Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 2.djvu/293

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MENDELSSOHN.
281
 

matter very closely at heart. He was, says Mendelssohn, quite flushed with pleasure, could hardly contain himself, and kept repeating 'You can scarcely think now of going away.' When kings ask in this style it is not for subjects to refuse them. Moreover Mendelssohn was as much attracted by the King as he was repelled by the official etiquette of his ministers, and it is not surprising that he acceded, to the request. The interview was followed up by a letter from His Majesty dated [1]Nov. 23, containing an order constituting the Domchor or Cathedral choir, conferring on Mendelssohn the title of General-Music-Director, with a salary of 1500 thalers, and giving him the superintendence and direction of the church and sacred music as his special province.

This involved his giving up acting as Capellmeister to the King of Saxony, and for that purpose he had an interview with that [2]monarch at Dresden, in which he obtained the King's consent to the application of the Blümner legacy to his darling scheme of a Conservatorium at Leipzig.

Thus then 'this long, tedious, Berlin business' was at length apparently brought to an end, and Mendelssohn was back in his beloved Leipzig, and with a definite sphere of duty before him in Berlin, for he had learnt in the meantime that he was at once to supply the King with music to Racine's Athalie, the Midsummer Night's Dream, The Tempest, and Œdipus [3]Coloneus. This, with the proofs of the Scotch Symphony and Antigone to correct, with the Walpurgisnight to complete for performance, the new Conservatorium to organise, the concerts, regular and irregular, to rehearse and conduct, and a vast and increasing correspondence to be kept up, was enough for even his deft and untiring pair of hands. He is cheerful enough under it, and although he complains in one letter that composition is impossible, yet in the next letter Athalie, Œdipus, the Midsummer Night's Dream, the Walpurgisnight, and the new Cello Sonata are beginning again to fill his brain, and he finds time to be pleasant over old Madame Schröder, and to urge the claims of his old Meiringen guide to a place in Murray's [4]Handbook. In the midst of all this whirl he lost his mother, who died in the same rapid and peaceful manner that his father had done. She was taken ill on the Sunday evening—her husband's birthday and died before noon on Monday Dec. 12—so quickly that her son's [5]letter of the 11th cannot have reached her. The loss affected him less violently than that of his father had done, perhaps because he was now older and too hard-worked, and also because of the home-life and ties by which he was surrounded. But it caused him keen suffering, from which he did not soon recover. It brings into strong relief his love of the family bond, and his fear lest the disappearance of the point of union should at all separate the brothers and sisters; and he proposes, a touching offer for one whose pen was already so incessantly occupied, that he should write to one of the three every week, and the communication be thus maintained with certainty.[6]

The house now became his, but the hesitation with which he accepts his brother's proposal to that effect, lest it should not be acceptable to his sisters or their husbands, is eminently characteristic of his delicate and unselfish generosity.[7] He admits that his mother's death has been a severe trial, and then he drops an expression which shows how heavily the turmoil of so busy a life was beginning to press upon him:—'in fact everything that I do and carry on is a burden to me, unless it be mere passive existence.' This may have been the mere complaint of the moment, but it is unlike the former buoyant Mendelssohn. He was suffering too from what appears to have been a serious cough. But work came to his relief; he had some scoring and copying to do which, though of the nature of

'The sad mechanic exercise,
Like dull narcotics numbing pain,'[8]

yet had its own charm—'the pleasant intercourse with the old familiar oboes and violas and the rest, who live so much longer than we do, and are such faithful [9]friends,' and thus kept him from dwelling on his sorrow. And there was always so much in the concerts to interest and absorb him. The book of Elijah too was progressing fast, and his remarks on it show how anxious he was to make it as [10]dramatic as possible. And he still clung, though as fastidiously as ever, to the hope of getting an opera-book. A long [11]letter in French to M. Charles Duveyrier, dated Jan. 4, 1843, discusses the merits of the story of Jeanne d'Arc for the purpose, and decides that Schiller's play has preoccupied the ground. [App. p.716 "At this time he rewrote 'Infelice,' the second published version of which is dated Leipzig, Jan. 15, 1843."]

At the concert of Feb. 2, 1843, the Walpurgisnight was produced, in a very different condition from that in which it was performed at Berlin just 10 years before, in Jan. 1833. He had rewritten the score 'from A to Z,' amongst other alterations had added two fresh airs, and had at length brought it into the condition in which it is now so well known and so much liked. On Jan. 12 a Symphony in C minor, by Gade, of Copenhagen, was rehearsed. It interested Mendelssohn extremely, and gave him an opportunity to write a [12]letter full of sympathy and encouragement to the distant and unknown composer, one of those letters which were native to him, but which are too seldom written, and for more of which the world would be all the better. The work was produced on March 2, amid extraordinary applause. Berlioz visited Leipzig at this time, and gave a concert of his compositions. Mendelssohn and he had not met since they were both at Rome, and Berlioz was foolish enough to suppose that some raillery of his might be lurking in Mendelssohn's memory, and prevent his being cordially welcomed. But he was soon undeceived. Mendelssohn wrote at [13]once offering

  1. L. Dec. 5. 1842.
  2. Letter to Klingemann, Nov. 23.
  3. Ibid.
  4. L. Nov. 28 and 29; comp. Sept. 23.
  5. L. Dec. 11.
  6. L. Dec. 22.
  7. Ibid.
  8. 'In Memoriam.' v.
  9. Letter, Jan. 13, 1843.
  10. To Schubring. L. ii. 295.
  11. I am indebted for this to Mr. J. Rosenthal.
  12. L. Jan. 13, 1843.
  13. Jan. 25. Letter now in the possession of A. G. Kurtz, Esq., of Liverpool. In printing it Berlioz has shortened it by a half, and sadly garbled it by correcting the French!