Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 2.djvu/271

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MENDELSSOHN.
259
 

so-called Trumpet Overture, in C (op. 101), was almost certainly composed this autumn, and was first heard at a concert given by Maurer, in Berlin, on [1]Nov. 2, at which Felix played the P.F. part of Beethoven's Choral Fantasia. This overture was a special favourite of Abraham Mendelssohn's, who said that he should like to hear it while he died. It was for long in MS. in the hands of the Philharmonic Society, and was not published till many years after the death of the composer. 1826 opens with the String [2]Quintet in A (op. 18), which if not perhaps so great as the Octet, is certainly on the same side of the line, and the scherzo of which, in fugue-form, is a worthy companion to its predecessors. The Sonata in E (op. 6) is of this date (March 22, 1826). So is an interesting looking Andante and Allegro (June 27), written for the windband of a Beer-garden which he used to pass on the way to bathe; the MS. is safe in the hands of Dr. Paul Mendelssohn-Bartholdy.

But all these were surpassed by the Overture to 'A Midsummer Night's Dream,' which was composed during the peculiarly fine summer of 1826, under the charming conditions of life in the new [3]garden, and the score of which is signed 'Berlin, Aug. 6, 1826.' It appears to have been the immediate result of a closer acquaintance with Shakspeare, through the medium of Schlegel and Tieck's version, which he and his sisters read this year for the first time. Marx claims to have been much [4]consulted during its progress, and even to have suggested essential modifications. Fanny also no doubt was in this, as in other instances, her brother's confidante, but the result must have astonished even the fondest wishes of those who knew him best. It is asserted by [5]one who has the best right to judge, and is not prone to exaggeration, 'that no one piece of music contains so many points of harmony and orchestration that had never been written before; and yet none of them have the air of experiment, but seem all to have been written with certainty of their success.' In this wonderful overture, as in the Octet and Quintet, the airy fairy lightness, and the peculiar youthful grace, are not less remarkable than the strength of construction and solidity of workmanship which underlie and support them. Not the least singular thing about it is the exact manner in which it is found to fit into the music for the whole play when that music was composed 17 years later. The motives of the overture all turn out to have their native places in the [6]drama. After many a performance as a duet on the piano, the overture was played by an orchestra in the Mendelssohns' garden-house, to a crowded audience, and its first production in public seems to have been at Stettin, in Feb. 1827, whither Felix went in very severe weather to conduct [7]it. With the composition of this work he may be said to have taken his final musical degree, and his lessons with Zelter were discontinued.

Camacho had been submitted to Spontini as General-Music-Director in the preceding year by Felix himself. Spontini was then, by an odd freak of fortune, living in a house which had for some time been occupied by the Mendelssohns in the early part of their residence in Berlin, viz. 28 Markgrafen Strasse, opposite the Catholic church. Taking the young composer by the arm, Spontini led him to the window, and pointing to the dome across the street, said, 'Mon ami, il vous faut des idées grandes comme cette [8]coupole.' This from a man of 52, in the highest position, to a boy of 17, could hardly have been meant for anything but kindly, though pompous, advice. But it was not so taken. The Mendelssohns and Spontini were not only of radically different natures, but they belonged to opposite parties in music, and there was considerable friction in their intercourse. At length, early in 1827 after various obstructions on Spontini's part, the opera was given out for rehearsal and study, and on April 29 was produced. The house—not the Opera, but the smaller theatre—was crowded with friends, and the applause vehement; at the end the composer was loudly called for, but he had left the theatre, and Devrient had to appear in his stead. Owing to the illness of Blum, the tenor, the second performance was postponed, and the piece was never again brought forward. Partly from the many curious obstructions which arose in the course of the rehearsals, and the personal criticisms which followed it, partly perhaps from a just feeling that the libretto was poor and his music somewhat exaggerated, but mainly no doubt from the fact that during two such progressive years as had passed since he wrote the piece he had [9]outgrown his work, Felix seems to have so far lost interest in it as not to press for another performance. The music was published complete in Pianoforte score by Laue, of Berlin, and one of the songs was included in op. 10, as No. 8. It should not be overlooked that the part of Don Quixote affords an instance of the use of 'Leit-motif'—a term which has very lately come into prominence, but which was here Mendelssohn's own invention.

A nature so keenly sensitive as his could hardly be expected to pass with impunity through such worries as attended the production of the opera. He was so sincere and honest that the sneers of the press irritated him unduly. A year before

  1. A.M.Z. xxvii. p. 825. The autograph was once in possession of Mr. Schleinitz. From him it went into the omnivorous maw of Julius Bletz, and was probably sold by his executors; but to whom? The MS. In our Philharmonic library is a copy with corrections by Mendelssohn.
  2. Zelter, letter of June 6. This MS. too seems to have disappeared.
  3. The first letter that I have found dated from the Leipziger Strasse, 'am 7 July 1826, im Garten,' says, 'to-day or to-morrow I shall begin to dream the Midsummer night's dream.'
  4. Dev. 35. Marx, Errin. ii. 231–3.
  5. Prof. Macfarren, Philharmonic book, April 30, 1877.
  6. Reissmann 62.
  7. F.M. i. 156. Felix's MS. letter from Stettin. Feb. 17, 1827, to the first in which his father is addressed as 'Herr Stadtrath.'
  8. 'My friend, your ideas must be grand—grand as that dome.' Marx, Errin. i. 247.
  9. 'For God's sake,' says he in 1843 to Mr. Bartholomew, 'do not let my old sin of Camacho's Wedding be stirred up again!' (Polko, by Lady Wallace, p. 217.) In the same manner in 1835 he protests to Mrs. Volgt against the performance of his C minor Symphony—at least without the explanation that it wat written by a boy of barely 15. (Acht Briefe, etc., p. 20.)