Wilhelm Mejo

Variations on “Gaudeamus igitur”

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This original band composition was published by Breitkopf and Härtel in Leipzig in 1844. Wilhelm Mejo was a composer and teacher in Chemnitz, Germany, where in 1833 he founded the Robert Schumann Philharmonic.

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Vari­a­tions on ‘Gaudea­mus igi­tur’
Wil­helm Mejo (1791–1886)
Mod­ern edi­tion by David Whitwell (1937–)

Year: 1824
Instru­men­ta­tion: Con­cert Band
Dura­tion: 12:30
Lev­el: 4

This live per­for­mance was giv­en on March 8, 1991, by the Cal­i­for­nia State Uni­ver­si­ty, North­ridge Wind Ensem­ble, David Whitwell, Con­duc­tor.

Wil­helm Mejo

Vari­a­tions on “Gaudea­mus igi­tur”

This orig­i­nal band com­po­si­tion was pub­lished by Bre­itkopf and Här­tel in Leipzig in 1844. The com­pos­er, Wil­helm Mejo, was a com­pos­er and teacher in Chem­nitz, Ger­many, where in 1833 he found­ed the Robert Schu­mann Phil­har­mon­ic. The suc­cess of this com­po­si­tion result­ed in anoth­er sim­i­lar one, Vari­a­tions sur un Thème favori für Har­moniemusik in F Major, Op. 5, also pub­lished by Bre­itkopf and Här­tel, in 1845. The only sur­viv­ing copy of this score is found in the Thüringis­ches Staat­sarchiv in Rudol­stadt (M. 53).

Gaudea­mus igi­tur (Let us be mer­ry!) is a very old tra­di­tion­al uni­ver­si­ty song in Ger­many and still in use in schools there today. Every­one will rec­og­nize this melody because of its use, as one of four uni­ver­si­ty songs, in the Aca­d­e­m­ic Over­ture by Johannes Brahms. I was once told a fun­ny sto­ry on this sub­ject by Leonard Bern­stein. When he had just grad­u­at­ed from Har­vard as a music major he found him­self with no imme­di­ate job oppor­tu­ni­ties and so he decid­ed to go to the Cur­tis Insti­tute of Music in Philadel­phia to study con­duct­ing with Fritz Rein­er. Rein­er, an old world Hun­gar­i­an mae­stro made the chief admis­sion require­ment the abil­i­ty to read a full orches­tral score at sight on the piano. Accord­ing­ly, he asked Bern­stein to sit at the piano, where on the music stand a large score was already stand­ing open.

Bern­stein, although a fine pianist, had no expe­ri­ence in read­ing a score at the piano, with all the var­i­ous trans­po­si­tions, etc. Fur­ther­more, he had no idea what this score was (it was the Brahms), until he noticed the melody of Gaudea­mus igi­tur, a song which he, as a younger stu­dent, had sung reg­u­lar­ly at the Boston Latin School. So Bern­stein sim­ply began play­ing that song in the ver­sion he remem­bered from his youth and Rein­er, who had gone to his desk to sign some papers, leaped up and cried “Bra­vo! You can be a stu­dent!”

The present band com­po­si­tion was com­posed for and ded­i­cat­ed to “Mr. Guil­laume Barth.” I believe this was Fred­er­ick August Wil­helm Barth, the con­duc­tor of the civic band in Leipzig. It was when in this capac­i­ty that in 1821 the young Wil­helm Wieprecht turned up with a let­ter of rec­om­men­da­tion from the clar­inetist, Hermst­edt. Barth was unable to offer any­thing to Wieprecht in Leipzig, but gave him a let­ter of rec­om­men­da­tion for the court Kapellmeis­ter, Zill­mann, in Dres­den, where he was giv­en a posi­tion.

Barth had com­posed at least two impor­tant band works him­self, one being a Can­ta­ta, Sey ges­gnet stille Mor­gen­sone, Op. 54, in 1839, for Bass solo, three-part mixed cho­rus and wind orches­tra. This score sur­vives, but is in pri­vate hands. The oth­er impor­tant com­po­si­tion of his for band was his Grand Sin­fonie pour instru­ments à vent, Op. 10, in three move­ments, for flutes, oboes, clar­inets, bas­soons, trum­pets, horns, ser­pent and tim­pani. This score was men­tioned sev­er­al times in ear­ly Ger­man lit­er­a­ture, but the sur­viv­ing copy, which had been pub­lished by André in Offen­bach, was lost dur­ing World War II in the bomb­ing of the state library in Darm­stadt.

Barth was a mem­ber of a fam­i­ly of Dan­ish musi­cians work­ing in Ger­many. His father was prob­a­bly Chris­t­ian Fred­erik Barth (1787–1861) who was an oboist in the Roy­al Chapel in Dres­den from 1802 to 1841. The father had arranged a num­ber of operas for Har­moniemusik and a set of Pièces d’Harmonie which had been pub­lished by Hofmeis­ter in Leipzig and sur­vives in one copy in Prague (CS-Pnm, XXI.C.178).

ON PERFORMANCE PRACTICE

The present work, orig­i­nal­ly scored for 3 clar­inets, 1 small clar­inet and 1 small flute in Eb, 2 bas­soons, 3 horns, 3 trom­bones and ser­pent, is quite rare as a mid-nine­teenth cen­tu­ry com­po­si­tion in the old­er Clas­si­cal Peri­od style. The con­duc­tor will recall that after Beethoven there was a dis­tinct divide between those who want­ed to con­tin­ue the old­er style and those who were attract­ed to the new Roman­tic style. These two philoso­phies con­tin­ued side by side and for this rea­son one some­times hears Schu­mann called the “Clas­sic Roman­ti­cist” and Mendelssohn the “Roman­tic Clas­si­cist.” In any case, for teach­ing pur­pos­es, this is a rare large band work in the true ear­li­er Clas­si­cal Style.

There is one place in this com­po­si­tion which deserves atten­tion. There is in this com­po­si­tion an excel­lent exam­ple of a device much talked about in the ear­ly nine­teenth cen­tu­ry, the so-called “Rossi­ni crescen­do,” or some­times “Rossi­ni Rock­et.” This was a very long writ­ten out crescen­do for the pur­pose of draw­ing the atten­tion of the audi­ence to what might come next. It was first used by Gioacchi­no Rossi­ni in his opera, La Pietra del Paragone in 1812. In the present score it is a crescen­do cov­er­ing 28 mea­sures, begin­ning in mea­sure 359 with a mark­ing of “pp” and con­clud­ing in mea­sure 387 with a mark­ing of “ff.” Dur­ing the course of these bars the com­pos­er writes “cresc. poco a poco” and in mea­sure 371 a “mf.” It has been my expe­ri­ence in these cas­es not to have the per­form­ers wor­ry about spe­cif­ic lev­els along the way, but rather to explain the musi­cal idea and let the play­ers do this by ear. It makes the result more alive and present tense as opposed to fol­low­ing some­thing on paper.

David Whitwell