Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 2.djvu/312

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300
MENDELSSOHN.
 

sudden recollection of out-of-the-way pieces. Hiller has given two instances (pp. 28, 29). His power of retaining things casually heard was also shown in his extempore playing, where he would recollect the themes of compositions which he heard then and there for the first time, and would combine them in the happiest manner. An instance of this is mentioned by his [1]father, in which, after Malibran had sung five songs of different nations, he was dragged to the piano, and improvised upon them all. He himself describes another occasion, a 'field day' at Baillot's, when he took three themes from the Bach sonatas and worked them up to the delight and astonishment of an audience [2]worth delighting. At the matinée of the Society of British Musicians in 1844, he took his themes from two compositions by C. E. Horsley and Macfarren which he had just heard, probably for the first time and other instances could be given.

His extemporising was however marked by other traits than that of memory. 'It was,' says Prof. Macfarren, 'as fluent and as well planned as a written work,' and the themes, whether borrowed or invented, were not merely brought together but contrapuntally worked. Instances of this have been mentioned at Birmingham and elsewhere. His tact in these things was prodigious. At the concert given by Jenny Lind and himself on Dec. 5, 1845, he played two Songs without words—Bk. vi, No. 1, in E♭, and Bk. v, No. 6, in A major, and he modulated from the one key to the other by means of a regularly constructed intermezzo, in which the semiquavers of the first song merged into the arpeggios of the second with the most consummate art, and with magical [3]effect. But great as were his public displays, it would seem that, like Mozart, it was in the small circle of intimate friends that his improvisation was most splendid and happy. Those only who had the good fortune to find themselves (as rarely happened) alone [4]with him at one of his Sunday afternoons are perhaps aware of what he could really do in this direction, and he 'never improvised better' or pleased himself more than when tête á tête with the Queen and Prince Albert. A singular fact is mentioned by [5]Hiller, which is confirmed by another friend of his:—that in playing his own music he did it with a certain reticence, as if not desiring that the work would derive any advantage from his execution. The explanation is very much in consonance with his modesty, but whether correct or not there is no reason to doubt the fact.

His immense early practice in counterpoint tinder Zelter—like Mozart's under his father—had given him so complete a command over all the resources of counterpoint, and such a habit of looking at themes contrapuntally, that the combinations just spoken of came more or less naturally to him. In some of his youthful compositions he brings his science into prominence, as in the Fugue in A (op. 7, no. 5); the Finale of the E♭ stringed Quartet (1823); the original Minuet and Trio of the stringed Quintet in A (op. 18), a double canon of great ingenuity; the Chorus in St. Paul, 'But our God,' constructed on the chorale 'Wir glauben all'; but with his maturity he mostly drops such displays, and Elijah, as is well known, 'contains no fugues.' In extemporising, however, it was at his fingers' ends to the last. He was also fond of throwing off ingenious canons, of which the following, written on the moment for Joachim, March 11, 1844, is a good example.

Etude for one Violin, or Canon for two Violins.

{ \override Score.Rest #'style = #'classical \time 2/4 \relative e' { r16 e gis^\markup { \musicglyph #"scripts.segno" } e c'( a) c a | f'( d) b gis e gis b e | c a c e a c, bes g' | c, a f'( c) g( e') a, f | d'( f,) a c dis,( c') fis a | e,( e') a c e r <gis, b, e,> r <a c, e, a,> r r8 r4 \mark \markup { \musicglyph #"scripts.ufermata" } \bar "||" } }

[App. p.717 "A somewhat similar canon, written in the album of Mr. Parry in 1846, is printed in the 'Musical World' for Aug. 19, 1848. Another for two violas, 'Viola 1, Sir G. Smart; Viola 2, F. M. B. July 1831,' is given by Dr. J. F. Bridge in his 'Primer of Double Counterpoint and Canon.'"]

Of his organ-playing we have already spoken. It should be added that he settled his combinations of stops before starting, and did not change them in the course of the piece. He likewise steadily [6]adhered to the plan on which he set out; if he started in 3 parts he continued in 3, and the same with 4 or 5. He took extraordinary delight in the organ; some describe him as even more at home there than on the P.F., though this must be taken with caution. But it is certain that he loved it, and was always greatly excited when playing it.

He was fond of playing the Viola, and on more than one occasion took the first Viola part of his own Octet in public. The Violin he learned when young, but neglected it in later life. He however played occasionally, and it was amusing to see him bending over the desk, and struggling with his part just as if he were a boy. His practical knowledge of the instrument is evident from his violin music, in which there are few difficulties which an ordinarily good player cannot surmount. But this is characteristic of the care and thoughtfulness of the man. As a rule, in his scores he gives each instrument the passages which suit it. A few instances of the reverse are quoted under Clarinet (vol. i. p. 363b), but they, are quite the exception. He appears to have felt somewhat of the same natural dislike to brass instruments that Mozart did. At any rate in his early scores he uses them with great [7]moderation, and somewhere makes the just remark that the trombone is 'too sacred an instrument' to be used freely.




The list of Mendelssohn's works published up to the present time (Jan. 1880) comprises—

5 Symphonies, including the Lobgesang.
6 Concert overtures; an Overture for military band.

  1. F.M. i. 377.
  2. L. i. 305.
  3. Recollections of Joachim and Rockstro.
  4. Dr. Klengel and Sterndale Bennett once had this good fortune, and it was a thing never to be forgotten.
  5. H. 18.
  6. Mus. World, viii. 102.
  7. Neither of his three Concert overtures, nor the Italian and Scotch symphonies, have trombones. As to St. Paul, see letter to Mr. Horsley, G. & M. 115.