Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 2.djvu/269

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

find Mendelssohn years afterwards, in the full glory of his great fame, referring to these very lessons as having fanned the sacred fire within him and urged him on to [1]enthusiasm.

Moscheles has preserved two of the Sunday morning programmes:—

'Nov. 28. Morning music at the Mendelssohn's:—Felix's C minor Quartet; D major Symphony; Concerto by Bach (Fanny); Duet for 2 pianos in D minor, Arnold.'

'Dec. 12. Sunday music at Mendelssohn's:—Felix's F minor Quartet. I played my Duet for a Pianos in G. Little Schilling played Hummel's Trio in G.'

Moscheles was followed by Spohr, who came to superintend the production of his 'Jessonda' (Feb. 14, 1825). He was often at the house, and on very intimate [2]terms, though he does not mention the fact in his Autobiography.

One or two accounts by competent judges of Felix's style of playing at this time have survived. Hiller was with him in Frankfort in the spring of 1825, and [3]speaks both of his extemporising, and of his playing the music of others. With the latter he delighted both Hiller and André (who relished neither his face, his ideas, nor his manners) by playing the Allegretto of Beethoven's 7th Symphony in such a 'powerful orchestral style' as fairly to stop André's mouth. With the former he carried Hiller away by extemporising on Handel's choruses in 'Judas,' as he had done Schelble, in the same room, three years before, on subjects from Bach's motets. This time his playing was quite in the vein of his subject, 'the figures thoroughly Handelian, the force and clearness of the passages in thirds and sixths and octaves really grand, and yet all belonging to the subject-matter, thoroughly true, genuine, living music, with no trace of display.' Dorn is more explicit as to his accompanying—the duet in Fidelio. 'He astonished me in the passage, Du wieder nun in meinen Annen, Gott! by the way in which he represented the cello and the basso parts on the piano, playing them two octaves apart. I asked him why he chose that striking way of rendering the passage, and he explained it all to me in the kindest manner. How many times since, says Dorn, has that duet been sung, but how seldom has it been so [4]accompanied! He rarely played from book, either at this or any other time of his life. Even works like Beethoven's 9th Symphony, and the Sonata in B♭ (op. 106), he knew [5]by heart. One of the grounds of Spontini's enmity to him is said to have been a performance of the 9th Symphony by Felix, without book, before Spontini himself had even heard it, and it is known on the best authority that he played the Symphony through by heart only a few months before his death. Here we may say that he had a passion for Beethoven's latest works, his acquaintance with which dated from their publication, Beethoven's last years (1820–27) exactly corresponding with his own growth to maturity. It was almost the only subject on which he disagreed with his [6]father. On the other hand, the devotion of such very conservative artists as David, Rietz, and Bennett, to those works, is most probably due to Mendelssohn's influence. Marx [7]challenges his reading of Beethoven; but this is to fly in the face of the judgment of all other critics.

The elder Mendelssohn made at this time a journey to Paris, for the purpose of fetching his sister Henriette back to Germany, and took Felix with him. They arrived on March 22. One of the first things he mentions is the astonishment of his relatives at finding him no longer a [8]child. He plunged at once into musical society. Hummel, Onslow, Boucher, Herz, Halévy, Kalkbrenner, Moscheles (on his way back from Hamburg to London, with his bride), Pixis, Rode, Baillot, Kreutzer, Rossini, Paer, Meyerbeer, Plantade, and many more, were there, and all glad to make acquaintance with the wonderful boy. At Madame Kiéné's—Madame Bigot's mother—he played his new Quartet (in B minor) with Baillot and others, and with the greatest success.

The French musicians, however, made but a bad impression on him. Partly, no doubt, this is exaggerated in his letters, as in his criticism on Auber's [9]Leocadie; but the ignorance of German music—even [10]Onslow, for example, had never heard a note of Fidelio—and the insults to some of its masterpieces (such as the transformation of Freischütz into 'Robin des [11]Bois,' and the comparison of a passage in Bach to a duet of Monsigny), and the general devotion to effect and outside glitter—these were just the things to enrage the lad at that enthusiastic age. With Cherubini their intercourse was very satisfactory. The old Florentine was more than civil to Felix, and his expressions of satisfaction (so very rare in his mouth) must have given the father the encouragement which he was so [12]slow to take in the great future of his boy. Felix describes him in a few words as 'an extinct volcano, now and then blazing up, but all covered with ashes and stones.' He wrote a Kyrie 'a 5 voci and grandissimo orchestra' at [13]Cherubini's instance, which he describes as 'bigger than anything he had yet [14]done.' It seems to have been lost. Through all this the letters home are as many as ever, full of music, descriptions, and jokes—often very bad ones. Here, for instance, is a good professional query, 'Ask Ritz if he knows what Fes moll is.'

On May 19, 1825, the father and son left Paris with Henriette ('Tante Jette'), who had retired from her post at General Sebastiani's with an ample pension, and thenceforward resided at Berlin. On the road home they paid a short

  1. Moscheles Leben. i. 93; 11. 161.
  2. F.M. i. 144.
  3. Hiller, pp. 5, 6.
  4. Dorn, p. 398.
  5. Marx, 'Erinnerungen,' ii. 117, confirmed to me by the Duke of Meiningen, Taubert, Schleinitz, Klengel, Davison, and others.
  6. Letter. Nov. 22, 1830.
  7. Errin. ii. 185.
  8. F.M. i. 146.
  9. G. & M. p. 43.
  10. F.M. i. 149, and MS. letter.
  11. G. & M. 48.
  12. Marx (Errin. ii. 113, 114) says that the father's hesitation as to his son's future was so great, that, even to a late date, he constantly urged him to go into business. He believed that his son had no genius for music, and that it was all the happier for him that he had not.
  13. Zelter's Letters, iv. 35; G. & M. 49.
  14. 'An Dickigkeit alles übertrifft.'