Elijah's arrival led later composers to try to copy Mendelssohn's success with Biblical oratorios of their own, but their attempts stand out mostly as examples of the simpering excesses of Victorian slush. The saccharine efforts lacked the skill, power, and conviction of Elijah, and now languish in well-deserved obscurity. But Elijah holds the listener's ear with its music and its meaning.
Elijah tells the story of the stern prophet who called the misbehaving people of Israel to repentance, and who clung to his resolve through a world of troubles until he was carried by a whirlwind into heaven as a reward. The subject enabled Mendelssohn to write a work that combined his ancestral Judaism with his own Lutheranism and to attempt to build a bridge from the Old Covenant to the New. You can explore how Mendelssohn achieved his inspiring goal in this complete orchestral score from Dover. The usual caveats for Dover's reprints of out-of-copyright editions prevail: the scores are not the most up-to-date, they usually lack English translations, and, because they're full scores, you will not be able to plunk them down on the music stand in front of the average organist and expect her to play it with any ease. That said, the scores are a tremendous bargain for anyone--students, professional musicians, amateur music lovers--with the urge to study a complete score of a fascinating work.
One of the last works of German composer Felix Mendelssohn (1809–1847), the oratorio Elijah was first performed at England's Birmingham Festival in August 1846. Elated by the audience's response, Mendelssohn wrote jubilantly to his brother: "Not less than four choruses and four airs were encored." Audiences still respond enthusiastically to this splendid oratorio. A century and a half later, Elijah is one of the most frequently performed of all choral works, a favorite of audiences everywhere.
In the Old Testament, the story is told of how the Prophet Elijah vindicates the religion of the Israelites against the nature-worship of Baal. Mendelssohn imagined Elijah as "strong, zealous and, yes, even bad-tempered, angry and brooding…yet borne aloft as if on angels' wings." His conception of Elijah comes immediately and vividly to life in an inspired series of solo and choral passages filled with compelling drama and rich musical symbolism. Elijah is reprinted here from the definitive German edition, with the text in both German and English.