Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 2.djvu/268

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256
MENDELSSOHN.
 

P.F. concerto of his own, probably that in A minor with quintet accompaniment.[1]

It must not be supposed that the symphonies, operas, quartets, concertos, and other works mentioned were written for exercise only. It had been the custom in the Mendelssohn house for some time past to have musical parties on alternate Sunday mornings, with a small orchestra, in the large dining-room of the house, and the programmes included one or more of Felix's compositions. As a rule the pianoforte part was taken by himself or Fanny, or both, while Rebecka sang, and Paul played[2] the cello. But Felix always conducted, even when so small as to have to stand on a stool to be seen; and thus enjoyed the benefit not only of hearing his compositions played (a benefit for which less fortunate composers—Schubert, for example—have sighed in vain) but of the practice in conducting and in playing before an audience.[3] The size of the room was not sufficient for a large audience, but on these occasions it was always full, and few musicians of note passed through Berlin without being present.[4] In performing the operettas and operas, no attempt was made to act them. The characters were distributed as far as the music went, but the dialogue was read out from the piano, and the chorus sat round the dining-table. Zelter, in strong contrast to his usual habit of impartial[5] neglect of his pupils, was not only regularly there, but would criticise the piece at the close of the performance, and if he often praised would sometimes blame. The comments of his hearers however were received by Felix with perfect simplicity. Devrient has well described how entirely the music itself was his aim, and how completely subordinated were self-consciousness and vanity to the desire of learning, testing, and progressing in his art. These Sunday performances, however, were only one feature of the artistic and intellectual life of the house. Music went on every evening more or less, theatricals, impromptu or studied, were often got up, and there was a constant flux and reflux of young, clever, distinguished people, who made the suppers delightfully gay and noisy, and among whom Felix was the favourite.

The full rehearsal of his fourth opera, 'Die beiden Neffen,' on his birthday, Feb. 3, 1824, was an event in the boy's life. At supper, after the conclusion of the work, Zelter, adopting freemason phraseology, raised him from the grade of 'apprentice,' and pronounced him an 'assistant,' 'in the name of Mozart, and of Haydn, and of old Bach.'[6] A great incentive to his progress had been given shortly before this in the score of Bach's Passion, copied by Zelter's express permission from the MS. in the Singakademie, and given him by his grandmother at Christmas, 1823. The copy was made by Eduard Rietz,[7] who had succeeded Henning as his violin teacher, and to whom he was deeply attached. His confirmation took place about this date, under Wilmsen, a well-known clergyman of Berlin. Preparation for confirmation in Germany is often a long and severe process, and though it may not[8] in Felix's case have led to any increase in church-going, as it probably would in that of an English lad similarly situated, yet we may be sure that it deepened that natural religious feeling which was so strong an element in the foundation of his character.

In the compositions of 1824 there is a great advance. The Symphony in C minor (op. 11)—which we know as 'No. 1,' but which on the autograph in the library of the Philharmonic Society is marked 'No. XIII'—was composed between March 3 and 31. The Sestet for P.F. and strings (op. 110), the Quartet in B minor[9] (op. 3), a fantasia for 4 hands on the P.F., and a motet in 5 nos., are all amongst the works of this year. An important event in the summer of 1824 was a visit of the father, Felix, and Rebecka, to Dobberan, a bathing place on the shores of the Baltic near Rostock. For the wind-band at the bath-establishment Felix wrote an overture, which he afterwards scored for a full military band and published as Op. 24. But the chief result of the visit was that he there for the first time saw the sea, and received those impressions and images which afterwards found their tangible shape in the Meeresstille Overture.

Among the great artists who came into contact with Felix at this time was Moscheles, then on his way from Vienna to Paris and London. He was already famous as a player, and Madame Mendelssohn calls him 'the prince of pianists.' He remained in Berlin for six weeks in November and December, 1824, and was almost daily at the Mendelssohns'; and after a time, at the urgent request of the parents, and with great hesitation on his own part, gave Felix regular lessons on the pianoforte every other day. Moscheles was now just turned thirty. It is pleasant to read of his unfeigned love and admiration for Felix and his home—'a family such as I have never known before; Felix a mature artist, and yet but fifteen; Fanny extraordinarily gifted, playing Bach's fugues by heart and with astonishing correctness—in fact, a thorough musician. The parents give me the impression of people of the highest cultivation. They are very far from being over-proud of their children; indeed, they are in anxiety about Felix's future, whether his gifts are lasting, and will lead to a solid, permanent future, or whether he may not suddenly collapse, like so many other gifted children.' 'He has no need of lessons; if he wishes to take a hint from me as to anything new to him, he can easily do so.' Such remarks as these do honour to all concerned, and it is delightful to

  1. A.M.Z. 1822, 273; 1823, 55.
  2. F.M. ii. 45.
  3. It seems that he accompanied the quartet symphonies on the piano. Dorn, in his Recollections, expressly says so, and the slow movement of the Symphony No. 10 contains a note in Mendelssohn's own writing. 'Das Klavier mit dem Basse,' which seems to prove it. The practice therefore did not end with last century, as has been supposed (On the growth of the Modern Orchestra, Mus. Association 1878–9, p. 37). Indeed, as we shall see, Mendelssohn conducted from the Piano at the Philharmonic in 1829.
  4. F.M. i. 137.
  5. Dev. 4.
  6. F.M. i. 140; Dorn, 391.
  7. Or Ritz, as Mendelssohn always spells it. He seems to have been on the whole Felix's most intimate early friend.
  8. Sch. 375.
  9. Finished Jan. 13, 1825.