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The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
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Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy

by Mrs. Maxwell Y. Maxwell
Volume 12, no. 1 and 2, 1901, pgs. 7-14; 93-100


In the wainscotted parlour of their grandmother's house at Berlin, fourscore years ago, the little Mendelssohns gave their celebrated Sunday concerts. Fanny was at the piano, Rebecca sang, the tiny Paul stretched his short arms round a 'cello twice the size of himself; and, standing on a stool in order to be seen, was the small boy who conducted his own symphony, and who was destined in a few years' time to create no small stir throughout Germany and England.

Old Frau Moses Mendelssohn [Felix's grandmother] and her son Abraham conversed together about the last new marvel little Felix had produced; and the quiet woman in the background, who had given him his first music lesson as well as his first breath, and whose influence was known to be as strong as it was silent, looked into her child's face and into his future, and kept all these things in her heart. It was plain that Abraham was to be the father of a celebrated son, just as he had long been the son of a celebrated father; for the literary fame of Moses Mendelssohn the Jewish philosopher had spread far and wide, his great work on the Immortality of the Soul having been translated into all the principal languages of Europe.

But Abraham the banker, who was neither a philosophical genius like his father, nor a musical genius like his son, possessed nevertheless an abundance of intellect and of wisdom, as well as of other good qualities, which constituted him an ideal parent to the young musician. Felix in return was devoted to him and valued highly his excellent judgment. He writes, in the height of his fame, "One word of praise from you, dear father, is more precious to me and makes me more truly happy than all the public applause in the world put together." There existed that filial bond between the two, and an affection between the whole family which, if not peculiar to the Jewish race, is at least found among them in its greatest perfection, being regarded not as a domestic virtue only, but as one of the chief elements of their more ancient religion.

Abraham and Leah made it the business of their lives to train their children well, both morally and intellectually; they encouraged Felix's passion for music, giving him the best of masters, and allowing him to join the Berlin Singakademie when he was only nine years old. His father, being a rich man, was able to engage the court musicians to form the orcestra of the Sunday private concerts, where the works of the young genius were performed to an audience of cultured and distinguished friends.

In the year that he became eleven, Felix produced sixty movements of various kinds, one of them being a dramatic piece in three scenes, and another a sonata in G minor; and in the year that he was twelve years old he composed five symphonies, three operas, and an immense quantity of other music. But at the same time he was not allowed to neglect his general education, being obliged to rise at five every morning to do lessons with the other children, and, in this way, learning much, both of mathematics and of ancient and modern languages. He became an accomplished and classical scholar; was able to read and write English with perfect ease; and could not only write very charming letters in Italian to Hiller's wife, but also translated the difficult poetry of Dante into excellent German verse. His interests were widened at this time by a visit to the old poet Goethe at Weimar, with whom he stayed sixteen days, and whose acquaintance he renewed a few years later on his way into Italy, when the old man showed great honour to the youth, whom he called the "mighty yet delicate master of the piano." It was to Goethe that he dedicated, at the age of sixteen, his really wonderful work of the B minor quartet.

One word more relating to the wisdom of Felix's father. Abraham Mendelssohn's brothers [Felix's uncles] remained Jews, his sisters {Felix's aunts] became Christians--Catholic Christians; but Abraham did better than either, for he not only embraced Christianity, but chose the Protestant form of it. The name of Bartholdy added to his own at this time was assumed in order to distinguish him from his Jewish brothers.

It is highly probable that if Abraham Mendelssohn had become a convert to Catholic Christianity, Felix, whose joy in life was to please his father, would probably, like Mozart, have limited his religious compositions to various settings of the Mass and Requiems for the Dead. He might have produced his Psalms and Oratorios, but certainly he would not have composed his Reformation Symphony containing the Lutheran chorale, "Ein feste Burg," nor would he have incorporated with his oratorios those old Hussite hymns which were the heirlooms of the Moravians, and which had originally been sung by the simple and deeply religious people known in pre-Reformation times as the "Friends of God." The use he made of the chorales, both in the simple setting and the elaborate orchestrations, may have been suggested by Bach's Passion Music, composed just a hundred years before, and for which Felix had an enthusiastic veneration. That great work was practically dead and buried, the only copy of it being kept locked up in the Berlin Music Academy; and although Zelter, its rigid old master, ought to have been proud that his pupil should regard Bach with so much admiration, at a time when Germany considered the Great Classic to be dry and unintelligible, he would never allow the volume to be utilized. The lad's longing for it was, however, gratified at last by his grandmother, who commissoned someone to transcribe the whole score, and presented it to him on his thirteenth birthday.

When Felix was eighteen years of age, he got up a weekly practice of the Passion Music with choir and orchestra; and after many jeers from Zelter, who stormed and told him he was "an audacious young fool to attempt what his elders had failed in," Felix gave his public performance with three or four hundred voices, which proved to be a triumph beyond his highest expectations. Zelter was forced into a grim acknowledgment of his pupil's penetrative genius, fully recognizing that, by his clear perception and energy, a buried treasure had been brought to light; and Felix, in the delight of his success, made the only reference we hear of to his Jewish origin, for he said, "It is a singular fact that this great treatise on the Passion of our Divine Lord should have been given back to the world by a Hebrew." It was Mendelssohn's lifelong endeavour to restore all Bach's works to public appreciation. He studied them intently, and traces of that study are to be found in his compositions right up to the end of his life.

When Felix was still a boy, he was playing one of Bach's fugues to Goethe, and, forgetting the second half of it, he worked it out himself in such a way that no one in the audience detected the improvisation. The fugues were considered at that time as hard mathematical problems until Mendelssohn elucidated them by his quick perception and sympathetic execution, so that the older professors were fain to admit that, under his interpretation, they understood them for the first time. His championship of Bach led him to collect funds for a public monuent to his memory. Towards this object Mendelssohn gave an organ recital, for which, with characteristic ardour, he practised so much that as he wrote to his mother, "I am walking pedal passages as I go down the street."

Another benefit resulting from Felix's membership of the Reformed Church was his entirely successful choice of a wife, who was the daughter of a Protestant pastor. Cecile Jeanrenaud, born in France, but living at Frankfort, seems to have been one of the sweetest and sensiblest girls a man could love. He chose her when he was twenty-eight years old in a way quite characteristic of his wisdom and well-balanced character, and he continued to love her both poetically and practically for the ten years that remained of his too short life.

The first time he was separated from his young wife was during one of his many visits to England, and he writes to Hiller from the midst of a London fog: "While I am here, I intend to do nothing but swear, and long for my Cecile; what is the good of all the double counterpoint in the world if she is not with me?" And again, when she is the mother of his five children, Felix writes: "The best part of every pleasure is gone if Cecile is not there."

It was during his wedding tour that he composed the music to the 42nd Psalm, and one cannot but feel that the purity of his love to his bride intensified the aspirations of his soul toward God, seeing that at the height of his human happiness there was, uppermost in his mind, those deeply devotional words: "As the hart panteth after the waterbrooks, so longeth my soul after Thee, Oh God." But under every circumstance there was a reverence and gratitude in the man which showed a sense of the law and order within his soul.

There was to be a less happy, though a not less sacred, association with this composition. Soon after the death of his mother, the 42nd Psalm was on the programme of one of the subscription concerts at the Leipsic Gewandhaus, of which he was the Director. He made a great effort to reappear in public on this occasion while he was still deeply afflicted by his loss, and though he strengthened himself during the first few pieces, his sensitive soul was so entirely overcome by the words, "Why art thou so vexed, oh my Soul," that he broke down and retired from the hall to weep in his private room.

The music to the 42nd Psalm covers nearly sixty pages, and, in addition to this Psalm, Mendelssohn set to music the words of ten others. The 114th Psalm was originally performed on New Year's Day 1840, and the first movements of it are certainly among the noblest of his writings. The words, "When Israel out of Egypt came," must have stirred the Jewish blood which had flowed in his veins since his forefathers had kept their first passover. Perhaps it was the remembrance of that triumphant deliverance which made him introduce here an eight part or double chorus. In addition to these ten Psalms, he composed also a sacred Cantata, taken from the words of the 55th Psalm, "Hear my prayer," and it is in this exquisite little work that we have the melody, "Oh for the wings of a dove," in which, truly, he takes his hearers with him, soaring high above the heavy air of this world to where the atmosphere is as the very breath of the Creator.

When Felix was twenty years old, he paid the first of his ten visits to England, and the enthusiastic appreciation which he met with on this occasion increased at every subsequent visit until it reached a climax at the performance of the Elijah, which took place about a year before his death, 1847.

It was during this performance at the Birmingham Festival that the Prince Consort wrote on his programme and sent to the conductor these well known words of praise: "To the noble artist who, though encompassed by the Baal worship of false art, by his genius and study has succeeded, like another Elijah, in faithfully preserving the worship of true art, once more habituating the ear to the pure tones of sympathetic feeling and legitimate harmony; to the great master who, by the tranquil current of his thoughts, reveals to us the gentle whisperings as well as the mighty strife of the elements, is this written in grateful remembrance by Albert."

At Buckingham Palace, the Queen [Victoria] and Prince Consort would sit quietly together listening to him extemporize on organ or piano for two hours at a time, and our musician said that he never felt able to extemporize so well as under those circumstances. That the composer played also from notes we may judge from the little incident, lately published, of his being found, together with the Sovereign and Prince Albert, on his hands and knees, gathering together the scattered sheets upon the floor.

"What pleasure can we give you, Mr. Mendelssohn," asked the young Queen on one of his late visits, "in return for the great pleasure you have given us?"

"I should like better than anything else to see your Majesty's nurseries and babies," he replied, himself already a father. Mendelssohn was not seeking a coronet, though the Royal Mother might well have offered him one for such a masterpiece of courtliness. It was but part of that goodness and simplicity which were the foundation of his peculiar charm, for he was, in all things, absolutely sincere and without ostentation concerning his many gifts.

In 1829 he stayed at a large country house in Wales, and the daughters of the house afterwards describe how "Mr. Mendelssohn, though full of fine sentiment, was entirely free from sentimentality, his laugh was the most joyous thing ever heard, he would go off into fits of laughter himself, and it was so infectious that he kept us all in peals of merriment." They speak of his energy at the picnics, and describe how he took a "keen interest in everything, setting himself seriously to understand the conditions of the Welsh miners." Then how the house party went out on sketching walks, and that "although Mr. Mendelssohn's sketches were of real artistic value, far excelling those of the best of us, he would yet make such fun of them himself that we were forced to join in the joke too." [Mendelssohn was talented at drawing; a couple of his sketches are here] During this visit to Mr. John Taylor's in Wales, he gave musical utterance to his delight in some of the natural objects he saw there. In one instance it would be a little flower which was new to him, the blossoms of which were shaped like a trumpet, on which delicate little instruments he was sure the fairies played at night; he extemporized on the piano the music which he thought the fairies would play, writing it out afterwards for Miss Honoria's album; and drawing, very exquisitely, this little creeping flower round the margin of the paper. This is the composition with which we are famililar as the Capriccio in E minor. A little stream in the woods was the subject of a second fantasia during Mendelssohn's visit to Coed-du in Wales. After his return to Germany, he played this descriptive music to the painter Schirmer at Dusseldorf, who while listening to it, conceived a landscape, executed it at his leisure, and presented it to Mendelssohn. The picture eventually came into the hands of Mr. Taylor, at whose house this piece of music called the "Rivulet" had been composed. This and other fantasia, together with the capriccio, formed a trio, and were published two months later, when Mendelssohn was staying at Norwood.

In the meantime he visited Scotland, where he recieved the inspiration for his "Overture to the Hebrides" with its intensely sombre and melancholy sentiment expressed in B minor; and it was at this time also that he started the idea of his great Scotch symphony. Concerning this he writes a letter to his family, which has not been published but which was shown to Sir George Grove by Dr. Karl Mendelssohn. The composer tells how he derived the original theme from a great melancholy which came over him while wandering through Queen Mary's rooms at Holyrood, in the twilight of a fine summer evening. As soon as he returned to the inn he wrote down the first sixteen bars, just as they afterwards remained; but it was not until a period of leisure in Italy, two years later, that he developed this work; and the contrast of his surroundings in that country seems to have been too great for the easy fulfilment of the task, for he writes home complaining of such "confoundedly bright sunshine that he is totally unable to recall the feeling of a Scotch mist!" He gets out of the difficulty however very well, by leaving the royal tragedies and the mists in the A minor andante, for the crisp lively subject of the vivace movement in F, where the flute and bassoons rush after each other as if they were Highlanders themselves on their springy, native heath. This movement begins with the reedy wind instruments, as if referring to the native Scotch music, and is spoken of very highly both by Schumann and Wagner. It is at the opening of this Symphony that it has been particularly noticed how the instruments call out to each other from different parts of the orchestra, and seem to converse as if they were human beings. Mendelssohn's felicity in representing Nature by musical utterance was part of the dramatic power which was shown, not merely in his professedly dramatic works, but in every kind of composition which he produced.

He tells us that music is speech, and that what he writes must be speech made up of true words; that if he does not "first hear his music in the depth of his heart, and utter it with sincerity, it sounds to him like glaring falsehood." This elucidates the manner in which his character affects his compositions, for his music is permeated with meaning, and his personality is expressive, extending, as one may say, to his very fingertips.

The question whether he did not express himself too clearly, and whether he was not just a little too obvious, is one which cannot altogether be decided in the negative. The first time his music was performed in Paris, two distinguished critics left their seats when it was three parts through, saying, "Very good, but we know the rest." Truly, the only imperfection of his music is that it is too perfect.

It has been said that the music of Mendelssohn is to the music of Wagner as the Grecian architecture is to the Gothic. But, however justifiable the simile may be, one can hardly feel that the music of Mendelssohn is quite as limited as the flatness of the Classic roof over one's head: and it might surely be accorded the distance and, perhaps, even some of the mystery of the Gothic roof. Though, if we agree to accord this to Mendelssohn, we must--to be relatively fair where Wagner is concerned--take off the roof entirely and stand beneath the infinitude of the sky.

Wagner published a bitter attack upon what he called the "Deleterious effect of the Jews upon music," meaning, we understand, the limitations of Mendelssohn and Meyerbeer. Now, respecting Mendelssohn's limitations, it must be remembered that they are to be found in method and form only, while the matter is unlimited, free, and original. His knowledge of counterpoint was quite as great as Wagner's, he could therefore have broken its laws with equal intelligence and daring to suite his own purposes, for assuredly Wagner was not made for counterpoint, but counterpoint for Wagner. But the reason that Mendelssohn confined his musical ideas within recognized modes of expression was because it was his wish to do so, not because he was limited or common place, but because he had a reverence for musical law. He avows this principle quite clearly enough; but if he had not done so in words, his life and character would have spoken it, for his morals as well as his music were kept under control. As a young man, he was bursting with spontaneous exuberance, he was sensitive, fascinating, and universally beloved, with a keen capacity for enjoyment such as only the artistic nature possesses. But he held every faculty within the bounds of righteousness.

Full of genius, he was also full of discipline, as may be traced from his education and his heredity; for he was the result--first, of his father, a man dominated by judgment of the head; secondly, of his grandfather Moses the philosopher, who was known in his time as the "modern Plato," and who, in his turn, was the son of the schoolmaster Mendels, hence the name Mendelssohn. And lastly, Felix was the result of the better portion of his race, inasmuch as he came of the spiritual educated Hebrew, and of a law-abiding ancestry who had preserved their age-long adherence to the commands spoken on Mount Sinai.

While we are ready, then, to acknowledge that Mendelssohn was strict in the law of musical technique, and even rigid in the symmetry of his phrasing, we can unhesitatingly assert that he was sontaneous when it came to musical matter.

He had numerous disciples, of whom, perhaps, Sterndale Bennett was the chief, though as:

          "Moonlight unto sunlight,
          And water into wine."

These disciples robbed their master of some of his freshness, but this is a thing which may happen to any original genius--whether his work be music, painting, or literature; and after borrowing his brains for years, men will often turn round and complain of his lack of originality.

For example, the portrayal of fairy life in Mendelssohn's overture to the Midsummer's Night's Dream was a conception entirely new and so successful that it has passed into a classic; no composer has treated fairy scenes since without making use of it more or less, in fact, whether they know it or not, rather more. It was dated from Berlin in the August of 1826, that is to say, when its author was seventeen and a half years old, and owing to the originality of thought, freshness of conception, and perfect mastery over the details of construction, it took, at once, a prominent place in the school of modern music. It has been considered by the highest critics that "no one work contains so many new points of harmony and orchestration." In this overture, as well as in the Octet and Quintet, the fairy lightness and grace are not less remarkable than the strength of construction and solidity of workmanship which underlie and support them.

Its public performance under Mendelssohn's own direction at once raised him from the status of a student to that of a leader of art. One of the many orchestral performances of this work took place at Munich, about four years after it was composed, and resulted in a commission to write a grand opera for the theatre of that music loving ciy. This commission, as everyone remembers, was never executed, owing to his high ideal of what a libretto ought to be.

The other parts of the Midsummer's Night's Dream music, including the Nocturne, the Entr'acte, and the familiar old Wedding March, were not composed until seventeen years later: this being done by the command of the King of Prussia, and the performance at the royal palace drew musicians from Leipzic, Frankfort, and other towns. Sir George Grove says that this music, together with the overture, is a "perfect illustration of Shakespeare's play, and will be loved as long as beauty, sentiment, and exquisite workmanship are held dear."

Considering the urgency of his friends on the subject, and the lifelong desire on his own part to write a grand opera, it seems as if Mendelssohn might have extended his treatment of this play and taken from it his long sought libretto. In his fruitless search, he frequently hovered about Shakespeare, and returned more often than any other play to the play of King Lear. His very successful music to the first act of Lorelei seemed to bear the promise of an opera; but the first act was all he cared for in the book.

Abraham Mendelssohn used to say, when he was desirous that his son should marry: "If Felix is as fastidious in his choice of a wife as he is in his choice of a libretto, he will never marry at all."

When our musician was staying in Paris, his father writes, suggesting that he should take the translation of one of the French plays, to which he replies that the "distinctive characteristic of them all is precisely of a nature I should resolutely oppose, although the taste of the present day may demand it." "I allude," he adds, "to that of immorality." He then quotes a scene from Robert le Diable, then adds, "if the present epoch exacts this style then I will write nothing but oratorios."

The production of the small opera, Camancho's Wedding, at the Berlin opera-house, when Felix was but nineteen years old, seems to have been the commencement of years of uncongenial dealings with the coarse Berliners, which amounted at last to a torture, and led to that favourite saying of his that "The first step out of Berlin is the first step to happiness."

The King himself was gracious, considerate, and kindly; but the constraint of Mendelssohn's connection with the Court, and the turmoil and material spirit of Berlin, upset his sensitive nature, and prevented him while thus surrounded, from giving form to the melodious conceptions of which his mind was ever full.

For many years, his time was spent between the much hated duties of the Court at Berlin and the delightful direction of the Gewandhaus and Conservatorium at Leipzic; until at last he got quite an attack of Berlin on the brain, and sent in his resignation to the King, which was accepted as far as his personal attendance was concerned, but with the stipulation that he should remain Official Composer to the Court.

It is hardly necessary to say that Mendelssohn's discomfort in his native place existed entirely outside his private circle. The house of his father and mother was ever the dearest place on earth to him; it stood, at that time, beyond the town, enclosed in its own beautiful grounds, as a haven of family love and social charm.

The mansion, which the banker bought when his children were growing up, had previously been the residence of a nobleman, and was large enough to yield up a wing of the building to his sister Fanny and her husband Hensel, for whom there was a spacious studio; besides a glorious hall able to hold six or seven hundred people.

The love of Felix for every menber of his family was exceptional, and quite beautiful. One would like to give instances of it if there had been space within the limits of this paper.

For the occasion of his parents' silver wedding he produced an operetta, The Son and the Stranger, specially composed for the various capacities of the family circle, every member being obliged to sing a part. That of the painter Hensel, who was appallingly unmusical, was written almost entirely on one note; but even this he was unable to rehearse without sending the other performers into screams of laughter.

We can only now allude to a characteristic feature of Mendelssohn's composition, which must not be overlooked, the production of unaccompanied part songs, a form of music well known in Germany, but unheard in England before his introduction of it. It is not too much to say that the "Open air part songs" caused a revival of choral music throughout England which is still extending in the form of societies and singing classes in every county; that they created a pleasant social atmosphere, and were, to a great extent, the power which made the name of Mendelssohn a beloved household word throughout our land.

It was in one of his later visits to London, about three years before his untimely death, that we may see the strain of his overfull life beginning to tell on him. He conducts in Manchester, Birmingham, and other places; he plays the piano in nearly every great house in London; gives organ recitals in St. Paul's Cathedral and various churches; goes to debates at the House of Commons, and to dances, and nothing interferes with his composing, which goes on for a portion of every day. In the midst of this there comes a command from the Court at Berlin to write music to a Greek play; he even executes this and finds it is not required till two years afterwards. that, however, was but characteristic of the official fuss he had to endure; and perhaps it was not, after all, the pleasure and work in London so much as the strangulation by red tape in Berlin which was beginning to affect him, intermittently, but with fatal termination.

He left England and went to join his wife and children for a holiday in Germany, during which he was composing all the time; but this latter was a necessity of his existence, and was the more practicable the further from Berlin he could find himself.

During this holiday he composed many of the movements of his six Organ-sonatas; also his only Concerto for violin and piano, which he wrote without an instrument, for he was rusticating in the mountains. On the night it was first performed at the Leipzic Conservatorium, October, 1845, he was too overstrained to face the public or to bear a sound.

It will be seen that in this attempt to recall Mendelssohn's works, there is a conspicuous omission of the Elijah, the Hymn of Praise, or St. Paul; but so popular are these oratorios that it would seem to be unnecessary, and perhaps impertiment to attempt any description of them.

Then to pass from the immense to the minute. We must feel that the "Songs without words" have received far too much attention during the last seventy years, and it would be kind to their author to let them alone. We cannot but see that the weakness of some of them is such as would have imperilled the reputation of a less able composer.

It is, however, quite reassuring to find that Mendelssohn despised the popularity which resulted from these productions; indeed he kept back many of them from publication during his lifetime, saying that "such animalculae must not be multiplied too much."

He used to say, "I do not in the least regard what people wish, or praise, or pay for."

It is, perhaps, well for the interests of art that the artist should not always be a starving man. If his butcher had been pressing for payment, Mendelssohn might have been tempted to give the public what they wanted instead of what he thought would be good for them; he might have given them musical sugar sticks instead of the vigorous diet of Bach, or written the much requested opera to a libretto of which he did not approve rather than his oratorios, the words of which were taken from The Book he loved and held in highest esteem.

But the circumstances of our composer were quite scandalously comfortable! and hence a problem, how to reconcile the fact that he was a genius--we must allow no two opinions about that--with the assurance that he had always a good account at his banker's; that he was quite lacking in fits of gloomy depression; that nobody in his father's house misunderstood or underrated him; and then, most untraditional of all, he possessed a sweet and clever wife who not only was worthy of him but whose worthiness he was ready to acknowledge! In spite of this last most serious defect in a man laying claim to be a genius, he gained a reputation as great in its way as that of Socrates, Andrea del Sarto, or the saintly John Wesley, each of whom was certainly not saddled with that disadvantage.

Then there was the defect of riches which he overcame without difficulty; for if poverty be regarded as a spur to production, it was quite unnecessary to his genius. Mendelssohn was possessed by an untiring industry, which was indeed so great as to amount to a calamity, seeing how the art of taking rest was almost the only art of which he was ignorant, and the lack of it induced his hereditary brain collapse. The production of great works for the good of society is an arduous labour requiring self discipline and self sacrifice, and, for the accomplishment of it, some degree on the part of the artist is often an advantage.

When Mendelssohn and Chopin were in Paris together, the latter much desired to accompany his friend on a travelling tour, but his purse was empty. He requested that the journey might be delayed a day, and returned to his lodging; he scribbled hard all night, ran to the publishers in the morning, and met Mendelssohn at the coach with 500 francs in his pocket. This is how we obtained Chopin's lovely Waltz in E flat. Whether starvation is an inducement to the growth of genius or not, we have proof in Mendelssohn that it is not always indispensable.

The third defect attending his career was his happiness and the social sympathy by which he was always surrounded, the abundance of admiration which met him in all places. Devrient well explains how this kind of success had no injurious effect on his friend, for "Felix was so strong," says he, "in mind and character, that he never once let slip the bridle of religious discipline, nor the just sense of modesty and humility. Heaven granted him the fulfilment of all his wishes, and earth denied him none of her joys." And if heaven and earth had not behaved in this satisfactory manner, Mendelssohn's was hardly the nature to fret against the fact; he had so entirely the talent for happiness, that it seemed his parents must have been prophetic when they chose for him the name of Felix [Felix means "happy"] . This absence in his life of great personal sorrow is felt in his works, and although he is able to represent sorrow when necessary, that ability seems merely due to his dramatic power--as in the case of the prophet Elijah when he sings--"It is enough, now take away my life."

Schubert used to say of his music that it was the product of his genius and his distress, and that the public liked those things best which he had composed in his sorest troubles. And in the case of Beethoven, no doubt it was the grief and desolation in his life that created those great pangs in his music which shake one's soul to the bottom.

But we cannot combine all qualities in the same composer, and for once we must [endure] the enjoyment of being made so magnificently miserable in consideration of the exquisite melody, the refined workmanship, and the masterly grace of Mendelssohn. Perhaps, indeed, it is beneficial for us, whether we like it or not, to leave for a little the later disciples of Wagner and the clever, brilliant madness of the modern Polish school; and return to the sanity, the calmness, and the gentle strength of our Felix . . .

We look in at the open door of a church in Leipzic which has witnessed one of the most musical and demonstrative public funerals which Germany has ever given, and after the church has emptied itself of its great black throng, the young widow kneels beside the coffin before it is taken to the train for Berlin. Not in uncontrolled lamentations for herself, but in calm prayer for strength to do her duty, and care for the five children who are left to her. To Devrient, who came to fetch her away, she said, "God will help me, and surely my boys will have the inheritance of some of their father's goodness."

And he to whom she spoke, who had loved Mendelssohn since he was a little boy, could think of no more fitting memorial of his friend than the well balanced, strong, and tender heart of the wife he had left behind him.


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The Felix Mendelssohn website: "Felix Mendelssohn is regarded by classical music aficionados and critics alike, as one of the most prolific and gifted composers the world has ever known." The site has a biography, his works, MIDI files and other resources.


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