While many masterpieces are the result of the painful toil of an anguished artist, there are others seem to produce greatness with little invested suffering.  Felix Mendelssohn was such a man.

As Terry Glaspey explains in 75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know :

When one considers musical prodigies, one cannot but think of Mozart, who is always celebrated for his youthful gifts, but Mendelssohn’s compositions at age sixteen show even more musical maturity than those of Mozart at a similar age. The string octet he composed at that young age is considered one of the masterpieces of chamber music. And his stirring Overture to a Midsummer Night’s Dream (1826), written just a year later, is a piece that still brings a smile to audiences who hear it performed, a veritable bubbling cauldron of joyousness.

Among Mendelssohn’s gifts as a composer was his ability to bring a youthful exuberance to almost every piece he wrote, works filled with energy, invention, and lovely melodies. He was a student of the great composers who had preceded him—Handel, Mozart, Beethoven, and especially Bach. He was responsible for a great revival of interest in Bach’s music after he arranged and conducted a performance of St. Matthew’s Passion, a work that had not been performed in public since Bach’s death in 1750. Mendelssohn knew the piece so well that when he mounted the podium to conduct and found that the wrong music had been placed there, he was able to conduct the entire piece from memory, turning the pages of the incorrect score so as not to raise concern among his musicians! But along with his knowledge and devotion to the classical heritage, he also felt the influence of the budding Romantic movement and injected its lush sensibility into the classic forms forged by his heroes, which makes him a sort of bridge between the two musical eras.

There is a lightness, sweetness, and joy to Mendelssohn’s work that reflects the pleasure and serenity he found in his life. This has caused many to wonder if he would have produced even greater music if his life had involved more struggles. But isn’t there a place in music for the expression of happiness and contentment.

Does the production of great art require struggle?

John 1: 1-5

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

D I G  D E E P E R

Felix Mendelssohn


Felix Mendelssohn

(1809–47). The composer, pianist, and conductor Felix Mendelssohn was a pivotal figure of 19th-century romanticism. He was also a major force in the revival of the music of Johann Sebastian Bach.

Jakob Ludwig Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy was born in Hamburg, Germany, on Feb. 3, 1809, a grandson of the philosopher Moses Mendelssohn. During his boyhood young Mendelssohn wrote many compositions, and he appeared as a pianist in 1818. By 1827 he had composed an overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream, his first mature work.

Mendelssohn conducted Bach’s St. Matthew Passion in Berlin in 1829, an event that marked a revival in the performance of Bach’s vocal music. That year he was in London, where he conducted his Symphony in C Minor, and a visit to Scotland inspired the Hebrides Overture. This was the first of ten trips to Great Britain, where he established his main reputation and became a favorite of Queen Victoria.

In 1833 Mendelssohn became music director in Düsseldorf, Germany, where he introduced the masses of Beethoven and Cherubini and the cantatas of Bach. Two years later he was appointed conductor of the Gewandhaus Orchestra in Leipzig, soon making it the most prestigious symphonic organization in Germany. In 1843 he founded the Leipzig Conservatory, where he and Robert Schumann taught composition. After the sudden death of his sister Fanny in May 1847, Mendelssohn’s health rapidly deteriorated, and he died in Leipzig on November 4.

Mendelssohn’s output was considerable, especially considering his short lifetime. Works include the Scottish, Italian, and Reformation symphonies; two piano concerti and one for violin; the oratorios St. Paul and Elijah (Hymn of Praise is considered a symphony-cantata); chamber music; piano music, including 48 Songs Without Words; many songs; and organ pieces.

Sources and Resources

“Mendelssohn, Felix,” Compton’s Encyclopedia (Chicago, IL: Compton’s Encyclopedia, 2015).

Lagomarsino, Tom. “Felix Mendelssohn.” Christian Reformed Ink Archives (blog). March 15, 2011.

Wenborn, Neil. Mendelssohn: His Life and Music. New York: Naxos Books, 2008.

Terry Glaspey, 75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know: The Fascinating Stories behind Great Works of Art, Literature, Music, and Film (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2015).


Terry Glaspey


Terry Glaspey

I’m really looking forward to discussing my book, “75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know,” with the members of Literary Life Book Club. I can’t wait to hear your thoughts and perspectives on some of the art, music, and literature you’ll discover in the book. I’m interested in how it speaks to you in your life and the ways it inspires, challenges, or maybe even annoys you! I’ll try to share some “deleted scenes” stuff I had to leave out and will tell a few stories about what I experienced while doing the writing and research. Hope that many of you can join us as we look at he stories behind some truly wonderful art.

Let’s explore together!


Join the discussion with Terry on Facebook HERE

Terry Glaspey is a writer, an editor, a creative mentor, and someone who finds various forms of art—painting, films, novels, poetry, and music—to be some of the places where he most deeply connects with God.

He has a master’s degree in history from the University of Oregon (Go Ducks!), as well as undergraduate degrees emphasizing counseling and pastoral studies.

He has written over a dozen books, including 75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know:  Fascinating Stories Behind Great Art, Music, Literature, and Film, Not a Tame Lion: The Spiritual Legacy of C.S. Lewis, The Prayers of Jane Austen, 25 Keys to Life-Changing Prayer, Bible Basics for Everyone, and others.

Terry enjoys writing and speaking about a variety of topics including creativity and spirituality, the artistic heritage of the Christian faith, the writing of C.S. Lewis, and creative approaches to apologetics.

He serves on the board of directors of the Society to Explore and Record Church History and is listed in Who’s Who in America Terry has been the recipient of a number of awards, including a distinguished alumni award and the Advanced Speakers and Writers Editor of the Year award.

Terry has two daughters and lives in Eugene, Oregon.

Dig Deeper at


Some of the greatest painters, musicians, architects, writers, filmmakers, and poets have taken their inspiration from their faith and impacted millions of people with their stunning creations. Now readers can discover the stories behind seventy-five of these masterpieces and the artists who created them. From the art of the Roman catacombs to Rembrandt to Makoto Fujimura; from Gregorian Chant to Bach to U2; from John Bunyan and John Donne to Flannery O’Connor and Frederick Buechner; this book unveils the rich and varied artistic heritage left by believers who were masters at their craft.

Terry Glaspey, 75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know: The Fascinating Stories behind Great Works of Art, Literature, Music, and Film (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2015).

Order it HERE today.

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Rick Wilcox

Editor in Chief | Literary Life