Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 2.djvu/308

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296
MENDELSSOHN.
 

intention. But such differences of opinion never affected their intercourse; they were always friendly, and even affectionate, and loved to be together. More than one person living remembers the strong interest which Mendelssohn took in 'Paradise and the Peri' on its first appearance, and how anxious he was that his friends should hear it. Of Schumann's string quartets he records that they 'pleased him extremely'; and it is surely allowable to infer that it was the expression of his pleasure that made Schumann dedicate them to him. He had a particular love for some of Schumann's songs, and as this feeling was not shared by all the members of his family he would sometimes ask for the 'forbidden fruit,' as a kind of synonym for something peculiarly pleasant. The fact that he placed Schumann among his colleagues at the starting of the Leipzig Conservatorium of itself shows how much he valued him.

On the other hand, Schumann is never warmer or more in earnest than when he is praising Mendelssohn's compositions, as may be seen by many an article in his Gesammelte Schriften. He dedicated his string quartets to him, as we have said. He defended him with ardour when attacked; during his last sad years Mendelssohn's name was constantly in his mouth as that of his best friend, and his last clearly expressed wish was that his youngest boy should be called after him. A proof of his affectionate feeling is to be found in the no. 28 of his 'Album für die Jugend' (op. 68), which is inscribed 'Erinnerung (Nov. 4, 1847),' and therefore expresses his feelings at the death of his friend. It is not necessary to discover that definite direct meaning in this touching little piece which Mendelssohn found in all music, in order to recognise sadness tempered by a deep sense of grace and sweetness; the result showing how beautiful was the image which Mendelssohn left in the mind of one so completely able to appreciate him as Schumann.

Nowhere is Mendelssohn's naturalness and naïveté more evident than in his constant reference to his own foibles. The hearty way in which he enjoys idleness, and [1]boasts of it, the constant references to eating and drinking, are delightful in a man who got through so much work, who was singularly temperate, and whose only weakness for the products of the kitchen was for rice milk and cherry pie. In this, as in everything else, he was perfectly simple and natural. 'I do not in the least concern myself as to what people wish or praise or pay for; but solely as to what I myself consider [2]good.' No doubt he was very fortunate in being able to disregard 'what people paid for'; but that he did so is a part of his character.

His fun and drollery were more the result of his high spirits than of any real turn for wit. Unlike Beethoven, he rarely indulges in plays on words, and his best efforts in that direction are the elaborately illustrated programmes and jeux d'esprit which are preserved in the albums of some of his friends, and in which caricatures, verses, puns, and jokes, are mixed up in a very droll fashion. There is much humour in some of his scherzos, but especially in the funeral march for Pyramus and Thisbe in the M.N.D. pieces, one of the most comical things in all music. It is much to be regretted that he has left no other specimen of his remarkable power in this direction. Probably he indulged in a good deal of such fun which has not been preserved, since both he [3]and his sister refer to that march as a specimen of a style in which he often extemporised. In mimicry he was great, not only in music but in taking off speech and manner. The most humorous passage that I have met with in his letters is still in MS.—'Dass jenseits auch Musik gemacht werden könne, das glauben Sie ja, und haben mirs oft gesagt. Dann wirds wohl kein schlechtes Instrument geben, wie bei Geyer, und keine dumme Flöte pustet da, und keine Posaune schleppt nach, und nirgends fehlt es, und wankt es, und eilt es, das glaube ich wohl.'[4]

No musician—unless perhaps it were Lionardo da Vinci, and he was only a musician in a limited sense—certainly no great composer, ever had so many pursuits as Mendelssohn. Mozart drew, and wrote capital letters, Berlioz and Weber also both wrote good letters, Beethoven was a great walker and intense lover of nature, Cherubini was a botanist and a passionate card-player, but none of them approach Mendelssohn in the number and variety of his occupations. Both billiards and chess he played with ardour to the end of his life, and in both he excelled. When a lad he was devoted to gymnastics; later on he rode much, swam more, and danced whenever he had the opportunity. Cards and skating were almost the only diversions he did not care for. But then these were diversions. There were two pursuits which almost deserve to rank as work—drawing and letter-writing. Drawing with him was more like a professional avocation than an amusement. The quantity of his sketches and drawings preserved is very large. They begin with the Swiss journey in 1822, on which he took 27 large ones, all very carefully finished, and all dated, sometimes two in one day. The Scotch and Italian tours are both fully illustrated, and so they go on year by year till his last journey into Switzerland in 1847, of which, as already said, 14 large highly finished water-colour drawings remain, besides slighter sketches. At first they are rude and childish, though with each successive set the improvement is perceptible. But even with the earliest ones there is no mistaking that the drawing was a serious business. The subjects are not what are called 'bits,' but are usually large comprehensive views, and it is impossible to doubt that the child threw his whole mind into it, did his very best, and shirked nothing. He already felt the force of the motto which fronted his conductor's chair in the

  1. L. July 14. 1836, and in many others.
  2. L. Oct. 4, 1837.
  3. F.M. iii. 54. 51.
  4. 'That there may be music In the next world I know you believe, for you have often told me so; but there will certainly be no bad pianos there like Geyer's, no stupid puffing flutes, no dragging trombones, no stopping, or wavering, or hurrying—of that I am quite sure.' MS. letter.