Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 2.djvu/288

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
276
MENDELSSOHN.
 

has made further progress, and his judicious dramatic ideas are even more confirmed; but the music does not seem to be yet touched. During the spring of 1839 he finished the 114th Psalm, and wrote the Overture to Ruy Blas. This, though one of the most brilliantly effective of his works, was, with a chorus for female voices, literally conceived and executed á l'improviste between a Tuesday evening and a Friday morning—a great part of both Wednesday and Thursday being otherwise occupied—and in the teeth of an absolute aversion to the [1]play. The performance took place at the theatre on March 11. A letter to Hiller, written a [2]month after this, gives a pleasant picture of his care for his friends. A great part of it is occupied with the arrangements for doing Hiller's oratorio in the next series of Gewandhaus Concerts, and with his pleasure at the appearance of a favourable article on him in Schumann's 'Zeitung,' from which he passes to lament over the news of the suicide of Nourrit, who had been one of his circle in Paris in 1831.

In May he is at Düsseldorf, conducting the Festival (May 19–21)—the Messiah, Beethoven's Mass in C, his own 42nd Psalm, the Eroica, etc. From this he went to Frankfort, to the wedding of his wife's sister Julie to Mr. Schunck of Leipzig, and there he wrote the D minor [3]Trio; then to Horchheim, and then back to Frankfort. On [4]Aug. 21 they were at home again in Leipzig, and were visited by the Hensels, who remained with them till Sept. 4, and then departed for Italy. Felix followed them with a long [5]letter of hints and instructions for their guidance on the journey, not the least characteristic part of which is the closing injunction to be sure to eat a salad of brocoli and ham at Naples, and to write to tell him if it was not good.

The summer of 1839 had been an unusually fine one; the visit to Frankfort and the Rhine had been perfectly successful; he had enjoyed it with that peculiar capacity for enjoyment which he possessed, and he felt 'thoroughly [6]refreshed.' He went a great deal into society, but found none so charming as that of his wife. A delightful picture of part of his life at Frankfort is given in a letter to Klingemann of Aug. 1, and still more so in one to his [7]mother. Nor was it only delightful. It urged him to the composition of part-songs for the open air, a kind of piece which he made his own, and wrote to absolute perfection. The impulse lasted till the end of the winter, and many of his best part-songs—including 'Love and Wine,' 'The Hunter's Farewell,' 'The Lark'—date from this time. In addition to these the summer produced the D minor Trio already mentioned, the completion of the 114th Psalm, and some fugues for the organ, one of which was worked into a sonata, while the others remain in MS.

On Oct. 2 his second child, Marie, was born. Then came the christening, with a visit from his mother and Paul, and then Hiller arrived. He had very recently lost his mother, and nothing would satisfy Mendelssohn but that his friend should come and pay him a long [8]visit, partly to dissipate his thoughts, and partly to superintend the rehearsals of his oratorio of Jeremiah the Prophet, which had been bespoken for the next series of Gewandhaus [9]Concerts. Hiller arrived early in December, and we recommend his description of Mendelssohn's home life to any one who wishes to know how simply and happily a great and busy man can live. Leipzig was proud of him, his wife was very popular, and this was perhaps the happiest period of his life. His love of amusement was as great as ever, and his friends still recollect his childish delight in the Cirque Lajarre and Paul Cousin the clown.

The concert season of 1839–40 was a brilliant one. For novelties there were symphonies by Kalliwoda, Kittl, Schneider, and Vogler. Schubert's 9th was played no less than three [10]times, and one [11]concert was rendered memorable by a performance of Beethoven's four Overtures to Leonora-Fidelio. Mendelssohn's own 114th Psalm was first performed 'sehr [12]glorios' on New Year's Day, and the new Trio on Feb. 10. The Quartet Concerts were also unusually brilliant. At one of them Mendelssohn's Octet was given, he and Kalliwoda playing the two violas; at another he [13]accompanied David in Bach's Chaconne, then quite unknown. Hiller's oratorio was produced on April 2 with great success. Ernst, and, above all, Liszt, were among tbe virtuosos of this season; and for the latter of these two great players Mendelssohn arranged a soirée at the Gewandhaus, which he thus epitomises—'350 people, orchestra, chorus, punch, pastry, Meeresstille, Psalm, Bach's Triple Concerto, choruses from St. Paul, Fantasia on Lucia, the Erl King, the devil and his [14]grandmother'; and which had the effect of somewhat allaying the annoyance which had been caused by the extra prices charged at Liszt's concerts.

How, in the middle of all this exciting and fatiguing work (of which we have given but a poor idea), he found time for composition, and for his large correspondence, it is impossible to tell, but he neglected nothing. On the contrary, it is precisely during this winter that he translates for his uncle Joseph, his father's elder brother—a man not only of remarkable business power but with considerable literary ability—a number of difficult early Italian poems intoGerman verse. They consist of three sonnets by Boccaccio, one by Dante, one by Cino, one by Cecco Angioleri, an epigram of Dante's, and another of Alfani's. They are printed in the recent editions of the letters, and are accompanied by a letter dated Feb. 20, 1840,

  1. Letter, March 18, 1839. In fact it was only written at all because the proceeds of the concert were to go to the Widows' fund of the orchestra. He insisted on calling it 'The Overture to the Dramatic Fund.'
  2. Leipzig, April 15; H. p. 133.
  3. The autograph is dated—1st Movement, Frankfort, June 6; Finale Frankfort, July 18.
  4. F.M. ii. 85.
  5. Sept. 14, 1839.
  6. L. Aug. 1.
  7. L. July 3, Aug. 1.
  8. H. 147.
  9. H. 134.
  10. Dec. 12, 1839, March 12 and April 3, 1840. The second performance was interfered with by a fire in the town.
  11. Letter, Jan. 4, 1840.
  12. Jan. 9, 1840,
  13. Probably extempore; the published one is dated some years later.
  14. Letter, March 30, 1840.