Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 2.djvu/272

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
260
MENDELSSOHN.
 

he had vented his feelings in some lines which will be new to most readers:—

Schreibt der Komponiste ernst,
 Schläfert er uns ein;
Schreibt der Komponiste froh,
 Ist er zu gemein.
If the artist gravely writes,
 To sleep it will beguile.
If the artist gaily writes,
 It is a vulgar style.
Schreibt der Komponiste lang,
 Ist er zum Erbarmen;
Schreibt ein Komponiste kurz,
 Kann man nicht erwarmen.
If the artist writes at length,
 How sad his hearers' lot!
If the artist briefly writes,
 No man will care one jot.
Schreibt ein Komponiste klar,
 Ist's ein armen Tropf;
Schreibt ein Komponiste tief
 Rappelt's ihn am Kopf.
If an artist simply writes,
 A fool he's said to be.
If an artist deeply writes,
 He's mad; 'tis plain to see.
Schreib' er also wie er will,
 Keinem steht es an;
Darum schreib ein Komponist
 Wie er will und kann.[1]
In whatsoever way he writes
 He can't please every man;
Therefore let an artist write
 How he likes and can.

But on the present occasion the annoyance was too deep to be thrown off by a joke. It did in fact for a time seriously affect his health and spirits, and probably laid the foundation for that dislike of the officialism and pretension, the artists and institutions, the very soil and situation of Berlin, which so curiously pervades his letters whenever he touches on that [2]city. His depression was increased by the death of an old friend, named Hanstein, who was carried off this spring, and by the side of whose deathbed Felix composed the well-known Fugue in E minor (op. 35, no. 1). The chorale in the major, which forms the climax of the fugue, is intended, as we are told on good authority, to express his friend's [3]release. But Felix was too young and healthy, and his nature too eager, to allow him to remain in despondency. A sonata in B♭, for P.F. solo (afterwards published as op. 106) is signed May 31, 1827, and on Whit-Sunday, June 3, we find him at Sakrow, near Potsdam, the property of his friend Magnus, composing the charming Lied, 'Ist es wahr?' which within a few months he employed to advantage in his Quartet in A minor (op. 13). Meantime—probably [4]in 1826—he had entered the university of Berlin, where his tutor Heyse was now a professor. For his matriculation essay he sent in a translation in verse of the Andria of Terence, which primarily served as a birthday present to his [5]mother (March 15). This translation was published in a [6]volume, with a preface and essay, and a version of the 9th Satire of Horace, by Heyse. Mendelssohn's translation has been recently examined by an eminent English scholar, who reports that as a version it is precise and faithful, exceedingly literal, and corresponding closely with the original both in rhythm and metre, while its language, as far as an Englishman may judge of German, is quite worthy of representing the limpid Latin of Terence. Professor Munro also points out that as this was the first attempt in Germany to render Terence in his own metres, it may be presumed to have set the example to the scholars who have since that date, as a rule, translated Plautus and Terence and other kindred Greek and Latin classics in the original metres. It was by no means his first attempt at verse; for a long mock-heroic of the year 1820 has been preserved, called the Paphleïs, in 3 cantos, occupied with the adventures of his brother Paul (Paphlos), full of slang and humour, and in hexameters.

Whether Felix went through the regular university course or not, does not appear, but no doubt the proceeding was a systematic one, and he certainly attended several classes, amongst them those of [7]Hegel, and took especial pleasure in the lectures of the great Carl Ritter on geography. Of his notes of these, two folio volumes, closely written in a hand like copper-plate, and dated 1827 and 28, still exist. Italian he was probably familiar with before he went to Italy; and in later years he knew it so thoroughly as to be able to translate into German verse the very crabbed sonnets of Dante, Boccaccio, Cecco Angiolieri, and Cino, for his uncle Joseph [8]in 1840. Landscape drawing, in which he was ultimately to excel so greatly, he had already worked at for several years. For mathematics he had neither taste nor capacity, and Schubring pathetically describes the impossibility of making him comprehend how the polestar could be a guide in travelling.

The change into the new house was a great event in the family life. Felix began gymnastics, and became a very great proficient in them. He also learned to ride, and to swim, and with him learning a thing meant practising it to the utmost, and getting all the enjoyment and advantage that could be extracted from it. He was a great dancer, now and for many years after. Billiards he played brilliantly. Skating was the one outdoor exercise which he did not succeed in—he could not stand the cold. The garden was a vast attraction to their friends, and Boccia (a kind of bowls) was the favourite game under the old chestnut-trees which still overshadow the central alley. The large rooms also gave a great impetus to the music, and to the mixed society which now flocked to the house more than ever. We hear of Rahel and Varnhagen, Bettina, Heine, Holtei, Lindblad, Steffens, Gans, Marx, Kugler, Droysen; of Humboldt, W.[9] Müller, Hegel (for whom alone a card-table was provided), and other intellectual and artistic persons, famous, or to be famous afterwards. Young people too there were in troops; the life was free, and it must have been a delightful, wholesome, and thoroughly enjoyable time. Among the features of the garden life was a newspaper, which in summer was called 'Gartenzeitung,' 'The Garden Times'; in winter 'Schnee-und-Thee-zeitung,' 'The Snow-and-Tea Times.' It appears to have been edited by Felix and Marx, but all comers were free to contribute, for which purpose pens, ink, and paper lay in one of the summer-houses. Nor was it confined to the younger part of the society, but grave personages, like Humboldt and Zelter even, did not disdain to add their morsel of fun or satire. In all this

  1. Written for his mother's birthday, March 15, 1826. See 'Ueber Land und Meer,' 1873, No. 36.
  2. See the two letters to Verkenius, Aug. 14 and 23, 1841; also one to Hlller. March 25, 1843 (H. p. 207), and far more strongly in many an unpublished letter.
  3. Schubring, 375a.
  4. I cannot obtain the exact date.
  5. Schubring, 374b.
  6. 'Das Mädchen von Andros, eine Komödie des Terentius, in den Versmassen des Originals ubersetzt von F***. Mit Einleitung und Anmerkungen herausgegeben von K. W. L. Heyse. Angehängt ist die 9te Satire des Horatius, ubersetzt von dem Herausgeber. Berlin 1826. Bel Ferdinand Dümmler.' The preface is dated 'July 1826.'
  7. One course of these was on Music. Zelter, in G. & M. 54.
  8. They are given in their place in the later editions of the Letters, vol. ii.
  9. Father of Max Müller, and author of Schubert's 'Schöne Müllerin.'