Selected letters of Mendelssohn/Letter 21

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Leipsic, 2nd November, 1838.

Dear Schubring,—Many thanks indeed for your letter and the packet that followed it. You offer me a most essential service, for which I am very grateful; yet you ask if I desire it! I should have told you that the notes I sent were not designed for a completed plan, but only for a collection of material; however, when you have put them together, you leave me nothing to do but only to add the music. I agree that the passage about the widow should go out, also the raven, and that all the beginning should be brought more together so as to expand in the chief passages as one wants it to do. I earnestly beg you, if your time and convenience permit, to continue the first part and send it me—(it will have to be very long)—starting from the point at which your last contribution stopped; do so and you will earn my truest gratitude.

You say that at first you saw nothing to cut out, but then a light suddenly broke on you. For my own part, what struck me was to make Elijah a prophet through and through, the man we may really need to-day—a man strong and zealous, full of bitterness and scorn, the antagonist of the rabble, whether of courtiers or populace, well nigh the antagonist of all the world, yet borne aloft as on the wings of angels. Did that strike you also, and how came you to think of it? My object is to make the story dramatic; as you say, the epic style of narrative cannot come into it. That you look for the universal significance which goes to one’s heart in the Biblical words pleases me much: one thing I might say, which is that the dramatic element should here and there be very pregnantly and forcibly apparent. Speech and retort, question and answer, interruption of one speaker by another, all these and similar points are wanted. It is not that I object to Elijah being made first to speak of the assembly of the people, then immediately to the assembly; such a freedom is, of course, among the privileges of the oratorio; but in this mode of presentation I would gladly see as much naturalness as possible. Thus it puts me out that Elijah should only answer in ‘number 18’ to Ahab’s words in ‘16’ with several speeches and a chorus placed between. I would have liked a vigorous piece of dialogue there, etc. But on these points we shall very soon agree, only remember this if you can, in working further. With many thanks for your kindness.—Always yours,

Felix M. B.