At the age of 11, Mendelssohn completed a Trio, several sonatas, songs, and a cantata. Around the age of 12 or 13 he had already written 12 symphonies for string orchestra (between 1821 and 1823), and at only 17 he became the progenitor of the new genre of the programme overture with A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
The genre that Mendelssohn introduced into musical history, that of the programme overture, preoccupied him throughout his life: he wrote four programme overtures out of a total of ten. These are: ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’, ‘Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage’, ‘The Hebrides Fingal’s Cave)’, and ‘ The Fair Melusine’.
Mendelssohn completed A Midsummer Night’s Dream in one month in June 1826, and according to Robert Schumann the overture marked the beginning of his mature work. Mendelssohn devoted himself to the study of Shakespeare’s works. The focus of his interest became not the love affair but the fairy-tale side of Shakespeare’s comedy: a summer night on June 24th , the Saint John’s Eve, on which, according to legend, the world of fantasy, magic, the magical images of fairies and elves, of King Oberon and Queen Titania is revealed. The same characters appear in the same year, 1826, in the opera Oberon by Carl Maria von Weber.
The music to the comedy A Midsummer Night’s Dream contains an overture and 12 episodes: instrumental and choral, dialogues with orchestral accompaniment. The suite A Midsummer Night’s Dream combines the overture and four symphonic episodes. “Scherzo” is dedicated to the beauty and spaciousness in the world of the elves. This is contrasted with the material human dimension with its attendant life anxieties in the Intermezzo. Nocturne brings balance, emphasizing the transience of the material and the bliss of dreams and dreaming. Of unparalleled brilliance and musical splendour for all time is the ‘Wedding March’.
Mendelssohn presented the music publicly on November 19, 1826, performing it on the piano on 4 hands with his sister. It was premiered for orchestra under the baton of Carl Loewe on 20 February 1827 in Stettin. It was not until 24 June 1829 that Mendelssohn personally conducted the work. In 1843, 17 years after the premiere, Mendelssohn performed the overture again in celebration of King Friedrich-Wilhelm IV’s birthday. The King, who did not shine with any particular insight, then addressed the composer as a sign of kindness, saying: ‘It is a pity that your wonderful music has been wasted on such a silly play’.