Song Without Words (Op. 19b, No. 1)


Mendelssohn published his first set of six Songs Without Words, Op. 19b, in 1832 at the age of 24. They were published together with six ordinary lieder (Op. 19a), in other words, songs with words, as if to underscore the young composer’s transformation of a vocal work into a new kind of piece for solo piano. These pieces were extremely popular with both professional musicians and cultivated amateurs, prompting Mendelssohn to eventually publish seven more collections of Songs Without Words, each containing six pieces.

The first of these 48 pieces, in the warm key of E major, is also one of the loveliest. The singing melody in the right hand is balanced by an equally melodic bass line, creating a duet between the outer parts. The phrasing is supple and occasionally irregular, with phrase extensions and connections helping to build long, arching lines. The harmony, shared between the hands in a rippling accompaniment of continuous sixteenth notes, contains numerous subtleties and some unexpected turns. Its technical demands are modest, making it an enjoyable and relatively quick study for pianists at the early advanced level.

This edition features two reduced scores - one of the outer voices by themselves, another of the harmony blocked in solid chords - followed by the full score, with suggestions on how to practise it. The reduced scores allow you to begin your work on this piece by hearing it as a whole before working on the details. They help to create an expressive understanding of the music from the beginning, so that all your subsequent practising will be guided by this understanding. Finally, the reductions can help you to memorise the piece if you so wish.

Resources and further reading

  • For a complete, downloadable version of this walkthrough, please see From the Ground Up Edition (Click here if you already own it or click here to purchase it)
  • Click here to view open domain editions for this work (external link).
  • Click here to view introduction to the From the Ground Up series and an index of featured works.
  • Click here to view Skeleton Practice series which serves as background reading with further information on concepts and the approach featured in From the Ground Up.

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