First, I would tell my student some important points about Mendelssohn’s life and his music. The German composer Mendelssohn was from a notable Jewish family. The social life of his parents brought him widespread recognition, and provided much experience. Mendelssohn toured Europe visiting a number of countries where he sketched musical fragments later to be turned into concert works, which is why a number of his works have titles suggestion these countries. He visited Scotland, writing the Scottish Symphony; he sketched his Italian Symphony while visiting Rome and Naples, and note that three of his Song Without Words are Venetian Boat Songs.
I need to point out that Mendelssohn revived Bach’s music. Mendelssohn’s own works show his study of Baroque and early classical music. His fugues and chorales especially reflect a tonal clarity and use of counterpoint.
Mendelssohn’s music is firmly classical in form and romantic in nature. His music is largely pleasant and evocative, without the strong passions. If you listen to any of the Song without words and without knowing the piece title, you might confuse Mendelssohn and Field or Chopin. Field was essentially the grandfather of the nocturnes for piano and Chopin the most expressive and intimate explorer of the human soul, Mendelssohn had all those variables in mind and decided to create an album- Song without words.
Mendelssohn’s Song without words, eight cycles each containing six lyric pieces, remained his most famous solo piano compositions. It is a great stylistic and conceptual unity.
Let’s choose Op.19, No.1 in E major as an example. Most of Mendelssohn’s Song without words has inner and outer voices. I think the first important thing to make the piece sounds better is to know the different level sound of different voices. Top voice is the melody, and it should be heard above all else. The lower voice sometimes has the dialogue with the top voice, so it should be the second important thing. The middle voice is like accompaniment and makes changing the harmonies. It should be very quiet.
Second step is to make even sound between two hands. Most time, the middle voice is shared to play by two hands. It is difficult to play equally.
Last thing to tell is the phrasing. If the student got all technique well done, he has to play long phrase, think horizontal line, or not vertical line. Remember--Virtuosity always serves music singing!
The piece is good for varied kind of students. If you have good technique, you need to work on the phrasing. If you have good musical feeling, and bad for technique, you need to work on the evenness and play it quietly.