The Hebrides (overture)

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Initial sketch for the theme of the Hebrides Overture, found in a letter dated August 7, 1829 to his sister Fanny (original in the Music Division of the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts)

The concert overture The Hebrides (/ˈhɛbrdz/; German: Die Hebriden), Op. 26, also known as Fingal's Cave (Die Fingalshöhle), was composed by Mendelssohn in 1830. The second edition of this Overture was completed on June 1832. The piece was inspired by Mendelssohn's visit to Fingal's Cave on the island of Staffa, located in the Hebrides archipelago off the west coast of Scotland. As was common in the Romantic era, this is not an overture in the sense that it precedes a play or opera; it is a concert overture, a stand-alone musical selection, and has now become part of standard orchestral repertoire. The piece was dedicated to King Frederick William IV of Prussia (then Crown Prince of Prussia).


Sketch of a scene by Felix Mendelssohn found in his letter of August 1, 1829 to his sister Fanny (original in the Music Division of the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts)

Mendelssohn's first visit to England in 1829 resulted from invitations by Sir George Smart and the Philharmonic Society.[1] Following his tour of England, Mendelssohn proceeded to Scotland, where he began work on his Symphony No. 3, Scottish.[2] He was engaged on a tour of Scotland with his travelling companion Karl Klingemann when he sent a postcard to his family with the opening phrase of the overture written on it. In a note to his sister, Fanny Mendelssohn he said: "In order to make you understand how extraordinarily the Hebrides affected me, I send you the following, which came into my head there."[3] The cave at that time was approximately 35 feet (11 m) high and over 200 feet (61 m) deep, and contained black basalt pillars.[3]

The work was completed on 16 December 1830[4] and was originally entitled Die einsame Insel (The Lonely Island). However, Mendelssohn later revised the score, completing it by 20 June 1832,[4] and renamed the piece Die Hebriden (The Hebrides). Despite this, the title of Fingal's Cave was also used: on the orchestral parts he labelled the music The Hebrides, but on the score Mendelssohn labelled the music Fingal's Cave.[3] The overture was premiered on 14 May 1832 in London,[4] in a concert that also featured Mendelssohn's Overture to A Midsummer Night's Dream.


The music, though labelled as an overture, is intended to stand as a complete work. Although programme music, it does not tell a specific story and is not "about" anything; instead, the piece depicts a mood and "sets a scene", making it an early example of such musical tone poems.[5] The overture consists of two primary themes; the opening notes of the overture state the theme Mendelssohn wrote while visiting the cave, and is played initially by the violas, cellos, and bassoons.[6] This lyrical theme, suggestive of the power and stunning beauty of the cave, is intended to develop feelings of loneliness and solitude. The second theme, meanwhile, depicts movement at sea and "rolling waves".[3]

The piece is scored for 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani and strings.

Performances of the overture typically last between 10½ and 11 minutes. The autograph manuscript of the work is held in the Bodleian Library, Oxford.[citation needed]

In popular culture[edit]


  1. ^ Sir George Smart, Leaves from the Journal of Sir George Smart, London, 1907, p. 64, pp. 207-10.
  2. ^ See "The Journey North" in Mendelssohn in Scotland website, accessed 9 January 2015.
  3. ^ a b c d David R. Glerum (2006-09-30). "Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra Program Notes" (PDF). pp. 4–5. Archived from the original (PDF) on September 27, 2007. Retrieved 2006-11-08. 
  4. ^ a b c Geoff Kuenning. "Program Notes: Mendelssohn: "Hebrides" Overture". Retrieved 2006-11-03. 
  5. ^ Dr. Richard E. Rodda. "Program Notes: Overture, "The Hebrides" ("Fingal's Cave"), Op. 26". Hartford Symphony Orchestra. Retrieved 2006-11-03. 
  6. ^ "Overture to "Fingal's Cave"". Music With Ease. Retrieved 2006-11-03. 
  7. ^ Wojcik, Pamela Robertson and Knight, Arthur (eds.) (2001) . Soundtrack Available: Essays on Film and Popular Music, p. 46. Duke University Press
  8. ^ Goldmark, Daniel and Taylor, Yuval (eds.) (2002). The Cartoon Music Book, p. 54. Chicago Review Press

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