Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 2.djvu/303

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been validated.
MENDELSSOHN.
291
 

own words, 'a great chapter was ended, and neither title nor beginning of the next were written.'[1]

Early in June, as soon as he had sufficiently recovered to move, the whole family (with Miss Jung as governess, and Dr. Klengel as tutor) went to Baden-Baden, where they were joined by Paul and Hensel; thence by Schaffhausen to Lucerne, Thun and Interlaken, in and about which they made some stay. To Felix the relief was long in coming. On July 7, though well, and often even cheerful, he was still unable to do any musical work, write a proper letter, or recover a consistent frame of mind. He worked at his drawing with more than usual assiduity at this time. Thirteen large water-colour pictures illustrate the journey, beginning with two views of the Falls of Schaffhausen (June 27 and 29), and ending with one of Interlaken (Sept. 4). Many of them are very highly finished, and all are works which no artist need hesitate to sign. They are on a greater scale than any of his previous sketches, and there is a certainty about the drawing, and a solidity in the perspective, which show how well he understood what he was about. The same love of form that shines so conspicuously in his great symphonies is there, and the details are put in, like the oboe and clarinet phrases in his scores, as if he loved every stroke. They are really beautiful works. In addition to these finished drawings, he sketched a good deal in Indian ink.[2]

In the middle of the month Paul and Hensel returned home, but Felix and his family remained till [3]September. Meantime the world was going on, regardless of private troubles, friends visited him, and plans for music began to crowd round him. Among the former were Professor [4]Graves and his wife, Mr. Grote the historian—old friends, the last of whom had taken a long [5]journey on purpose to see him—and Chorley the musical critic. He had received a request from the Philharmonic Society for a Symphony for 1848; an application to write a piece for the opening of the St. George's [6]Hall in Liverpool; had a new Cantata in view for Frankfort, and something for the inauguration of Cologne Cathedral. Elijah was to be given under his baton both at Berlin (Nov. 3) and Vienna—at the latter with Jenny Lind—and the long-cherished opera ex-ercised its old charm over him. But his nerves were still too weak to bear any noise, and he suffered much from headache and weariness; his piano was 'not for playing, but for trying a chord,' 'it was the very worst he had ever touched in his [7]life,' and he shrank [8]from the organ at Fribourg when proposed to him. The organ in the village church of Ringgenberg, on the lake of Brienz, was his only resource, and it was there that for the last time in his life he touched the organ keys. He put aside the music for Liverpool, 'for the present.' and declined the request of the [9]Philharmonic, on the ground that a work for the Society ought not to bear the least trace of the hurry and bustle in which he would have to live for the rest of the year. At the same time he was much agitated at the state of home politics, which were very threatening, and looked with apprehension on the future of Germany. For himself he returned strongly to the plans already alluded to at the end of 1846, of giving up playing and concert-giving, and other exciting and exacting [10]business, and taking life more easily, and more entirely as he liked.

At length the power of application came, and he began to write music. We shall not be far wrong in taking the intensely mournful and agitated String Quartet in F minor (op. 80) as the first distinct utterance of his distress. This over, he arrived by degrees at a happier and more even mental condition, though with paroxysms of intense grief and distress. The contrast between the gaiety and spirit of his former letters, and the sombre, apathetic tone of those which are preserved from this time, is most remarkable, and impossible to be overlooked. It is as if the man were [11]broken, and accepted his lot without an idea of resistance. He continually recurred to the idea of retirement from all active life but composition.

Of the music which is due to this time we find, besides the Quartet just mentioned, an Andante and Scherzo in E major and A minor, which form the first movements of op. 81; the fragments of Loreley and of Christus; a Jubilate, Magnificat, and Nunc dimittis for 4 voices (op. 69), which he began before going to London, and finished in Baden-Baden on June 12; and a few songs, such as 'Ich wandre fort' (op. 71, no. 5).

With the close of the summer the party returned [12]homewards, and on Sept. 17 were again in [13]Leipzig. He found there a new Broadwood grand piano which had been forwarded by the London house during his absence in Switzerland, and is said to have played upon it for several hours. Those who knew him best found him 'unaltered in mind, and when at the piano or talking about music still all [14]life and fire.' During these days he played to Dr. Schleinitz a new string quartet, complete except the slow movement, which was to be a set of Variations—but not yet put on paper. He took leave of Mr. Buxton, one of his English publishers, with the words 'You shall have plenty of music from me; I will give you no cause to complain.' But such moments of vivacity would be followed by great depression, in which he could not bear to speak or to be spoken to even by old friends. He was much changed in look, and he who before was never at rest, and whose hands were always in motion, now often sat dull and listless, without moving a finger. 'He had aged, looked pale and weary, walked less quickly than before, and was more intensely affected by every passing thing than he used to be.' Also he complained

  1. L. July 7, 1847.
  2. L. Aug. 3.
  3. Mod. German Music, ii. 384.
  4. Now Bishop of Limerick.
  5. Personal Life of G. Grote, p. 176.
  6. Letter to Chorley, July 19.
  7. Personal Life of G. Grote, p. 177.
  8. Mod. Germ. Music, ii. 394.
  9. Letter to Philharmonic Society. 'Interlaken. Aug. 27. 1847.'
  10. Mod. Germ. Music, ii. 392; Dev. 272.
  11. This expression was used to the writer by Dr. Klengel, the tutor of his boys, who was constantly with him during the last two or three years of his life, and knew him intimately. Dr. Klengel has now gone to join the master he so dearly loved. He died in Nov. 1879.
  12. Mos. ii. 178, 9.
  13. Ibid. 177.
  14. Ibid. 177, 182.