Mendelssohn's Songs Without Words

A Collection of Short, Lyrical Works for Piano

German composer Felix Bartholdy Mendelssohn (1809 - 1847) plays for Queen Victoria and the Prince Consort.
German composer Felix Bartholdy Mendelssohn (1809 - 1847) plays for Queen Victoria and the Prince Consort. C. Rohling/Hulton Royals Collection/Getty Images

Felix Mendelssohn, one of the great Romantic Period composers, wrote many short, sweet, and lyrical pieces of music for the piano over the course about twenty years (1820s through the 1840s), titled Lieder ohne Worte or Songs Without Words. In fact, these pieces represent a quarter of the number of songs Mendelssohn composed for the piano. Those of which that were published consist of eight volumes of music with about six songs per volume.

Though these works are celebrated by many people, there are those that consider them to be less than desirable as they find them to be lacking in difficulty and technical prowess. To be fair, as Mendelssohn composed his Songs Without Words, the piano as we know it today was a very new thing. He likely wrote his music for the less seasoned performer. The music was much more accessible than a Chopin etude.

About Mendelssohn's Songs Without Words

Many pianists struggle to conceptualize and categorize Mendelssohn's Songs Without Words, especially in a programmatic setting, as the composer did not include notes and ideas with his compositions. He believed that the music spoke for itself. Therefore, performers are left to interpret the notes on the page in a manner they deem to be necessary to convey the piece's inherent emotional qualities. Having listened to several Songs Without Words and even learned a few to play on my piano, I'd say it's pretty easy to let the music do the talking.

Examples of Songs Without Words

  • Op. 19, no. 1 
  • Op. 30, no. 3 
  • Op. 38, no. 2 
  • Op. 38, no. 6