Felix Mendelssohn’s ‘Songs Without Words’ (TMR 43)

It should be the best music for putting a baby to sleep, but . . .

J.P. Williams
2 min readMay 31, 2023
Portrait of Felix Mendelssohn by Eduard Magnus, 1846. Public domain. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Not long after my son was born, he went through what his mother and I still refer to as The Fussy Phase. He simply wouldn’t sleep, preferring to act unhappy every moment of every day. This led to us trying anything that might prove soothing, including a bath routine each evening to the same music. Our selection was Felix Mendelssohn’s Songs without Words (1829–1845), a collection of short works that don’t require too much from listeners. According to notes by critic Andrew Porter on a 1956 vinyl release from Angel Records, these pieces are formally known as “pianoforte miniature,” but their composer described them as “animalculae” or “little animals.” Popular in the composer’s lifetime, they’re impossible not to enjoy as performed here by German pianist Walter Gieseking: delicate but uplifting, brief but not insubstantial, quiet but unfortunately not soporific.

Here’s a performance of one by Lithuanian pianist Vadim Chaimovich: Mendelssohn — Songs without Words Op. 19 №1 in E Major (Vadim Chaimovich) — YouTube

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