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Title: Mendelssohn and Certain Masterworks
Author: Peyser, Herbert F.
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Mendelssohn and Certain Masterworks" ***

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                           HERBERT F. PEYSER

                          Certain Masterworks

                          [Illustration: Logo]

                      Written for and dedicated to
                             RADIO MEMBERS
                              of NEW YORK

                           Copyright 1947 by
                              of NEW YORK
                          113 West 57th Street
                           New York 19, N. Y.

                      [Illustration: Mendelssohn.
                     Sketch by Carl Mueller, 1842.]


In the compass of the present pamphlet it is impossible to give more
than a cursory survey of Mendelssohn’s happy but extraordinarily crowded
life. He was only slightly less prolific a composer than such masters as
Bach, Mozart or Schubert, even if he did not reach the altitude of their
supreme heights. But irrespective of the quality of much of his output,
the sheer mass of it is astounding, the more so when we consider the
extent of his travels and the unceasing continuity of his professional
and social activities, which immensely exceeded anything of the kind in
the career of Schubert or Bach. In these few pages it has not been
feasible to mention more than a handful of his more familiar
compositions which happen, incidentally, to rank among his best. The
reader will find here neither a detailed record of Mendelssohn’s endless
comings and goings nor any originality of approach or appraisal in the
necessarily casual comments on a few works. If the booklet encourages
him to listen with perhaps a fresh interest to certain long familiar
scores, now that a full century has passed since the composer’s death,
its object will have been achieved.

                                                                H. F. P.

                  Mendelssohn and Certain Masterworks

                           HERBERT F. PEYSER

In 1729—the year of Bach’s “St. Matthew Passion”—a humble Jew of Dessau
on the Elbe, Mendel by name, became the father of a boy whom he called
Moses. Mendel was something of a scholar as the times went, but
desperately poor. He kept body and soul together by running a small
Hebrew day-school and transcribing the Pentateuch. His infant son might
know the pangs of hunger but he should have the boon of a sound
education. The training was begun almost before the child could walk.
Mendel would rout him out of bed at three or four on winter mornings,
fortify him with a cup of tea and carry him, wrapped in a shawl, to a
public seminary where he was put in charge of the learned Rabbi David

Moses showed himself an extraordinarily gifted pupil. For one thing, he
was consumed by a restless spirit of inquiry. He set about making an
exhaustive study of the Scriptures, read voraciously, acquired languages
with uncanny facility and, before he was ten, composed Hebrew verses.
Nothing influenced him so deeply as Maimonides’ “The Guide of the
Perplexed”. But the intensity of his intellectual occupation was such
that he fell prey to a nervous malady which deformed his spine for life.
He bore his ailment with the patience of Job and was never heard to
complain. “If Maimonides weakened my body”, he had a habit of saying,
“has he not made ample atonement by invigorating my soul with his
sublime instructions?”

According to a traditional Jewish manner of forming a surname Moses
called himself “Son of Mendel”—in German, “Mendels Sohn”—albeit he long
alluded to himself as “Moses Dessauer”. When Rabbi Frankel transferred
his activities to Berlin his disciple, though only fourteen, followed
him on foot. Hunger, sickness, deprivations, bitter antagonisms, far
from breaking the youth’s spirit, deepened his perceptions and broadened
his vision. He wrote and studied with fanatic zeal and in the fullness
of time developed into one of the greatest scholars and philosophers of
the age. The poet Lessing was one of his intimates. His work, “Phaedon,
or the Immortality of the Soul”, gained such currency that it was
translated into every language of Europe.

Moses Mendelssohn endured without a murmur the numberless hardships and
disabilities to which the German Jews of the period of Frederick the
Great and his tyrannical father were subjected. One of the most
preposterous of these regulations obliged every Jew when he married to
buy a certain amount of chinaware from the royal porcelain factory in
Berlin, whether he needed it or not. Not even the choice of articles was
left to him, so long as the factory manager decided the place was
overstocked. In this way Moses Mendelssohn when in 1762 he took to wife
Fromet, daughter of Abraham Gugenheim, of Hamburg, acquired twenty
life-sized china apes which had been found unsaleable. Much later the
apes became valued family heirlooms.

The domestic happiness and tranquility he had never known in his youth
were at last to be the philosopher’s portion. Moses and Fromet had a
considerable family, though only six of the children—three sons and
three daughters—survived to maturity. Moses himself died in Berlin at
57. Longevity, as it proved, was not to be a trait of the Mendelssohns.

Of the three sons the second, Abraham, was destined to play a role in
musical history. True, he was not himself a trained musician although he
had very sensitive artistic instincts; and he labored under a mild sense
of inferiority, which used to find expression in his whimsical phrase:
“Formerly I was the son of my father, now I am the father of my son”. In
any case he had not to endure anything like the paternal struggles and
poverty. Of his boyhood not much is known. But in his twenties he was
sent to Paris and worked for a time as cashier in the bank of M. Fould.
When he returned to Germany he entered a banking business founded in
Berlin and Hamburg by his brother, Joseph. It was possibly on his trip
home that he met his future wife, Leah Salomon. If marriages are made in
heaven this match assuredly could boast a celestial origin! Leah Salomon
was an wholly unusual woman. She came of a Berlin family of wealth and
position, she was exquisitely sensitive and cultured and, although she
strictly limited her singing and playing to the home circle, was a
musician of gifts quite out of the ordinary. Moreover, she drew, was an
accomplished linguist (she even read Homer in Greek, though only in the
privacy of her boudoir, lest anyone suspect her of “immodesty”), and
dressed with studied simplicity. Among Leah’s elaborate virtues was her
tireless devotion to her mother. She kept house for her and granted her
a substantial income.

Small wonder that such a union was blessed with exceptional offspring.
Of the four children of Abraham and Leah Mendelssohn, Fanny Cäcilie,
Jakob Ludwig Felix and Rebecka saw the light at Hamburg, in the order
named. The youngest, Paul, came not long after the family had removed to
Berlin. It may not be inappropriate to call briefly into the picture at
this point Leah’s brother, Jacob Salomon Bartholdy, if for no other
reason than to account for a surname which formed an adjunct to part of
the Mendelssohn family, including the composer. Salomon, a distinguished
art critic who spent his later years in Rome as Prussian consul-general,
had embraced Protestantism (despite a traditional curse launched by his
mother) and adopted the name “Bartholdy” after “the former proprietor of
a garden belonging to the family”—a garden which subsequently passed
into the hands of Abraham Mendelssohn. It was Salomon Bartholdy who at
length persuaded his brother-in-law to procure for his children what
Heinrich Heine had called “a ticket of admission to European culture”—in
short, conversion to the Christian faith. To distinguish between the
converted members of the family and those who clung to their old belief
“Bartholdy” was henceforth affixed to “Mendelssohn”. In time, Abraham
and Leah followed their children into the Lutheran faith, Leah adding to
her own name those of Felicia and Paulina, in allusion to her sons.

Felix was born on Friday, Feb. 3, 1809, at 14 Grosse Michaelisstrasse,
Hamburg. Long afterwards the place was marked by a commemorative tablet
above the entrance, a tribute from Jenny Lind and her husband. Curiously
enough, the violinist Ferdinand David, Felix’s friend and associate of
later days, was born under the same roof scarcely a year after. Hamburg
became an unpleasant place during the occupation by Napoleon’s troops
and in 1811, soon after the birth of Rebecka, the family escaped in
disguise to Berlin where Abraham, at his own expense, outfitted a
company of volunteers. The Mendelssohns took up residence in a house
belonging to the widow Fromet. It was situated in what was then an
attractive quarter of north-eastern Berlin, on a street called the Neue
Promenade that had houses on one side and a tree-bordered canal on the
other. It offered a spacious playground for the children and the singer,
Eduard Devrient, recalled seeing Felix play marbles or touch-and-run
with his comrades.


Abraham Mendelssohn, having severed the partnership with his brother,
started a banking business of his own which soon prospered famously.
Somehow even the myriad cares of running a bank did not prevent the
father from scrupulously overseeing the education of his sons and
daughters. If the young people were virtually bedded on roses, Abraham
was of too strong a character and, indeed, too much of a martinet not to
subject them to the discipline of a carefully ordered routine. Wealth
and ease did not cause him to forget the privations and the conflicts
which helped to forge the greatness of his own father’s soul. His
children need not hunger, they need not be denied opportunities to
develop what talents nature had bestowed on them. But given such
opportunities they must labor unremittingly to make the most of them.
They had to be up and about at five in the morning and, shortly after,
repair to their lessons. Felix always looked forward to Sundays when he
could sleep late! In some ways one is reminded of the manner Leopold
Mozart supervised the training of Wolfgang and Nannerl. If Abraham
Mendelssohn was not, like Father Mozart, a practising musician, he had
an artistic insight which nobody valued higher than Felix himself. “I am
often unable to understand”, he wrote his father when he was already a
world celebrity, “how it is possible to have so accurate a judgment
about music without being a technical musician and if I could only say
what I feel in the same clear and intelligent manner that you always do,
I should certainly never make another confused speech as long as I
live”. It is easy to believe that some of the adoration Felix felt for
his father above all others grew out of his unbounded respect for the
older man’s intellectual superiority.

Business connected with war indemnities associated with the Napoleonic
conflicts obliged Abraham in 1816 to go to Paris and on this journey he
took his family with him. Felix and Fanny were placed for piano
instruction under a Madame Marie Bigot de Morogues and both appear to
have profited. Their first piano lessons had been given them at home by
their mother who, in the beginning restricted them to five minute
periods so that they ran no risk of growing weary or restive. Fanny no
less than her brother disclosed an unusual feeling for the keyboard at
an early age and even when she was born Leah noted that the infant
seemed to have “Bach fugue fingers”.

When the Mendelssohns returned to Berlin the young people’s education
was begun systematically. General tuition was administered by Karl
Heyse, father of the novelist; the painter, Rösel, taught drawing, for
which Felix exhibited a natural aptitude from the first; Ludwig Berger,
a pupil of Clementi’s, developed the boy’s piano talents, Carl Wilhelm
Henning gave him violin lessons and Goethe’s friend, Carl Zelter, taught
thorough-bass and composition. Nor were the social graces neglected.
Felix learned to swim, to ride, to fence, to dance. Dancing, indeed, was
one of his passions all his life. Father Mendelssohn always found time
to supervise his children’s studies and to guide their accomplishments.
For that matter he never considered his sons and daughters—even when
they grew up—too old for his discipline; and, certainly, Felix welcomed
rather than resented it.

On Oct. 28, 1818, the boy made his first public appearance as pianist.
The occasion was a concert given by a horn virtuoso, Joseph Gugel. Felix
collaborated in a trio for piano and two horns, by Joseph Wölfl. He
earned, we are told, “much applause”. But Abraham, though pleased, was
not the man to have his head turned by displays of precocity, shallow
compliments or noisy acclamations. Neither did Zelter flatter his pupil
on his never-failing facility. No problem seemed excessive for the boy,
who could read orchestral scores, transpose, improvise—what you will.
“Come, come”, Zelter would grumble contemptuously, as if these feats
were the most natural thing in the world, “genius ought to be able to
dress the hair of a sow and make curls of it!” Yet to Goethe he made no
effort to conceal his satisfaction. “Felix is a good and handsome boy,
merry and obedient”, he confided in a letter; “his father has brought
him up the proper way.... He plays piano like a real devil and is not in
the least backward on string instruments...”. And the crusty
contrapuntist saw to it that the ten-year-old genius entered the
Singakademie and sang among the altos where he could learn to know,
inside and out, works by Palestrina, Bach, Handel and lesser masters,
distinguish between styles and observe the minutest technicalities of
fugal construction.

It was only natural that Felix should, at this stage, have tried his own
hand at composition. He wrote to his father, in Paris, asking for music
paper. Abraham took the request as the text for a mild sermon: “You, my
dear Felix”, he admonished his son, “must state exactly what kind of
music paper you wish to have—ruled or not ruled; and if the former you
must say distinctly _how_ it is to be ruled. When I went into the shop
the other day to buy some, I found that I did not know myself what I
wanted to have. Read over your letter before you send it off and
ascertain whether, if addressed to yourself, you could execute the
commission contained in it”. Sooner or later he must have gotten his
music paper for in 1820, when Felix began to compose, it is figured that
he wrote fifty or sixty movements of one sort or another, solo and part
songs, a cantata and a comedy. In every instance his methodical training
caused him to inscribe the work with the exact date and place of its
composition—a practice which saved no end of doubt and conjecture in
later years, the more so as Felix remained quite as systematic his life
long. These scores (of which he kept a painstaking catalogue) are headed
in many cases with the mysterious formula “L.v.g.G.” or “H.d.m.”, which
though never satisfactorily deciphered, reappears again and again in his

Some of these compositions, together with several by Fanny were
dispatched to Abraham in Paris. The father was particularly pleased with
a fugue and wrote home: “I like it well; it is a great thing. I should
not have expected him to set to work in such good earnest so soon, for
such a fugue requires reflection and perseverance”. He was perturbed
over his daughter’s composing, though he appreciated her talent. It was
well enough, he declared, for Felix to take up music as a profession but
Fanny must bear in mind that a woman’s place is in the home. As a
warning example he points to the sad end of Madame Bigot, who busied
herself professionally with music and now is dead of consumption!

            [Illustration: Mendelssohn at the age of eleven.
                     Sketch by an unknown artist.]

In 1821 there took place in Berlin an event which stirred the musical
world of Germany to its depths—the first performance of Weber’s “Der
Freischütz”. The composer, who supervised the rehearsals, was generally
accompanied by his young friend and pupil, Julius Benedict. One day
while escorting his master to the theatre, Benedict noticed a boy of
about eleven or twelve running toward them with gestures of hearty
greeting. “’Tis Felix Mendelssohn!” exclaimed Weber delightedly, and he
at once introduced the lad to Benedict, who had heard of the remarkable
talents of the little musician even before coming to Berlin. “I shall
never forget the impression of that day on beholding that beautiful
youth, with the auburn hair clustering in ringlets round his shoulders,
the look of his brilliant, clear eyes and the smile of innocence and
candour on his lips”, wrote Benedict much later in his “Sketch of the
Life and Works of the late Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy”. Felix wanted
the pair to visit the Mendelssohn home at once, but as Weber was
expected at the opera house he asked Benedict to go in his stead. “Felix
took me by the hand and made me run a race till we reached his house. Up
he went briskly to the drawing-room where, finding his mother, he
exclaimed: ‘Here is a pupil of Weber’s, who knows a great deal of his
music of the new opera. Pray, mamma, ask him to play it for us’; and so,
with an irresistible impetuosity, he pushed me to the pianoforte and
made me remain there until I had exhausted all the store of my

A more spectacular event in Felix’s young life was his first visit to
Goethe, in Weimar, the same year. It was Zelter who, anxious to acquaint
the poet with his prodigious young pupil, had engineered the meeting.
Felix had never gone anywhere without his parents and the family was not
a little concerned about this expedition. He was plied with no end of
advice before setting out, told how to behave at table, how to eat, how
to talk, how to listen. “When you are with Goethe, I advise you to open
your eyes and ears wide”, admonished Fanny; “and after you come home, if
you can’t repeat every word that fell from his mouth, I will have
nothing more to do with you!” His mother, for her part, wrote to Aunt
Henrietta (the celebrated family spinster, “Tante Jette”): “Just fancy
that the little wretch is to have the good luck of going to Weimar with
Zelter for a short time. You can imagine what it costs me to part from
the dear child even for a few weeks. But I consider it such an advantage
for him to be introduced to Goethe, to live under the same roof with him
and receive the blessing of so great a man! I am also glad of this
little journey as a change for him; for his impulsiveness sometimes
makes him work harder than he ought to at his age.”

The Mendelssohns need not have worried. The old poet took the boy to his
heart from the first. Nor was Felix remiss about communicating his
impressions. “Now, stop and listen, all of you”, he writes home in an
early missive which forms part of one of the finest series of letters
any of the great composers has left posterity. “Today is Tuesday. On
Saturday the Sun of Weimar, Goethe, arrived. We went to church in the
morning and heard half of Handel’s 100th Psalm. After this I went to the
‘Elephant’, where I sketched the house of Lucas Cranach. Two hours
afterwards, Professor Zelter came and said: ‘Goethe has come—the old
gentleman’s come!’ and in a minute we were down the steps and in
Goethe’s house. He was in the garden and was just coming around a
corner. Isn’t it strange, dear father, that was exactly how you met him!
He is very kind, but I don’t think any of the pictures are like him....

“Every morning I get a kiss from the author of ‘Faust’ and ‘Werther’ and
every afternoon two kisses from my friend and father Goethe. Think of
that! It does not strike me that his figure is imposing; he is not much
taller than father; but his look, his language, his name—they are
imposing. The amount of sound in his voice is wonderful and he can shout
like ten thousand warriors. His hair is not yet white, his step is firm,
his way of speaking mild....”

Felix made much music for the poet’s enjoyment. Every day he played him
something of Bach, Mozart, Beethoven or compositions of his own (he had
even brought some of Fanny’s songs for Goethe’s daughter-in-law, who had
a pretty voice). “Every afternoon”, wrote Felix, “Goethe opens the
Streicher piano with the words: ‘I haven’t heard you at all today; make
a little noise for me’; then he sits beside me and when I am finished (I
usually improvise), I beg him for a kiss or else I just take it!” Once
Felix played a Bach fugue and suffered a slip of memory. Nothing daunted
he went on improvising at considering length. The poet noticed nothing!
At other times he would sit by the window listening, the image of a
Jupiter Tonans, his old eyes flashing. And when the boy finally left
Weimar Goethe missed him sorely. “Since your departure”, he lamented,
“my piano is silent. A solitary attempt to waken it to life was a
failure. I hear, indeed, much talk about music but that is only a sorry
diversion”. A certain classical symmetry and a halcyon beauty in the
boy’s music and in his performances seem to have appealed to a
deep-seated element of the poet’s nature. When some time afterwards
Felix dedicated a quartet to him, Goethe accepted it with a letter of
fulsome praise. Yet when poor Schubert about the same period sent him a
number of his finest Goethe settings the Olympian did not even deign to
acknowledge them!

Leah Mendelssohn, delighted with the letters Felix was writing from
Weimar, proudly forwarded them to Aunt Jette, in Paris. “If God spare
him”, replied that worthy person, “his letters will in long years to
come create the deepest interest. Take care of them as of a holy relic;
indeed, they are already sacred as the effusion of so pure and
child-like a mind. You are a happy mother and you must thank Providence
for giving you such a son. He is an artist in the highest sense, rare
talents combined with the noblest, tenderest heart....” The good woman
spoke prophetically! Not all of Mendelssohn’s letters have been
preserved and some of them were withheld out of scruples which today are
rather difficult to appreciate. Whether the anti-Semitic excesses of the
Nazi regime spared those portions of the correspondence not previously
given to the world is still unknown. Perhaps we shall never read it in
all its inundating fullness. There were times in his short life when he
wrote as many as thirty-five letters in one day! At any rate, those we
have are precious.

It must not be imagined that Felix’s numerous boyhood compositions
served student ends primarily. This early spate of symphonies,
concertos, songs, piano and organ pieces, chamber music and what not
furnished matter for regular family musicales. The Mendelssohns had for
some time been in the habit of holding miscellaneous concerts on
alternate Sunday mornings in the big dining room of the house on the
Neue Promenade. In these the young people participated and invariably
some work or other by Felix made up a part of the program. Felix and
Fanny usually played piano, Rebecka sang, Paul played cello. Felix also
conducted and had at first to be placed on a stool so that his small
figure could be seen. Little operas and operettas varied the programs,
the boy being the author of four of them. These “operas” were not given
in costume or with any attempt at dramatic, action. The characters were
duly assigned and sung, but the dialogue was read and the chorus sat
grouped around a table. The listeners offered their opinions freely,
Zelter (who never missed one of these events) commending or criticising,
as the case might be.

On Felix’s fifteenth birthday, Zelter suddenly rose and, “in masonic
phraseology”, promoted his pupil from the grade of “apprentice” to that
of “assistant”, adding that he welcomed him to this new rank “in the
name of Mozart, of Haydn and of old Bach”. This last name was
significant. For a little earlier the boy had received as a Christmas
present a score of the “St. Matthew Passion” transcribed by Zelter’s
express permission from a manuscript preserved in the Singakademie.
Henceforth the “assistant” was to immerse himself in this music and it
was the exhaustive study of the treasurous score which resulted a few
years later in the historic revival of the work an exact century after
its first production under Bach’s own direction.

The summer of 1824 Felix for the first time saw the sea. His father took
him and Rebecka to Dobberan, on the Baltic, a bathing resort in the
neighborhood of Rostock. Here he received those first marine impressions
which in due course were to shape themselves musically in the “Calm Sea
and Prosperous Voyage” and “Fingal’s Cave” Overtures. For the moment,
the scope of this inspiration was less ambitious. He wrote for the
military band at the local casino an overture for wind instruments
(“Harmoniemusik”), which stands in his output as Op. 24. It is sweetly
romantic music, with a dulcet _andante con moto_ introduction that has a
kind of family resemblance to the softer phraseology of Weber, a
spirited, vivacious _allegro_ forming the main body of the piece.

But the “Harmoniemusik” Overture was only an incident of the creative
activity marking the year 1824. The chief composition of the time was
the Symphony in C minor, which ranks as Mendelssohn’s First. Actually,
it is his thirteenth in order of writing, though for conventional
purposes the preceding twelve (for strings) may pass for juvenile
efforts. We may as well record here that, irrespective of the dates of
the composition, the official order of Mendelssohn’s symphonies is as
follows: The Symphony-Cantata in B flat (the so-called “Hymn of Praise”,
dated 1840) stands as No. 2, the A minor (“Scotch”), written between
1830 and 1842, as No. 3, the A major (“Italian”), composed in 1833, as
No. 4, and the “occasional” one in D minor, known as the “Reformation
Symphony” (1830-32), as No. 5.

The Mendelssohn family was outgrowing the old home on the Neue Promenade
and late in the summer of 1825 Abraham bought that house on Leipziger
Strasse which was henceforth to be inalienably associated with the
composer. If it had its drawbacks in winter the spacious edifice with
its superb garden (once a part of the Tiergarten) was ideal at all other
seasons. The so-called “Garden House” was one of its most attractive
features and became the scene of those unforgettable Sunday concerts
where a number of new-minted masterpieces were first brought to a
hearing. The young people published a household newspaper, in summer
called the “Garden Times”, in winter the “Tea and Snow Times”. Pen, ink
and paper were conveniently placed and every guest was encouraged to
write whatever occurred to him and deposit it in a box, the
contributions being duly printed in the little sheet. These guests
included the cream of the intellectual, social and artistic life of
Europe who chanced to be in Berlin. It was a point of honor to be
invited to the Mendelssohn residence.

To this period belongs Felix’s operatic effort “Die Hochzeit des
Camacho” (“Camacho’s Wedding”). The text, by Karl Klingemann, a
Hanoverian diplomat who played a not inconsiderable role in
Mendelssohn’s life, was based on an episode from “Don Quixote”. The
story has to do with the mock suicide of the student, Basilio, to rescue
his beloved from the wealthy Camacho. Possibly the little work would
never have been written but for the ambitions of Leah Mendelssohn to see
her son take his place among the successful opera composers of the day.
Having embarked upon the scheme Felix went about it with his usual zeal.
But the piece was played exactly once, and in a small playhouse, not at
the big opera. Although there were many calls for the composer he seems
to have sensed a defeat and left the theatre early. It was not long
before he lost interest in the work altogether.

However, better things were at hand to obliterate the memory of the
check suffered by “Camacho’s Wedding”. For we are now on the threshold
of the composer’s first mature masterworks. It must be understood that
there was really no relation between Mendelssohn’s years and the
extraordinary creations of his adolescence. In point of fact, his
creative mastery at the age of sixteen and seventeen is maturity arrived
at before its time. That preternatural development, as remarkable in its
way as Mozart’s, is the true answer to the problem why the later
creations of Mendelssohn show relatively so little advance over the
early ones. We can hardly believe, for instance, that the F sharp minor
Capriccio for piano or the Octet could have been finer if written twenty
years after they were. How many not familiar with the respective dates
of composition could gather from the music itself that the incidental
pieces fashioned for the “Midsummer Night’s Dream” by royal command came
fully seventeen years after the immortal Overture? The whole might have
been created at one sitting, so undiscoverable is any sign of cleavage.

The Octet for strings, finished in the autumn of 1825 represents,
perhaps, the finest thing Mendelssohn had written up to that point. It
is a masterpiece of glistening tone painting, exquisite in its mercurial
grace and color, imaginative delicacy and elfin lightness. The unity of
the whole is a marvel. But the pearl of the work is the Scherzo in G
minor, a page as airy and filamentous as Mendelssohn—whose scherzos are,
perhaps, his most matchless achievements—was ever to write. Not even the
most fairylike passages in the “Midsummer Night’s Dream” excel it.

Before passing on to the last-named, however, we must not fail to
signalize the “Trumpet” Overture, composed about the same time (which
Abraham Mendelssohn liked so much that he said he should like to hear it
on his deathbed); the Quintet, Op. 18, the Sonata, Op. 6, the songs of
Op. 8 and 9, the unfailingly popular Prelude and Fugue in E minor, of
Op. 35. Let us not be confused, incidentally, by opus numbers in
Mendelssohn which have as little to do with priority of composition as
they have in the case of Schubert.

Felix and Fanny read Shakespeare in translations of Schlegel and Tieck.
Their particular favorite was the “Midsummer Night’s Dream”. In August
1826, in the delightful garden of the Leipziger Strasse home the youth
of seventeen signed the score of an Overture to the fantastic comedy
which, as much as anything he was to write, immortalized his name. The
famous friend of the family, Adolph Bernhard Marx, claimed to have given
Felix certain musical suggestions. Be this as it may, the Overture was
something new under the sun and not a measure of it has tarnished in the
course of an odd 130 years. It was first performed as a piano duet and
shortly afterwards played by an orchestra at one of the Sunday concerts
in the garden house.

Felix entered the University of Berlin in 1826 and offered as his
matriculation essay a translation in verse of Terence’s “Andria”.
Nevertheless, he seems to have had no time to bother about a degree.
Music was absorbing him completely, especially his weekly rehearsals of
Bach’s “St. Matthew Passion” with a small choir. The more intimately he
penetrated into this mighty work the keener became his desire to produce
it at the Singakademie. Together with his friend, Eduard Devrient, he
divulged his scheme to Zelter, only to be rebuffed. Spurred by the
energetic Devrient he returned again and again to the attack, till
Zelter finally weakened. Having carried the day Mendelssohn left the
Singakademie jubilantly exclaiming to the elated Devrient: “To think
that it should be an actor and a Jew, to give this great Christian work
back to the world!” It was the only recorded occasion on which
Mendelssohn alluded to his Hebraic origin.

Three performances were given of the “St. Matthew Passion” at the
Singakademie—the first on March 11, 1829, a century almost to a day
since the original production in the Leipzig Thomaskirche. Mendelssohn
conducted the first two. It was the real awakening of the world to the
grandeur of Bach, the true beginning of a movement which has continued
undiminished right up to the present. Fanny spoke more truly than
perhaps she realized when she declared that “the year 1829 is likely to
form an epoch in the annals of music”.

Scarcely had Mendelssohn restored the “St. Matthew Passion” to the world
than he left Berlin for the first of those ten trips he was to take to
the country that was to become his true spiritual home. Abraham
Mendelssohn having finally decided his son might safely adopt music as a
means of livelihood resolved to let him travel for three years in order
to gain experience, extend his artistic reputation and settle on the
scene of his activities. Felix was not averse to the idea. Already he
was feeling some of those pin-pricks of hostility which Berlin, for
reasons of jealousy or latent anti-Semitism was to direct against him in
years to come. It was Moscheles who counseled a visit to London, where
another friend, Klingemann, filled a diplomatic post.

Mendelssohn’s first Channel crossing was not calculated to put him in a
pleasant frame of mind. He was seasick, he had fainting fits, he
quarrelled with the steward and solemnly cursed that “Calm Sea and
Prosperous Voyage” Overture he had composed scarcely a year earlier. The
boat trip lasted almost three days! Luckily his friends had found him
comfortable quarters in London, at 103 Great Portland Street. At once it
developed that he and London were predestined for each other. The
metropolis both appalled and enchanted him. “It is fearful! It is
maddening!”, he wrote home; “I am quite giddy and confused. London is
the grandest and most complicated monster on the face of the earth. How
can I compress into a letter what I have been three days seeing? I
hardly remember the chief events and yet I must not keep a diary, for
then I should see less of life.... Things roll and whirl round me and
carry me along as in a vortex”.

He had arrived at the height of the season. The wife of Moscheles took
him about in a carriage (“me in my new suit, of course!”) He went to the
opera and to the theatre, saw Kemble in “Hamlet” and was incensed at the
way Shakespeare was cut. Still “the people here like me for the sake of
my music and respect me for it and this delights me immensely”. He made
his first London appearance with the Philharmonic on May 25, 1829, and
even at the rehearsal found two hundred listeners on hand, “chiefly
ladies”. The program contained his C minor Symphony, though later an
orchestrated version of the scherzo from the Octet was substituted for
the original minuet. J. B. Cramer led Mendelssohn to the stage “as if I
were a young lady”. “Immense applause” greeted him. This was soon to be
an old story. When people spied him in the audience at a concert someone
was sure to shout: “There is Mendelssohn!”; whereupon others would
applaud and exclaim: “Welcome to him!” In the end Felix found no other
way to restore quiet than to mount the stage and bow.

He played piano for the first time in London at the Argyll Rooms on May
30. His offering was Weber’s “Concertstück” and he caused a stir by
performing it without notes. One might say he was heard _before_ the
concert—for he had gone to the hall to try a new instrument several
hours earlier but, finding it locked, seated himself at an old one and
improvised for a long time to be suddenly roused from his revery by the
noise of the arriving audience. Whereupon he dashed off to dress for the
matinee in “very long white trousers, brown silk waistcoat, black
necktie and blue dress coat”. Not long afterwards he gave concerts with
Moscheles and with the singer, Henrietta Sontag. The Argyll Rooms were
so crowded that “ladies might be seen among the double basses, between
bassoons and horns and even seated on a kettle drum”.

London life, for that matter, seemed made to order for Felix, the more
so as he was received with open arms by those influential personages to
whom he brought letters of introduction. Yet the whole spirit of London
was vastly to his taste. Writing later from Italy he confided to his
sister that, for all the luminous atmosphere of Naples, “London, that
smoky nest, is fated to be now and ever my favorite residence. My heart
swells when I even think of it”!

The admiration was mutual! England of that age (and for years to come)
adored Mendelssohn quite as it had Handel a century earlier and
peradventure even more than it did Haydn and Weber. Musically, the
nation made itself over in his image. And Felix loved the rest of the
country as he loved its metropolis. The London season ended, he went on
a vacation in July, 1829, to Scotland, accompanied by Klingemann. The
travelers stopped first at Edinburgh, where they heard the Highland
Pipers and visited Holyrood Palace. Like any conventional tourist Felix
saw the apartments where Mary Stuart lived and Rizzio was murdered,
inspected the chapel in which Mary was crowned but now “open to the sky
and ... everything ruined and decayed; I think I found there the
beginning of my ‘Scotch’ Symphony”. And he set down sixteen bars of what
became the slow introduction in A minor. It was to be some time,
however, before the symphony took its conclusive shape. If Holyrood
quickened his fancy “one of the Hebrides” (which he saw a few days
later) struck even brighter sparks from his imagination. A rowboat trip
to Fingal’s Cave inspired him to twenty bars of music “to show how
extraordinarily the place affected me”, as he wrote to his family. He
elaborated the overture—than which he did nothing greater—in his own
good time and recast it before it satisfied him. For in the first form
of this marine mood picture, he missed “train oil, salt fish and
seagulls”. Yet the twenty bars he set down on the spot form its main

Back in London his mind was occupied with numerous compositions, among
them the first stirrings of the “Scotch” and “Reformation” Symphonies
and the “Hebrides” Overture. But before developing these he wanted to
write an organ piece for Fanny’s marriage to the painter, Wilhelm Hensel
(whom Leah Mendelssohn had put on a five years’ “probation” before she
consented to give him her daughter’s hand!); and a household operetta
for the approaching silver wedding of his parents. Klingemann wrote the
libretto of this piece (“Heimkehr aus der Fremde”, which the critic
Chorley in 1851 Englished as “Son and Stranger”). It contained special
roles for Fanny, Rebecka, Devrient and Hensel—the last-named limited to
one incessantly repeated note, because he was so desperately unmusical.

                                             _Hebrides, August 7, 1829._

  _... in order to make you understand how extraordinarily the Hebrides
  affected me, the following came into my mind there:_

                   [Illustration: Musical Manuscript]

Felix returned to Berlin for the parental festivities. But Fanny’s
wedding he missed, having injured his leg in a carriage accident and
being laid up for two months. He might, had he chosen, have accepted a
chair of music at the Berlin University in 1830, but he preferred to
continue his travels. It seemed almost a matter of routine that he
should stop off at Weimar to greet Goethe once more. He may or may not
have suspected that he was never to see the poet again. Another friend
he visited was Julius Schubring, rector of St. George’s Church in
Dessau. Nürnberg, Munich, Salzburg, the Salzkammergut and Linz were
stations on the way to Vienna, where his enjoyment was poisoned by the
depressing level of musical life and the shocking popular neglect of
masters like Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert. He made a side trip to
nearby Pressburg to witness the coronation of the Austrian crown prince
as King of Hungary. The most exciting incident of the day was the
smashing of Mendelssohn’s high hat by a spectator whose view it

Italy was another story. “The whole country had such a festive air”, he
wrote in one of the first of those Italian letters which are among the
gems of his correspondence, “that I seemed to feel as if I were myself a
prince making his grand entry”. To be sure, there was not much music
worth listening to and he was horrified by some of the things he heard
in the churches. But there were the great masters of painting, there was
the beauty of the countryside, the unnumbered attractions of Venice,
Bologna, Florence, Rome, Naples, the fascination of Italian life and the
charm of the Italian people. He heard the Holy Week musical services in
the Sistine Chapel with works of Palestrina, Allegri and lesser men;
wrote long and detailed letters to Zelter about the technical aspects of
church singing in Rome, composed industriously, saw his boyhood playmate
Julius Benedict and became acquainted with a wildly eccentric young
French musician named Berlioz. On his way northward, in Milan, Felix met
Beethoven’s friend, Dorothea von Ertmann; also, Karl Mozart, whom he
delighted by playing some of his father’s music.

With his incredible dispatch he had managed to accomplish a great amount
of creative work in Italy, despite his social and sight-seeing
activities. He had finished a version of the “Hebrides” Overture, had
made progress with his “Scotch” and “Italian” Symphonies, written a
Psalm, several motets, the “First Walpurgis Night” (later recast), piano
pieces, songs. Returning to Germany via Switzerland he stopped off in
Munich and gave a benefit concert on Oct. 17, 1831. It was for this
event that he composed his G minor Piano Concerto. In a letter to his
father Felix referred to it, somewhat contemptuously, as “a thing
rapidly thrown off”. It has been assumed that Mendelssohn may have had
Paris in mind composing this concerto. At any rate, the first three
months of 1832 found him once more in the French capital, where he made
new musical acquaintances. One of these was the conductor, Habeneck;
others, Chopin, Liszt, Ole Bull, Franchomme. Yet Mendelssohn found it
difficult, even as he had earlier, to adjust himself to some musical
insensibilities of Paris. He was appalled on one occasion to learn that
his own Octet was given in a church at a funeral mass commemorating
Beethoven. “I can scarcely imagine anything more absurd than a priest at
the altar and my Scherzo going on”, he wrote his parents. Habeneck, who
had him play at one of the Conservatoire concerts, wanted to produce at
one of them the “Reformation” Symphony, which Felix had composed in 1830
for the tercentenary of the Augsburg Confession. The performance never
took place; the orchestra disliked the work, finding it “too learned,
too much fugato, too little melody”.

Were these objections wholly unfounded? Irrespective of what passed in
those days for excessive “learning” the “Reformation Symphony” is, in
good truth, a stodgy work, far more willed than inspired. The most
engaging thing in it is the citation in the first movement of that
“Dresden Amen” formula, which half a century later Wagner was to employ
in “Parsifal”. Strangely enough, some pages of the symphony sound like
Schumann without the latter’s melodic invention. It is only just to
point out that the composer himself came to detest it, declared it was
the one work of his he would gladly burn and refused to permit its

Zelter died not long after Goethe and the Singakademie found itself
without a head. Mendelssohn seemed his old teacher’s logical successor
and he would gladly have accepted the post. But many of the old ladies
of the chorus did not take kindly to the idea of “singing under a Jewish
boy”. When it came to a vote Felix was defeated by a large majority and
one Karl Rungenhagen installed as Zelter’s successor. Rather tactlessly
the Mendelssohns resigned their membership in a body. Felix’s popularity
in Berlin was not improved by the situation, despite the family’s wealth
and influence. He said little but the wound rankled, somewhat as
happened earlier over Berlin’s rejection of “Camacho’s Wedding”.

The Cäcilienverein, of Frankfort, asked the composer to write an
oratorio based on St. Paul. But if Mendelssohn was unable to oblige at
once, the seed was planted and, in proper season, was to take root. Late
in 1832 a different kind of offer came from another quarter. The Lower
Rhine Festival was to be given in Düsseldorf the spring of 1833. Would
Felix conduct it?

The Düsseldorf commission was accepted and as soon as preliminaries were
arranged Felix was off to his “smoky nest” once more. He had now
completed his “Italian” Symphony and placed it, along with his “Calm Sea
and Prosperous Voyage” and “Trumpet” Overtures at the disposal of the
London Philharmonic. The Symphony was produced on May 13, 1833. To this
day it remains one of the most translucent, gracious and limpid
creations imaginable—“kid glove music”, as some have called it, but no
less inspired for its gentility. Is it really Italian, despite the
Neapolitan frenzy of its “Saltarello” finale? Is it not rather Grecian,
like so much else in Mendelssohn’s art, with its incorruptible symmetry
and its Mediterranean _limpidezza_? Where has Mendelssohn instrumented
with more luminous clarity than in the first three movements? The second
one, a kind of Pilgrims’ March, has none of the sentimentality which
wearies in some of the composer’s _adagios_. The third, in its weaving
grace is, one might say, Mendelssohnian in the loveliest sense.

“Mr. Felix”, as he was freely called, returned to Germany for the
Düsseldorf festival, which began on May 26 (Whitsuntide), 1833. Abraham
Mendelssohn came from Berlin to witness his son’s triumph. The
Düsseldorf directorate was so pleased with everything that Mendelssohn
was asked to take charge “of all the public and private musical
establishments of the town” for a period of three years. He was to have
a three months’ leave of absence each summer. “One thing I especially
like about Felix’s position is that, while so many have titles without
an office he will have a real office without a title”, declared the

Meanwhile, the projected “St. Paul” oratorio was more and more filling
its composer’s mind and probably a large part of it had already taken
shape. As a matter of fact, he looked upon his appointment at Düsseldorf
less as a lucrative engagement than as furnishing him an opportunity
“for securing quiet and leisure for composition”. Still, he gave much
attention to his duties, particularly those in connection with church
music “for which no appropriate epithet exists for that hitherto given
here”. In an evil hour he had lightly agreed to take charge of the
activities at the theatre. It was not long before he regretted it. Felix
was never made to cope with the intrigues and irritations of an opera
house. On the opening night, at a performance of “Don Giovanni”, there
was a riot in the theatre and the curtain had to be lowered four times
before the middle of the first act. Associated with him was Karl
Immermann, with whom he had previously negotiated about an opera book
based on Shakespeare’s “Tempest”. In Düsseldorf their relations became
strained and eventually Felix, in disgust, gave up his theatrical
labours and the salary that went with them.

“St. Paul” was not so swiftly completed as the composer may have hoped
from his Düsseldorf “leisure” (actually, it was finished only in 1836).
But he could not, from a creative standpoint, have been called an idler.
To the Düsseldorf period of 1833-34 belong the Overture “The Beautiful
Melusine”, the “Rondo Brillant” in E flat, for piano and orchestra, the
A minor Capriccio for piano, the concert aria, “Infelice”, a revision of
the “Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage” Overture and not a little else. The
“Melusine” is one of his most poetic and mellifluous inspirations, with
its lovely “wave figure” based on the arpeggiated form of the F major
chord and so intimately related to one of the Rhine motives in Wagner’s
“Ring”. How Mendelssohn managed to accomplish so much without slighting
in any way his social obligations, his watercolor painting, his
excursions here and there is hard to grasp.

In good truth, the enormous productivity which his unremitting facility
encouraged, his piano playing and conducting, his incessant travels were
subtly undermining his system. The effects did not make themselves felt
at once but they contributed, bit by bit, to a nervous irritation that
grew on him. Whether or not he appreciated that he came from a stock
which, though healthy, bore in itself the seeds of an early death he
made no effort to spare himself and never hesitated to burn the candle
at both ends. The Mendelssohns had delicate blood vessels, they were
predisposed to apoplexy. Abraham may or may not have been forewarned
when, on returning to Berlin from Düsseldorf with his wife and Felix, he
fell ill at Cassel. For a time his sight had been failing and he was
becoming an outright hypochondriac. The more difficult he grew the more
intense was the filial devotion Felix lavished on him.

Early in 1835 the composer received from Dr. Conrad Schleinitz a
communication which showed that his good fortunes were to remain
constant. It was nothing less than an invitation to accept the post of
conductor of the Gewandhaus concerts in Leipzig. Mendelssohn was
flattered but experience had made him canny. Before giving his reply he
demanded categorical answers to a number of questions touching artistic
and business matters. Everything was settled to his satisfaction and,
with his parents, his sisters and their husbands, he returned to the
Rhineland to conduct another Lower Rhine Festival, this time to be held
in Cologne.

If there was one place which promised to provide as happy a home for
Felix as London did it was Leipzig. The atmosphere of the town was a
spiritual balm after the hectic life of Düsseldorf. Who shall say that
it was not with symbolic intent that the newcomer led off his activities
with his own “Calm Sea” Overture and Beethoven’s serene Fourth Symphony?
And although Felix’s circle of musical friendships sometimes appeared
boundless he now came into intimate contact with certain choice and
master spirits of the age whom he might otherwise have known only
casually. An early visitor at Mendelssohn’s new home was Chopin and in a
letter to his parents in Berlin he writes of his pleasure in being able
to associate once more with a thorough musician. One of those to whom
Felix introduced Chopin was Clara Wieck, then only sixteen. On October
3—a historic date, as it proved—another stepped into the charmed circle,
Robert Schumann, to whom Mendelssohn was to become a god. “Felix Meritis
entered”, wrote Schumann describing in his best Florestan vein the first
Gewandhaus concert. “In a moment a hundred hearts flew to him!”

Light-heartedly Felix accompanied his sister, Rebecka, and her husband
on a trip to the family homestead in Berlin. There seemed to be even
more gayety than usual and a greater amount of extempore music-making
for the entertainment of the father. A short time after he had returned
to Leipzig in great good humor he was shocked by the entrance of his
brother-in-law, Hensel, with the news that Abraham Mendelssohn had died
in his sleep on Nov. 19, 1835. The blow was heavy but Felix, once he
regained control of himself, endured it with fortitude. Yet the loss of
the father whom, to the last, he idolized marked the first great sorrow
of his life. To Pastor Schubring he wrote: “The only thing now is to do
one’s duty”. It sounds like a copy-book maxim but it was undoubtedly
sincere. His specific “duty” in this case was to complete the still
unfinished “St. Paul”, about which Abraham had been ceaselessly

Logically the oratorio should have been given by the Cäcilienverein, in
Frankfort, which had originally commissioned it. But Schelble, the
director of the Society, was ill. So the premiere took place at the
Düsseldorf Festival of 1836. Klingemann, who sent an account of it to
the London “Musical News”, said that the performance was “glorious”,
that he “had never heard such choral singing”. The composer himself was
more restrained. “Many things gave me great pleasure, but on the whole I
learned a great deal”. He had come to the conclusion that the work, like
so many of his others, would benefit by a careful overhauling. And in
due course he set about recasting and improving. He had grounds for
satisfaction. If “St. Paul” does not reach some of the prouder dramatic
heights of the later “Elijah” it is a woeful error to underrate it.

Mendelssohn felt he owed it to his old friend, Schelble, to take over
the direction of the Cäcilienverein; so he cancelled a Swiss vacation he
had planned and went to Frankfort. He hobnobbed with the Hiller family
and with Rossini, who happened to be in Germany for a few days. But more
important, he made the acquaintance of Cécile Charlotte Sophie
Jeanrenaud, daughter of a clergyman of the French Reformed Church.
Cécile’s widowed mother was herself still so young and attractive that
for a time people thought that she, rather than the 17 year-old girl,
was the cause of Felix’s frequent visits. Fanny Hensel had latterly been
urging her brother to marry, alarmed by his somewhat morbid state of
mind. Cécile Jeanrenaud, according to Wilhelm Hensel, complemented Felix
most harmoniously; still, “she was not conspicuously clever, witty,
learned, profound or talented, though restful and refreshing”.
Mendelssohn was not the man to let his affections stampede him into
marriage. So before an engagement might be announced he accompanied his
friend, the painter Schadow, on a month’s journey to the Dutch seaside
resort, Scheveningen, there to take long walks on the beach, think
things over and come to an understanding with himself. Only then did he
settle definitely upon the step.

The marriage took place in Frankfort on March 28, 1837, and the couple
went for a honeymoon to Freiburg and the Black Forest. The wedding trip
was followed by a seemingly unending round of social obligations.
Nevertheless, Mendelssohn found time for considerable work. Then a
summons to England, to produce “St. Paul” at the Birmingham Festival
(the oratorio had already been given in Liverpool and by the Sacred
Harmonic Society in London). If only “St. Paul” had been the whole
story! But Mendelssohn had enormous miscellaneous programs to conduct,
he played the organ, he was soloist in his own D minor Piano Concerto.
Back in Leipzig he settled with his wife in a house in Lurgenstein’s
Garden, welcomed Fanny, who saw for the first time those “beautiful
eyes” of Cécile, about which she had heard so much, and greeted the
arrival of a son, named Carl Wolfgang Paul. The Gewandhaus concerts
flourished as never before. Felix produced much Bach, Handel and
Beethoven; also he had many of those typical German “prize-crowned”
scores of sickening mediocrity to perform. Musical friends came and
went—Schumann, Clara Wieck, Liszt, Berlioz, and a young Englishman,
Sterndale Bennet, whom both Mendelssohn and Schumann praised to a degree
which we, today, can scarcely grasp. Small wonder that, amidst all this
unmerciful and never-ending ferment Felix occasionally became worried
about his health. “I am again suffering from deafness in one ear, pains
in my throat, headaches and so on”, he wrote to Hiller. Occasionally his
friends made fun of his intense love of sleep. One can only regret that
he did not yield to it more often!

We must pass over Mendelssohn’s unending labours in Leipzig, at a number
of German festivals and in England (where his new “symphony-cantata”,
the “Hymn of Praise”, was featured) to follow him once more to Berlin.
In 1840 Frederick William IV had become King of Prussia. One of the pet
cultural schemes of the monarch was an Academy of Arts, to be divided
into classes of painting, sculpture, architecture and music. For the
direction of the last department the king wanted none but Mendelssohn.
Hence much correspondence passed between Mendelssohn and the bureaucrats
concerning the royal scheme. Time had not softened his hostility toward
officialdom, particularly of the Berlin brand. However, he bound himself
for a year, took up residence on the Leipziger Strasse once more,
submitted his scheme for the Musical Academy and received the title
“Kapellmeister to the King of Prussia” along with a very tolerable
salary. Frederick William wished, among other things, to revive certain
antique Greek tragedies, beginning with Sophocles’ “Antigone”. The
scheme led to exhaustive discussions between Mendelssohn and the poet,
Tieck, touching the nature of the music to be written. In due course
there followed “Oedipus at Colonos”. The kind of music needed was, as it
will probably remain forever, a problem defying solution. What
Mendelssohn finally wrote turned out, by and large, to be adequate
Mendelssohnian commonplace.

Greek tragedy was not the only sort of dramatic entertainment projected
by the King of Prussia. Racine’s “Athalie”, Shakespeare’s “Tempest” and
“Midsummer Night’s Dream” likewise took their place on the royal
schedule. Nothing came of “The Tempest” so far as Mendelssohn was
concerned. But he fashioned some excellent music for Racine’s play and
enriched the “Midsummer Night’s Dream” with an incidental score which
may well be inseparably associated with the immortal fantasy to the end
of time. There was, to be sure, no need for a new overture, Felix having
written the most perfect conceivable one in his boyhood. But a dozen
other numbers, long or short, were called for and, with the most
consummate ease and soaring inspiration, Mendelssohn produced them. They
are exquisitely delicate settings of Shakespeare’s elfin songs and
choruses, a “funeral march” of extravagant grotesqueness, clownish dance
music, a flashing Intermezzo, depicting the pursuit of the lovers
through the wood, and other “background” pieces. The memorable concert
numbers, however, are the incomparable Scherzo—perhaps the most
priceless of all the famous scherzi the composer wrote; the romantic
Nocturne, with its rapturous horn revery, and the triumphant Wedding
March, a ringing processional which, in reality, belongs to all mankind
rather than to Shakespeare’s stage lovers.

The royal scheme for the Academy was not advancing and presently the
plans began to gather dust in official pigeon holes. Frederick William,
seeing the turn things were taking, appointed his Kapellmeister the head
of the music performed in the Dom. The Singakademie, conscience-stricken
over its earlier treatment of the composer, now made him an honorary
member. For all that, Mendelssohn was not fundamentally happier in
Berlin than he had been previously. Fortunately he had not resigned his
Gewandhaus post when he left Leipzig and it had again become more
desirable to him than all the royal distinctions Berlin could confer. He
had added greatly to his creative output during this period (for one
thing he had rewritten the “Walpurgisnacht” and finished the “Scotch”
Symphony) and now he was occupied with plans for a new music school in
Leipzig—the famous Conservatory, first domiciled in the Gewandhaus. In
January, 1843, its prospectus was issued. The faculty was to include men
like the theorist Moritz Hauptmann, the violinist, Ferdinand David, the
organist, Carl Becker and finally, as professors of composition and
piano, Schumann and Mendelssohn. Felix was not really overjoyed at the
prospect of pedagogical drudgery; yet to Hiller he wrote “I shall have
to go ... three or four times a week and talk about 6-4 chords ... I am
quite willing to do this for the love of the cause, because I believe it
to be a good cause”.

Quite as peacefully as her husband, Leah Mendelssohn died shortly before
Christmas, 1842. Felix grieved, if he was perhaps less stricken than by
the passing of his father. Doubtless he felt once more that nothing
remained but “to do his duty”—and these duties were unsparing and seemed
to grow more numerous and complex as the years went by. One sometimes
questions if, truly, the labors of a Bach, a Haydn and a Mozart were
more ramified and unending than Mendelssohn’s—even if he had no need to
toil in order to keep the wolf from the door!

As time passed the Mendelssohn craze in England grew steadily by what it
fed on and it was only natural that Felix should find himself repeatedly
in London. He alluded to his successes and to the intensity of his
welcome by his British friends as “scandalous”, and declared himself
completely stunned by it all. “I think I must have been applauded for
ten minutes and, after the first concert, almost trampled upon!” The
young Queen Victoria was quite as effusive as her subjects. She invited
the composer to Buckingham Palace and was graciousness itself. He played
her seven of his “Songs Without Words”, then the “Serenade”, then
Fantasies on “Rule Brittania”, “Lützows Wilde Jagd” and “Gaudeamus
Igitur”. It was by no means the only time British royalty was to show
him favor. Up to the year of his death Victoria and Albert were to
shower distinctions upon him, to treat him, as it were, like one of the

Doubtless this is as good an opportunity as another to particularize. On
one memorable occasion the Queen sang to his accompaniment and both she
and her Consort scrambled to pick up sheets of music that had fallen off
the piano. On another, the sovereign asked if there were “anything she
could do to please Dr. Mendelssohn!”. There was, indeed! Could Her
Majesty let him for a few moments visit the royal nursery? Nothing Dr.
Mendelssohn could have wished would have delighted Victoria more!
Unceremoniously leading the way she showed him all the mysteries of the
place, opened closets, wardrobes and cupboards and in a few minutes the
two were deep in a discussion of infants’ underwear, illnesses and
diets. Mendelssohn and Cécile’s own family was growing by this time and
might easily profit by the example of Buckingham Palace.

The Queen found so much delight in the “Scotch” Symphony that the
composer promptly dedicated it to her. But for that matter, England
could scarcely hear enough of it. Whether or not one ranks it as high as
the “Italian” the A minor unquestionably represents the other half of
Mendelssohn’s chief symphonic accomplishment. The question to what
degree it embodies Scottish elements or any appreciable degree of local
colour is less important than the fact that it is strong, impassioned
music, informed with a ruggedness and conflict unlike the sunnier A
major. There is a mood of tumult and drama in the first movement, whose
closing subject is a definite prefigurement of the songful theme in the
opening _allegro_ of Brahms’ Second Symphony. The Scherzo begins with a
sort of jubilant extension of the Irish folksong “The Minstrel Boy” and
the buoyant movement, as a whole, is full of tingling life. On the other
hand, the _Adagio_ undoubtedly displays a weakness characterizing so
many of Mendelssohn’s slow movements—it is sentimental rather than
searching or personal, since with Mendelssohn grief is “only a
recollection of former joys”. Yet the _finale_ is superbly vital and the
sonorous coda with which it concludes has a regal stateliness and a
bardic ring.

Whatever honours, labours, irritations and unending travels and fatigues
were his portion on the Continent (and they seemed steadily to increase)
it was to England that Mendelssohn continually turned to refresh his
spirit. Not that his toil there was lighter or his welcome less hectic!
But there was something about it all that filled his soul. People
presented him with medals, commemorative addresses, they organized
torchlight processions, sang serenades—and almost killed him with
kindness. Yet we are told that “he never enjoyed himself more than when
in the midst of society, music, fun and excitement”. “A mad, most
extraordinary mad time ... never in bed till half-past one ... for three
weeks together not a single hour to myself in any one day ... I have
made more music in these two months than elsewhere in two years”. He
ordered a huge “Baum Kuchen” from Berlin (though usually, Grove informs
us, he made no great ado over “the products of the kitchen”, his chief
enjoyments being milk rice and cherry pie). His power of recovery after
fatigue was said to be “as great as his powers of enjoyment”. With it
all “he was never dissipated”; the only stimulants he indulged in were
“music, society and boundless good spirits”. Seemingly it never occurred
to him that even a strong constitution can have too much of these.

When Mendelssohn became conductor of the Gewandhaus Orchestra he
appointed as his concertmaster his old friend, the violinist Ferdinand
David, who it will be recalled was born in the same house at Hamburg. As
early as 1838 Felix had written to David: “I should like to write a
violin concerto for you next winter. One in E minor runs through my head
the beginning of which gives me no peace”. Actually, he had tried his
hand at a violin concerto accompanied by a string orchestra during his
boyhood though this was only a kind of student effort. But David took
the promise seriously and when nothing came of it for a time determined
not to let Mendelssohn forget it.

Fully five years elapsed before the composer finished in its first form
the concerto which to this day stands with the violin concertos of
Beethoven, Brahms and Tchaikovsky as the most enduring of the
repertoire. For the various technical problems of the solo part and even
of the orchestration David was constantly at the disposal of his friend.
He offered numberless hints of the utmost value and is even believed to
have shaped the cadenza in the first movement as we know it. Even after
the score was presumably complete David advised further changes and
improvements, so that the work did not acquire its conclusive aspect
till February, 1845. On the following March 13 it was performed by David
at a Gewandhaus concert. Not under the composer’s direction, however.
The latter was in Frankfort, in poor health and greatly worn out, and
had no stomach for the excitements of another premiere. The conductor
was his Danish friend, Niels W. Gade. It was not till two weeks later
that David apologized by letter for his delay in describing the triumph
of the concerto. “The work pleased extraordinarily well and was
unanimously declared to be one of the most beautiful compositions of its
kind”. In more than a century there has been no reason to alter this

Mendelssohn’s constitution may have been resilient and his recuperative
powers as remarkable as his friends imagined, but it should have been
clear to the more far-sighted among them that sooner or later these
incessant journeys, this interminable business of composing, conducting,
playing, teaching, organizing must exact a stern penalty. It is not
surprising that, at the time the violin concerto was given in Leipzig,
he preferred to remain in Frankfort with his wife and the children (who
had gone through quite a siege of juvenile illnesses) and make a serious
effort to rest. But truly efficacious rest is a habit that must be
systematically cultivated. Felix did not possess it in his earlier
years, nor could he acquire it now when overwork promised to consume the
sensitive fibre of his being.

Yet in the summer of 1845 he was approached once more with a scheme of
major dimensions. The Birmingham Festival Committee offered him the
direction of a festival planned for August, 1846, and asked him to
“compose a performance”—in this case, a new oratorio. He was sensible
enough to refuse to conduct the whole festival but he was willing to
produce such an oratorio, even if only ten months remained to compose
most of the score and rehearse the performance.

The prophet Elijah had engrossed his imagination as an oratorio subject
ever since he had completed “St. Paul” and discussed the new work with
his friend Klingemann. In 1839 he had corresponded with Pastor Schubring
about a text and he had even made rudimentary sketches for the music.
Other obligations crowded it out of his mind. Now, six years later, he
returned to it. He realized that the time was short but his heart was
set on “Elijah”, although he was prudent enough to suggest some other
work if the oratorio should by any chance strike a snag.

Mendelssohn could write fast—too fast, perhaps, for his artistic good.
Still, “Elijah” was a heart-breaking assignment. It is only just to say
that he realized certain inadequacies of the first version and revised
not a little of the score after hearing it. His labours were complicated
by the lengthy correspondence he was obliged to carry on with William
Bartholomew, the translator. Mendelssohn insisted on a close adherence
to the King James version of the Bible, with the result that the English
words often conform neither to the accent nor the sense of the German
originals. The choice of a soprano offered another problem. The composer
wanted Jenny Lind, whom he admired extravagantly (he loved her F sharp
and the note seems to have haunted his mind when he wrote the air, “Hear
Ye, Israel”). But Jenny Lind was unavailable and he had to be satisfied
with a Maria Caradori-Allan, whom he disliked and whose singing he
afterwards described as “so pretty, so pleasing, so elegant and at the
same time so flat, so unintelligent, so soulless that the music acquired
a sort of amiable expression about which I could go mad”. Be all of
which as it may, Caradori-Allan was paid as much for singing in the
first “Elijah” as Mendelssohn was for composing it! The precious
creature actually told him at a rehearsal that “Hear Ye, Israel” was
“not a lady’s song,” and asked him to have it transposed and otherwise

However, the first performance in Birmingham, Aug. 26, 1846, was a
triumph for the composer though, to be candid, the uncritical adulation
of the audience had settled the verdict in advance. The report of
Mendelssohn’s boyhood friend, Julius Benedict, is typical: “The noble
Town Hall was crowded at an early hour of that forenoon with a brilliant
and eagerly expectant audience.... Every eye had long been directed
toward the conductor’s desk, when, at half-past eleven o’clock, a
deafening shout from the band and chorus announced the approach of the
great composer. The reception he met from the assembled thousands ...
was absolutely overwhelming; whilst the sun, emerging at that moment,
seemed to illumine the vast edifice in honour of the bright and pure
being who stood there, the idol of all beholders”!

It enhances one’s respect for the artistic probity of Mendelssohn that
he preserved his balance. He evaluated his work critically, carefully
modified or enlarged it and obliged Bartholomew to make a quantity of
changes in the English text. On April 16, 1847, he conducted the revised
version in the first of four performances by the Sacred Harmonic Society
in Exeter Hall, London. On April 23 the Queen and the Prince Consort
heard the work. Albert wrote in the book of words and sent to
Mendelssohn a dedication: “To the Noble Artist who, surrounded by the
Baal-worship of debased art, has been able by his genius and science to
preserve faithfully, like another Elijah, the Worship of True Art, and
once more to accustom our ears, amid the whirl of empty frivolous
sounds, to the pure tones of sympathetic feeling and legitimate harmony:
to the Great Master, who makes us conscious of the unity of his
conception, through the whole maze of his creation, from the soft
whispering to the mighty raging of the elements. Inscribed in grateful
remembrance by


It was a fitting climax to Mendelssohn’s tenth visit to England—in some
ways his most memorable, in any case his last.

Before Mendelssohn left London he paid a farewell visit to Buckingham
Palace. He had a mysterious presentiment that he must leave hurriedly.
Friends pressed him to remain in England a little longer. “Ah! I wish I
may not already have stayed too long here! One more week of this
unremitting fatigue and I should be killed outright”. He was manifestly
ill. Fate caught up with him at Frankfort. Scarcely had he arrived in a
state of prostration when he abruptly learned that his sister, Fanny
Hensel, had died while at the piano conducting a choir rehearsal. With a
shriek, Felix collapsed. The shock of the news and the violence of his
fall on hearing it brought about a rupture of one of those delicate
cerebral blood vessels which had caused so many deaths in the
Mendelssohn family.

In a measure he recovered. He went to Baden-Baden and later to
Switzerland. He wrote letters, sketched and still composed. He greeted
friends from England, he learned that London and Liverpool wanted new
symphonies and cantatas. This time he did nothing about it. When he,
finally, returned in September to Leipzig, he seemed to feel better,
though Moscheles, meeting him, was frightened to see how he had aged and
changed. On Oct. 9, while visiting his friend, the singer Livia Frege,
in connection with some Lieder he planned to publish, he was seized with
a chill. He hurried home and was put to bed, tortured by violent
headaches. He had planned to go to Vienna late in the month to conduct
“Elijah” with Jenny Lind as the soprano. Of this there could now be no
question. On Nov. 3, 1847 he suffered another stroke and lay, it is
claimed, unconscious, though Ferdinand David says that, till ten in the
evening, “he screamed frightfully, then made noises as if he heard the
sounds of drums and trumpets.... During the following day the pains
seemed to cease, but his face was that of a dying man”. Some time
between 9:15 and 9:30 in the evening he ceased to breathe. He was
exactly three months short of 39 years old. Grouped about the bed were
his wife, his brother Paul, David, Schleinitz and Moscheles. “Through
Fanny’s death our family was destroyed”, wrote Paul Mendelssohn to
Klingemann; “through Felix’s, it is annihilated”! Leipzig was stunned by
the news. “It is lovely weather here”, wrote a young English music
student, “but an awful stillness prevails; we feel as if the king were

Posthumously, Mendelssohn’s fate seemed like a strange reversal of his
supreme idol’s, Bach. Bach passed into long eclipse, then, largely
through Mendelssohn’s heroic efforts, underwent a miracle of
resurrection which has grown more overpowering clear down to our own
time. Mendelssohn, almost preposterously famous at his death, was before
very long pronounced outmoded, overrated, virtually negligible. The
whole history of music scarcely shows a more violent backswing of the
pendulum. To take pleasure in any but a handful of Mendelssohn’s works
was for decades to lose caste, if not to invite ignominy. By 1910—just
about the centenary of his birth—the low water-mark of derogation had
been reached.

Now, a hundred years after his death, a most definite reaction is in
progress. Is it not, rather, a salutary readjustment than a mere
reaction? If Mendelssohn’s poorer works have not endured is it not
better so? Struggle and suffering might, indeed, have lent a deeper
undertone to his songs or enabled his adagios, in old Sir George Grove’s
words, “to draw tears where now they only give a saddened pleasure. But
let us take a man as we have him. Surely there is enough conflict and
violence in life and in art. When we want to be made unhappy we can turn
to others. It is well in these agitated modern days to be able to point
to one perfectly balanced nature in whose life, whose letters and whose
music alike all is at once manly and refined, clever and pure, brilliant
and solid. For the enjoyment of such shining heights of goodness we may
well forego for once the depths of misery and sorrow”.

And Grove’s words taken on an added poignancy precisely because they
were _not_ spoken of an epoch as grievous as our own!

   [Illustration: Family Group. Sketch by Mendelssohn, Soden, 1844.]

                      COMPLETE LIST OF RECORDINGS
                              OF NEW YORK

                            COLUMBIA RECORDS

                 _Under the Direction of Bruno Walter_

  Barber—Symphony No. 1
  Beethoven—Concerto No. 5 in E-flat major (“Emperor”) (with Rudolph
        Serkin, piano)
  Beethoven—Symphony No. 3 in E-flat major (“Eroica”)
  Beethoven—Symphony No. 5 in C minor
  Beethoven—Symphony No. 8 in F Major
  Brahms—Song of Destiny (with Westminster Choir)
  Dvorak—Slavonic Dance No. 1
  Mahler—Symphony No. 4 in G major (with Desi Halban, soprano)
  Mendelssohn—Concerto in E minor (with Nathan Milstein, violin)
  Mendelssohn—Midsummer Night’s Dream—Scherzo (with Nathan Milstein)
  Mozart—Cosi Fan Tutte—Overture
  Mozart—Symphony No. 41 in C major (“Jupiter”), K. 551
  Schubert—Symphony No. 7 in C major
  Schumann, R.—Symphony No. 3 in E-flat major (“Rhenish”)
  Smetana—The Moldau (“Vltava”)
  Strauss, J.—Emperor Waltz

                _Under the Direction of Artur Rodzinski_

  Bizet—Carmen—Entr’acte (Prelude to Act III)
  Bizet—Symphony in C major
  Copland—A Lincoln Portrait (with Kenneth Spencer, Narrator)
  Gershwin—American in Paris
  Ibert—“Escales” (Ports of Call)
  Liszt—Mephisto Waltz
  Moussorgsky—Gopak (The Fair at Sorotchinski)
  Moussorgsky-Ravel—Pictures at an Exhibition
  Prokofieff—Symphony No. 5, Op. 100
  Rachmaninoff—Concerto No. 2 in C minor (with Gyorgy Sandor)
  Rachmaninoff—Symphony No. 2 in E minor
  Saint-Saens—Concerto No. 4 in C minor (with Robert Casadesus)
  Sibelius—Symphony No. 4 in A minor
  Tschaikowsky—Suite “Mozartiana”
  Tschaikowsky—Symphony No. 6 in B minor (“Pathétique”)
  Wagner—Lohengrin—Bridal Chamber Scene (Act III—Scene 2) (with Helen
        Traubel, soprano and Kurt Baum, tenor)
  Wagner—Tristan und Isolde—Excerpts (with Helen Traubel, soprano)
  Wagner—Die Walkure—Act III (Complete) (with Helen Traubel, soprano and
        Herbert Janssen, baritone)
  Wolf-Ferrari—“Secret of Suzanne”, Overture

                _Under the Direction of Igor Stravinsky_

  Stravinsky—Firebird Suite
  Stravinsky—Fireworks (Feu d’Artifice)
  Stravinsky—Four Norwegian Moods
  Stravinsky—Le Sacre du Printemps (The Consecration of the Spring)
  Stravinsky—Scenes de Ballet
  Stravinsky—Suite from Petrouchka
  Stravinsky—Symphony in Three Movements

                  _Under the Direction of Efrem Kurtz_

  Khatchaturian—Gayne—Ballet Suite
  Wieniawski—Violin Concerto (with Isaac Stern)

                _Under the Direction of Darius Milhaud_

  Milhaud—Suite Francaise

                _Under the Direction of John Barbirolli_

  Bach-Barbirolli—Sheep May Safely Graze (from the “Birthday Cantata”)
  Berlioz—Roman Carnival Overture
  Brahms—Symphony No. 2, in D major
  Brahms—Academic Festival Overture
  Bruch—Concerto No. 1, in G minor (with Nathan Milstein, violin)
  Debussy—First Rhapsody for Clarinet (with Benny Goodman, clarinet)
  Debussy—Petite Suite: Ballet
  Mozart—Concerto in B-flat major (with Robert Casadesus, piano)
  Mozart—Symphony No. 25 in G minor, K. 183
  Ravel—La Valse
  Rimsky-Korsakov—Capriccio Espagnol
  Sibelius—Symphony No. 1, in E minor
  Sibelius—Symphony No. 2, in D major
  Smetana—The Bartered Bride—Overture
  Tschaikowsky—Theme and Variations (from Suite No. 3 in G)

              _Under the Direction of Sir Thomas Beecham_

  Mendelssohn—Symphony No. 4, in A major (“Italian”)
  Sibelius—Melisande (from “Pelleas and Melisande”)
  Sibelius—Symphony No. 7 in C major
  Tschaikowsky—Capriccio Italien

               _Under the Direction of Andre Kostelanetz_

  Gershwin—Concerto in F (with Oscar Levant, piano)

                             VICTOR RECORDS

               _Under the Direction of Arturo Toscanini_

  Beethoven—Symphony No. 7 in A major
  Brahms—Variations on a Theme by Haydn
  Dukas—The Sorcerer’s Apprentice
  Gluck—Orfeo ed Euridice—Dance of the Spirits
  Haydn—Symphony No. 4, in D major (The Clock)
  Mendelssohn—Midsummer Night’s Dream—Scherzo
  Mozart—Symphony in D major (K. 385)
  Rossini—Barber of Seville—Overture
  Rossini—Italians in Algiers—Overture
  Verdi—Traviata—Preludes to Acts I and III
  Wagner—Excerpts—Lohengrin—Die Gotterdammerung—Siegfried Idyll

                _Under the Direction of John Barbirolli_

  Debussy—Iberia (Images, Set 3, No. 2)
  Purcell—Suite for Strings with Four Horns, Two Flutes, English Horn
  Respighi—Fountains of Rome
  Respighi—Old Dances and Airs (Special recording for members of the
        Philharmonic-Symphony League of New York)
  Schubert—Symphony No. 4, in C minor (Tragic)
  Schumann—Concerto in D minor, (with Yehudi Menuhin, violin)
  Tschaikowsky—Francesca de Rimini—Fantasia

               _Under the Direction of Willem Mengelberg_

  J. C. Bach—Arr. Stein—Sinfonia in B-flat major
  J. S. Bach—Arr. Mahler—Air for G string (from Suite for Orchestra)
  Beethoven—Egmont Overture
  Handel—Alcina Suite
  Mendelssohn—War March of the Priests (from Athalia)
  Meyerbeer—Prophete—Coronation March
  Saint-Saens—Rouet d’Omphale (Omphale’s Spinning Wheel)
  Schelling—Victory Ball
  Wagner—Flying Dutchman—Overture
  Wagner—Siegfried—Forest Murmurs (Waldweben)

                     Special Booklets published for
                             RADIO MEMBERS
                              OF NEW YORK

  POCKET-MANUAL of Musical Terms, Edited by Dr. Th. Baker (G.
  BEETHOVEN and his Nine Symphonies by Pitts Sanborn
  BRAHMS and some of his Works by Pitts Sanborn
  MOZART and some Masterpieces by Herbert F. Peyser
  WAGNER and his Music-Dramas by Robert Bagar
  TSCHAIKOWSKY and his Orchestral Music by Louis Biancolli
  JOHANN SEBASTIAN BACH and a few of his major works by Herbert F.
  SCHUBERT and his work by Herbert F. Peyser

These booklets are available to Radio Members at 25c each while the
limited supply lasts.

                   The immortal music of Mendelssohn
            is available in magnificent performances by the
                         ORCHESTRA OF NEW YORK

  Symphony No. 4 in A major, Op. 90 (“Italian”).
  Conducted by Sir Thomas Beecham.
  Set M-MM-538

  Concerto in E minor for Violin & Orch. Op. 64 (with Nathan Milstein,
  Conducted by Bruno Walter.
  Set M-MM-577

  Scherzo (from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”).
  Conducted by Bruno Walter.
  12145-D (in set M-577)

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                          Transcriber’s Notes

--A few palpable typos were silently corrected.

--Illustrations were shifted to the nearest paragraph break.

--Copyright notice is from the printed exemplar. (U.S. copyright was not
  renewed: this ebook is in the public domain.)

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