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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

This is All Things Considered from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel. 2009 finds us awash in bicentennials. We celebrate the accomplishments 200 years ago of Mrs. Lincoln, Mrs. Darwin, Mrs. Poe, Mrs. Tennyson. And 200 years ago next Tuesday, Leah Solomon Mendelssohn gave birth in Hamburg, Germany to baby Felix, who grew up to be one of the foremost composers of the 19th century.

(Soundbite of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto performed by Anne-Sophie Mutter)

SIEGEL: Mendelssohn was a child prodigy, and he was a traditionalist. In addition to this Violin Concerto, he wrote incidental music to Shakespeare's "Midsummer Night's Dream," which gave us the wedding march. He wrote the Italian symphony, and he was also instrumental in reviving the music of Johann Sebastian Bach.

Mendelssohn's life also foreshadowed the tragic end of Germany Jewry. His grandfather had been the leading philosopher of the German-Jewish enlightenment. His parents converted to Christianity and yet, no less an anti-Semite than Richard Wagner seized upon his music as proving the aesthetic limitations of the Jews. Mendelssohn's reputation suffered in his native land, and his music was later banned by the Nazis.

This recording is from a new CD by Anne-Sophie Mutter, the violinist, which includes two chamber pieces as well. And Anne-Sophie Mutter stopped by today to talk to us. Hi, ya.

Ms. ANNE-SOPHIE MUTTER (Violinist): Hi.

SIEGEL: How involved in Mendelssohn are you this year?

Ms. MUTTER: More than ever. And it has obviously to do with the big birthday. For me, it's a very exciting moment in my artistic life because I've rediscovered Mendelssohn. I haven't played his Violin Concerto for more than a decade, and by reading more about Felix Mendelssohn, by finding out what an incredibly broadminded, cultivated human being he was, how he had shaped the culture in Germany. Not only that, as you mentioned earlier on, he was the one who resurrected Bach's music, 80 years after Bach's death. He founded the music school in Leipzig, because he knew that music is for everybody, not only for the very well-to-do.

SIEGEL: Well, when you returned to your piece...

Ms. MUTTER: Yes.

SIEGEL: Like, in this case, the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto after some years...

Ms. MUTTER: Quite a while, yeah.

SIEGEL: And after having studied a good deal about Mendelssohn in between…

Ms. MUTTER: Yep.

SIEGEL: Is there a difference in the way you play it? Are there things in this recording that you would point to and say, I feel that differently, I relate to that part of the music differently than I did when I was younger?

Ms. MUTTER: Mendelssohn was the Sturm and Drang composer of his time. When he uses tempo markings, for example, you can see this kind of forward-moving musical gesture, but also the inner impatience, the youthful passion. I think that inner heartbeat, which never allows the music to stand still, which gives it a fluidity and a kind of impatience.

SIEGEL: I'm just curious because, I mean when I listen to you perform or see you perform - and I'm impressed by the virtuosity of your performance, you've mastered the music - to you, is there a different dimension to the way you play the piece now, say than when you were younger or…

Ms. MUTTER: I mean, I loved it when I was 11 as much, as you can love music when you are 11 years old.

SIEGEL: How much can you love music when you're 11 years old?

Ms. MUTTER: Oh, with all your heart, but I guess your heart gets larger with life. Hopefully, you are a more sensitive and sensible musician, and I would say I'm willing to really be even more risk-taking in making music these days than 30 years ago, just because I know so much more about the composers' lives. And either you throw yourself totally into the music, or, you know, you should go into another profession.

SIEGEL: So, this Sturm und Drang quality...

Ms. MUTTER: Yup.

SIEGEL: Of Mendelssohn you talked about - now in your life, you're willing to go with it, to say, I'm in there.

Ms. MUTTER: Absolutely. Yeah.

SIEGEL: It may be over the top, but I'm over the top with him.

Ms. MUTTER: (Lauging) Probably, yeah.

(Soundbite of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto performed by Anne-Sophie Mutter)

SIEGEL: You get very deeply involved in the composers whom you play.

Ms. MUTTER: Yup.

SIEGEL: And we talked to you not too long ago about Mozart, when you recorded all the Mozart sonatas. As a non-musician, I'm always curious, how - really, how important that is to you that is, could you just as easily go to the music, read it, play it, and could somebody who didn't know if this was written by Vivaldi or Aaron Copland…

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIEGEL: Just as easily play the piece because they're virtuoso performers?

Ms. MUTTER: You know, being a virtuoso performer has never appealed to me. Music is more than just showing off your skills, you know. For me, it has a deep message, it has a message, you know, from soul to soul, and therefore, Mendelssohn is one of the very unique composers who are able to couple the virtuosity with the soul of the music.

SIEGEL: In addition to the Violin Concerto, your recording includes Mendelssohn's Trio for Violin, Cello, and Piano, which you perform with Lynn Harrell on cello and Andre Previn on piano.

Ms. MUTTER: Yup.

SIEGEL: And then this Sonata…

Ms. MUTTER: Yup.

SIEGEL: Which you performed with Previn.

(Soundbite of Mendelssohn's Violin Sonata in F performed by Anne-Sophie Mutter and Andre Previn)

SIEGEL: What do you feel about this piece?

Ms. MUTTER: Oh, it's so gorgeous, you know. I just love it. It's such wonderful music. I mean, doesn't it make you smile. I can see you opposite me (Laughing) looking totally happy.

SIEGEL: Yes. So, in celebrating Mendelssohn, we're celebrating classicism and…

Ms. MUTTER: A great man.

SIEGEL: Restraint and great humanism.

Ms. MUTTER: Yes. I think the last is even more important, because I've always been interested in artists who, in an ideal world, are not only great performers or great composers, but great humanists.

SIEGEL: Well, Anne-Sophie Mutter, thank you very much for talking with us.

Ms. MUTTER: Great pleasure.

SIEGEL: You can listen to excerpts from Annie-Sophie Mutter's new Mendelssohn recording at our Web site at nprmusic.org. You're listening to All Things Considered from NPR News.

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