The next few years were given chiefly to Leipzig. He devoted all his heart and soul to the Gewandhaus Concerts, and was well repaid by the increasing excellence of the performance and the enthusiasm of the audiences. The principal feature of the series 1837–8 was the appearance of Clara Novello for the first time in Germany—a fruit of his English experiences. She sang first at the concert of Nov. 2, and remained till the middle of January, creating an extraordinary excitement. But the programmes had other features to recommend them. In Feb. and March, 1838, there were four historical concerts (1. Bach, Handel, Gluck, Viotti; 2. Haydn, Cimarosa, Naumann, Righini; 3. Mozart, Salieri, Méhul, Romberg; 4. Vogler, Beethoven, Weber), which excited great interest. Mendelssohn and David played the solo pieces, and it is easy to imagine what a treat they must have been. In the programmes of other concerts we find Beethoven's 'Glorreiche Augenblick,' and Mendelssohn's own 42nd Psalm. His Serenade and Allegro giojoso (op. 43)—like his Ruy Blas Overture, a veritable impromptu—was produced on April 2, and his String Quartet in E♭ (op. 44, no. 3) on the following day.
His domestic life during the spring of 1838 was not without anxiety. On Feb. 7 his first son was born, afterwards named Carl Wolfgang Paul, and his wife had a very dangerous illness. This year he conducted the Festival at Cologne (June 3–6). He had induced the committee to include a Cantata of Bach's, then an entire novelty, in the programme, which also contained a selection from Handel's Joshua. A silver cup (Pokal) was presented to him at the close.
The summer was spent at Berlin, in the lovely garden of the Leipziger Strasse, and was his wife's first introduction to her husband's family. To Felix it was a time of great enjoyment and much productiveness. Even in the early part of the year he had not allowed the work of the concerts to keep him from composition. The String Quartet in E♭, just mentioned, the Cello Sonata in B♭ (op. 45), the 95th Psalm, and the Serenade and Allegro giojoso are all dated during the hard work of the first four months of 1838. The actual result of the summer was another String Quartet (in D; op. 44, no. 1), dated July 24, 38, and the Andante Cantabile and Presto Agitato in B (Berlin, June 22, 1838). The intended result is a symphony in B♭, which occupied him much, which he mentions more than once as complete in his head, but of which no trace on paper has yet been found. He alludes to it in a letter to the Philharmonic Society (Jan. 19, 1839)—answering their request for a symphony—as 'begun last year,' though it is doubtful if has occupations will allow him to finish it in time for the 1839 season. So near were we to the possession of an additional companion to the Italian and Scotch Symphonies! The Violin Concerto was also begun in this holiday, and he speaks of a Psalm (probably the noble one for 8 voices, 'When Israel'), a Sonata for P.F. and Violin (in F, still in MS.), and other things. He was now, too, in the midst of the tiresome correspondence with Mr. Planché, on the subject of the opera which that gentleman had agreed to write, but which, like Mendelssohn's other negotiations on the subject of operas, came to nothing; and there is the usual large number of long and carefully written letters. He returned to Leipzig in September, but was again attacked with measles, on the eve of a performance of St. Paul, on Sept. 15. The attack was sufficient to prevent his conducting the first of the Gewandhaus Concerts (Sept. 30) at which David was his substitute. On Oct. 7 he was again at his post. The star of this series was Mrs. Alfred Shaw, whose singing had pleased him very much when last in England; its one remarkable novelty was Schubert's great Symphony in C, which had been brought from Vienna by Schumann, and was first played in MS. on March 22 [App. p.716 "21"], 1839, at the last concert of the series. It was during this autumn that he received from Erard the Grand piano which became so well known to his friends and pupils, and the prospect of which he celebrates in a remarkable letter now in possession of that Firm.
Elijah is now fairly under way. After discussing with his friends Bauer and Schubring the subject of St. Peter, in terms which show how completely the requirements of an oratorio book were within his grasp, and another subject not very clearly indicated, but apparently approaching that which he afterwards began to treat as Christus—he was led to the contemplation of that most picturesque and startling of the prophets of the Old Testament, who, strange to say, does not appear to have been previously treated by any known composer. Hiller tells us that the subject was suggested by the passage (1 Kings xix. 11), 'Behold, the Lord passed by.' We may accept the fact more certainly than the date (1840) at which Hiller places it. Such a thing could not but fix itself in the memory, though the date might easily be confused. We have already seen that he was at work on the subject in the summer of 1837, and a letter to Schubring, dated Nov. 2, 38, shows that much consultation had already taken place upon it between Mendelssohn and himself, and that considerable progress had been made in the construction of the book of the oratorio. Mendelssohn had drawn up a number of passages and scenes in order, and had given them to Schubring for consideration. His ideas are dramatic enough for the stage! A month later the matter
- Conceived and composed in two days for Mme. Botgorschek's concert. See Letter, April 2, 1888.
- H. 115.
- Letter to J. A. Novello, in G. & M. 192. For Ascension Day.
- A.M.Z. 1838, 439.
- F.M. ii. 57, 63.
- Autograph in possession of the Sterndale-Bennetts.
- L. July 30, 1838; June 18, 1839; H. 126.
- L. July 30, 1838.
- H. 126.
- 'Berlin, June 13, 1838.'
- For the whole of this see Mr. Planché's 'Recollections and Reflections,' 1872, chap. xxi. Mr. Planché's caustic deductions may well be pardoned him even by those who most clearly see their want of force.
- A.M.Z. 1838, 642.
- Ibid. 696.
- L. July 14, 1837.
- L. Jan. 12, 1835.
- H. 171.
- He liked a central point for his work. In St. Peter it would have been the Gift of Tongues; see L. July 14, 1837.
- L. Dec. 6, 1838.