Feature: Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847): Hör mein Bitten (Hear My Prayer)

Apart from his oratorios perhaps the best known and most popular of Mendelssohn’s small-scale choral compositions in the English-speaking world is Hör mein Bitten (Hear My Prayer). It’s modern popularity stems from a very famous recording made in 1929 by the boy soprano Ernest Lough with the choir of Temple Church of the Mendelssohn-approved English version of the hymn and to this day it’s seen as a vehicle for gifted trebles. I’ve no idea how many recordings of ‘O for the wings of a dove!’ (O könnt’ ich fl iegen wie Tauben dahin) there are floating round the place but I suspect it’s rather a lot.

Mendelssohn composed it between May and July 1844, it’s a paraphrase of the first seven verses of Psalm 55 and is the canvas on which Mendelssohn engages in some very expressive word-painting. It’s in two parts which resemble a recitative and an aria – the aria being ‘O for the wings of a dove!‘ It’s a beautifully crafted piece of music which amply repays the time spent listening to it in its entirety. I love how he uses the chorus to emphasise the poignancy of the text by repetition and elaboration, and how he uses them as a background to  the aria. I’ve put both the full German language version and the well-known English language extract ‘O for the wings of a dove!’ in the playlist below. Both performances are by St John’s College Choir Cambridge, conducted by David Hill the soloists in each performance are Quintin Beer (treble) and John Robinson (organ). Enjoy :-).


How to use the playlist: The playlist consists of a set of thumbnails and text links. Clicking any one of the thumbnails or the text links will load that performance in the large player on top which works exactly the same as YouTube’s player.

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Playlist source: Hör mein Bitten – YouTube – Playlist by markfromireland’s channel

Video Sources:

Text: ‘O for the wings of a dove!’ and Hör mein Bitten (Hear My Prayer)

[showhide type=”showtext” more_text=” Click to show/hide text ” less_text=” Click to show/hide text ” hidden=”yes”]

O for the wings, for the wings of a dove!

Far away would I rove!

In the wilderness build me a nest,

and remain there forever at rest.

William Bartholomew (1793-1867)

Text: Hör mein Bitten (Hear My Prayer

DeutschEnglish Translation
Hör mein Bitten, Herr, neige dich zu mir,

auf deines Kindes Stimme habe acht!

Ich bin allein;

wer wird mir Tröster und Helfer sein?

Ich irre ohne Pfad in dunkler Nacht.

Die Feinde sie droh’n und heben ihr Haupt:

„Wo ist nun der Retter, an den wir geglaubt?“

Sie lästern dich täglich, sie stellen uns nach,

und halten die Frommen in Knechtschaft und Schmach.

Mich fasst des Todes Furcht bei ihrem Dräun!

Sie sind unzählige, ich bin allein, mit meiner Kraft

kann ich nicht widerstehn, Herr, kämpfe du für mich,

Gott, hör mein Flehn!

O könnt ich fliegen wie Tauben dahin,

weit hinweg von dem Feinde zu fliehn!

In die Wüste eilt’ ich dann fort,

fände Ruhe am schattigen Ort.

paraphrase of Psalm 55

Hear my pleading, Lord, incline thyself to me,

heed the voice of thy child!

I am alone;

who shall be my comforter and helper?

I wander in dark night without a path.

The enemies threaten and rear their heads:

‘Where now is the Saviour in whom we have believed?’

Daily they blaspheme thee, they pursue us,

and imprison the devout in slavery and shame.

The fear of death assails me, when they threaten!

Their number is legion, I am alone, with my strength

I cannot resist, Lord, fight for me,

God, hear my beseeching!

Ah! could I fly away like doves,

far away from the enemy!

I would hasten into the wilderness,

and find peace in a shaded place.

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