Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 2.djvu/266

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254
MENDELSSOHN.
 

for his conversion, and was only reconciled long after at the entreaty of [1]Fanny. At a later date Abraham and Lea were received into the Christian Church at Frankfort, and Lea took the additional names of Felicia Paulina, from her sons.

Abraham Mendelssohn was accustomed to describe his position in life by saying 'formerly[2] I was the son of my father, now I am the father of my [3]son.' But though not so prominent as either, he was a man of strong character, wise judgment, and very remarkable ability. These qualities are strikingly obvious in the success of his method for the education of his children, and in the few of his letters[4] which are published; and they are testified to in a very remarkable manner by his son in many passages of his letters, and in the thorough deference which he always pays to the judgment of his father, not only on matters relating to the conduct of life, but on points of art. Though not, like Leopold Mozart, a technical musician, and apparently having no acquaintance with the art, he had yet an insight into it which many musicians might envy. 'I am often,' says his son, 'quite unable to understand 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 would certainly never make another confused speech as long as I live.'[5] Or again, this time after his death, 'not only my father, but … my teacher both in art and in life.'[6]

Though apparently cold in his manners, and somewhat stern in his tone, and towards the end perhaps unduly irritable, Abraham Mendelssohn was greatly beloved by his wife and children. Felix, in particular, is described by the latest biographer[7] as 'enthusiastically, almost fanatically, fond of him,' and the letters show how close was the confidence which existed between them. Hardly less remarkable was the mother. She was one of those rare persons whose influence seems to be almost in proportion to the absence of any attempt to exert it. Hiller, when a boy, saw her once, and the impression made upon him by the power of her quiet kindness and gentleness remained[8] fresh in his mind after more than half a century. When her house was thronged with the intellect and wit of Berlin, she was the centre of the circle and the leader of the conversation.[9] Her letters, of which large numbers exist in manuscript, are full of cleverness and character. [App. p.716 "Her practical sense of the value of money comes out in her letters to F. David. (See Eckardt's 'David,' 1888, pp. 42, 45.)"] The education of her children was her great object in life. She was strict—we may now think[10] over strict; but no one who looks at the result in the character of her children can say that her method was not a wise one. They loved her dearly to the end, and the last letters which Felix wrote to her are full of an overflowing tenderness and a natural confidential intimacy which nothing can surpass. Calm and reserved like her husband, she was full of feeling, and had on occasion bursts of passion. Felix's intention to leave Berlin affected her to a 'terrible' degree—a degree which surprised him. He confesses that his yielding to the wishes of the King, after having made up his mind to retire, was due solely to her. 'You think that in my official position I could do nothing else. It was not that. It was my mother.'[11]

How far she was herself a pianoforte-player we are not told, but the remark which she made after Fanny's birth, 'that the child had got Bach-fugue fingers,' shows that she knew a good deal about the matter. We learn also[12] that she herself for some time taught the two eldest children music, beginning with lessons five minutes long, and gradually increasing the time until they went through a regular course of instruction. For many years Felix and Fanny never practised or played without the mother sitting by them, knitting in hand.

Felix was scarcely three when his family escaped to Berlin. The first definite event of which we hear after this is a visit to Paris by Joseph and Abraham in 1816, for the liquidation of the indemnity to be paid by France to Prussia on account of the war. Abraham took his family with him, and Felix and Fanny, then 7 and 11 respectively, were taught the piano by Madame Bigot, a remarkable musician, and apparently an excellent teacher. She was the daughter of a Madame Kiéné, and in 1816 was 30 years old. Miniatures of the four children were taken during this visit, which are still in existence. Soon after their return from Paris to the grandmother's house at the Neue Promenade, where the family still lived, the children's education seems to have begun systematically. Heyse[13] was their tutor for general subjects, Ludwig Berger for the piano, Zelter for thorough bass and composition, Henning for the violin, and Rösel for landscape. Greek Felix learned with Rebecka, two years his junior, and advanced as far as Æschylus.[14] On Oct. 24, 1818, he made his first appearance in public at a concert given by a certain Herr Gugel, in which he played the pianoforte part of a Trio for P.F. and 2 Horns by Woelfl, and was much [15]applauded. The children were kept very closely to their lessons, and Felix is remembered in after-life to have said how much they enjoyed the Sundays, because then they were not forced to get up at 5 o'clock to work. Early in his 11th year, on April 11, 1819, he entered the singing class of the Singakademie as an alto, for the Friday practisings. There and elsewhere 'he took his place,' says Devrient,[16] 'amongst the grown people in his child's suit, a tight-fitting jacket

  1. F.M. i. 83.
  2. 'Früher war ich der Sohn meines Vaters, jetzt bin ich der Vater meines Sohnes' (F.M. i. 77). Said Talleyrand:—'L'on disait il y a douze ans que M. de St. Aulaire etoit beau père de M. de Gazes; l'on dit maintenant que M. de Gazes est gendre de M. de St. Aulaire.'—Macaulay's Life. i. 232.
  3. Elsewhere he describes himself as a mere dash, a gedankenstrich (—) between father and son. (F.M. i. 367.)
  4. Letters. ii. 66, 88; F.M. i. 84, 87, 91; 347–386.
  5. Letter, March 23, 1835.
  6. Briefe. ii. 106; Dec. 9, 1835.
  7. F.M. i. 424. Compare 349.
  8. Hiller, p. 3.
  9. Dev. 38.
  10. Devrient gives an instance or two of it; see p. 8, and 67 note.
  11. Letter, Jan. 13, 1843. See too Nov. 4, 1834.
  12. Benedict, p. 6.
  13. Father of Paul Heyse the novelist.
  14. Schubring, 374 a.
  15. A.M.Z. 1818, p. 791.
  16. Dev. p. 2.