Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 2.djvu/309

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MENDELSSOHN.
297
 

Gewandhaus—'Res severa est verum gaudium.' Every little cottage or gate is put in with as much care as the main features. Every tree has its character. Everything stands well on its legs, and the whole has that architectonic style which is so characteristic of his music.

Next to his drawing should be placed his correspondence, and this is even more remarkable. During the last years of his life there can have been but few eminent men in Europe who wrote more letters than he did. Many even who take no interest in music are familiar with the nature of his letters—the happy mixture of seriousness, fun, and affection, the life-like descriptions, the happy hits, the naïveté which no baldness of translation can extinguish, the wise counsels, the practical views, the delight in the successes of his friends, the self-abnegation, the bursts of wrath at anything mean or nasty. We all remember, too, the length to which they run. Taking the printed volumes, and comparing the letters with those of Scott or Arnold, they are on the average very considerably longer than either. But the published letters bear only a small proportion to those still in [1]MS. In fact the abundance of material for the biographer of Mendelssohn is quite bewildering. That however is not the point. The remarkable fact is that so many letters of such length and such intrinsic excellence should have been written by a man who was all the time engaged in an engrossing occupation, producing great quantities of music, conducting, arranging, and otherwise occupied in a profession which more than any demands the surrender of the entire man. For these letters are no hurried productions, but are distinguished, like the drawings, for the neatness and finish which pervade them. An autograph letter of Mendelssohn's is a work of art; the lines are all straight and close, the letters perfectly and elegantly formed, with a peculiar luxuriance of tails, and an illegible word can hardly be found. To the folding and the sealing everything is perfect. It seems impossible that this can have been done quickly. It must have absorbed an enormous deal of time. While speaking of his correspondence, we may mention the neatness and order with which he registered and kept everything. The 44 volumes of MS. music, in which he did for himself what Mozart's father so carefully did for his son, have been mentioned. But it is not generally known that he preserved all letters that he received, and stuck them with his own hands into books. 27 large [2]thick green volumes exist, containing apparently all the letters and memorandums, business and private, which he received from Oct. 29, 1821, to Oct. 29, 1847, together with the drafts of his Oratorio books, and of the long official communications which, during his latter life, cost him so many unprofitable hours. He seems to have found time for everything. Hiller [3]tells us how during a very busy season he revised and copied out the libretto of his oratorio for him. One of his dearest Leipzig friends has a complete copy of the full score of Antigone, including the whole of the words of the melodrama, written for her with his own hand; a perfect piece of caligraphy, without spot or erasure! and the family archives contain a long minute list of the contents of all the cupboards in the house, filling several pages of foolscap, in his usual neat writing, and made about the year 1842. We read of Mr. Dickens [4]that 'no matter was considered too trivial to claim his care and attention. He would take as much pains about the hanging of a picture, the choosing of furniture, the superintending of any little improvement in the house, as he would about the more serious business of his life; thus carrying out to the very letter his favourite motto that What is worth doing at all is worth doing well.' No words could better describe the side of Mendelssohn's character to which we are alluding, nor could any motto more emphatically express the principle on which he acted throughout life in all his work.

His taste and efficiency in such minor matters are well shown in the albums which he made for his wife, beautiful specimens of arrangement, the most charming things in which are the drawings and pieces of music from his own hands. His private account-books and diaries are kept with the same quaint neatness. If he had a word to alter in a letter, it was done with a grace which turned the blemish into a beauty. The same care came out in everything—in making out the programmes for the Gewandhaus concerts, where he would arrange and re-arrange the pieces to suit some inner idea of symmetry or order; or in settling his sets of songs for publication as to the succession of keys, connection or contrast of words, etc. In fact he had a passion for neatness, and a repugnance to anything clumsy. Possibly this may have been one reason why he appears so rarely to have sketched his music. He made it in his head, and had settled the minutest points there before he put it on paper, thus avoiding the litter and disorder of a sketch. Connected with this neatness is a certain quaintness in his proceedings which perhaps strikes an Englishman more forcibly than it would a German. He used the old-fashioned C clef for the treble voices in his scores to the last; the long flourish with which he ornaments the double bar at the end of a piece never varied. A score of Haydn's Military Symphony which he wrote for his wife bears the words 'Possessor Cécile.' In writing to Mrs. Moscheles of her little girls, whose singing had pleased him, he begs to be remembered to the 'drei kleine Diskantisten.' A note to David, sent by a child, is inscribed 'Kinderpost,' and so on. Certain French words occur over and over again, and are evidently favourites. Such are plaisir and trouble, á propos, en gros, and others. The word hübsch, answering to our 'nice,' was a special [5]favourite, and nett was one of his highest commendations.

But to return for a moment to his engrossing

  1. In the hands of his family, of Schleinitz, Mrs. Moscneles, Schubring, P. David, Mme. Goldschmidt. Mme. Preusser, Mr. Euler of D{{subst:u:}}sseldorf, the Stemdale Bennetts. Mr. Sartoris, and others.
  2. In the hands of Mrs. Wach (Lili M.-B.). Two others seem to be missing.
  3. H. 167.
  4. Preface to his Letters, 1879.
  5. Mos. ii. 165.