Letters of Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy from 1833 to 1847

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MENDELSSOHN’S   LETTERS,
FROM 1833 TO 1847.

Mendelssohn
“AND AFTER THE FIRE THERE CAME A STILL SMALL VOICE
AND IN THAT STILL SMALL VOICE ONWARDS CAME THE LORD.”
ELIJAH
Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy signature

LETTERS

OF

FELIX   MENDELSSOHN   BARTHOLDY,

FROM 1833   TO   1847.

EDITED BY
PAUL MENDELSSOHN BARTHOLDY,
OF BERLIN;
AND
DR. CARL MENDELSSOHN BARTHOLDY,
OF HEIDELBERG:

WITH
A CATALOGUE OF ALL HIS MUSICAL COMPOSITIONS

COMPILED BY
DR. JULIUS RIETZ.

Translated

BY
L A D Y   W A L L A C E.

LONDON:
LONGMAN, GREEN, LONGMAN, ROBERTS, & GREEN.
1863.

PRINTED BY
JOHN EDWARD TAYLOR, LITTLE QUEEN STREET,
LINCOLN’S INN FIELDS.

PREFACE.

The Letters of Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy from Italy and Switzerland, have amply fulfilled the purpose of their publication, by making him personally known to the world, and, above all, to his countrymen.

Those Letters, however, comprise only a portion of the period of Mendelssohn’s youth; and it has now become possible, by the aid of his own verbal delineations, to exhibit in a complete form that picture of his life and character which was commenced in the former volume.

This has been distinctly kept in view in the selection of the following letters. They commence directly after the termination of the former volume, and extend to Mendelssohn’s death. They accompany him through the most varied relations of his life and vocation, and thus lay claim, at least partially, to another kind of interest from that of the period of gay, though not insignificant enjoyment, depicted by him in the letters written during his travels. For example, the negotiations on the subject of his appointment at Berlin take up a large space; but this is inevitable, so characteristic are they of the manner in which he conceived and conducted such matters, while they reveal to us much that lies outside his own personal character, and thus possess a more than merely biographical value.

On the other hand, the minute details of the pure and elevated happiness which Mendelssohn enjoyed in his most intimate domestic relations, are expressly withheld, as being the peculiar treasure of his family, and a few passages only have been selected for publication from these letters, which however are sufficiently clear on the point. In conclusion, it should be observed, that no letter addressed to any living person has been published without express permission readily accorded.

A Catalogue of all Mendelssohn’s compositions, compiled by Herr Kapellmeister Dr. Julius Rietz, is added as a supplement, which, by its classification and arrangement, will no doubt prove an object of interest both to musicians and amateurs of music.

Berlin and Heidelberg,
June, 1863.

LETTERS.

To Pastor Bauer, Beszig.

Berlin, March 4th, 1833.

Since I set to work again, I feel in such good spirits that I am anxious to adhere to it as closely as possible, so it monopolizes every moment that I do not spend with my own family. Such a period as this last half-year having passed away makes me feel doubly grateful. It is like the sensation of going out for the first time after an illness; and, in fact, such a term of uncertainty, doubt, and suspense, really amounted to a malady, and one of the worst kind too.[1] I am now however entirely cured; so, when you think of me, do so as of a joyous musician, who is doing many things, who is resolved to do many more, and who would fain accomplish all that can be done.

For the life of me I cannot rightly understand the meaning of your recent question and discussion, or what answer I am to give you. Universality, and everything bordering on æsthetics, makes me forthwith quite dumb and dejected. Am I to tell you how you ought to feel? You strive to discriminate between an excess of sensibility and genuine feeling, and say that a plant may bloom itself to death.

But no such thing exists as an excess of sensibility; and what is designated as such is, in fact, rather a dearth of it. The soaring, elevated emotions inspired by music, so welcome to listeners, are no excess; for let him who can feel do so to the utmost of his power, and even more if possible; and if he dies of it, it will not be in sin, for nothing is certain but what is felt or believed, or whatever term you may choose to employ; moreover, the bloom of a plant does not cause it to perish save when forced, and forced to the uttermost; and, in that case, a sickly blossom no more resembles a healthy one, than sickly sentimentality resembles true feeling.

I am not acquainted with Herr W——, nor have I read his book; but it is always to be deplored when any but genuine artists attempt to purify and restore the public taste. On such a subject words are only pernicious; deeds alone are efficient. For even if people do really feel this antipathy towards the present, they cannot as yet give anything better to replace it, and therefore they had best let it alone. Palestrina effected a reformation during his life; he could not do so now any more than Sebastian Bach or Luther. The men are yet to come who will advance on the straight road; and who will lead others onwards, or back to the ancient and right path, which ought, in fact, to be termed the onward path; but they will write no books on the subject.

To Pastor Bauer, Beszig.

Berlin, April 6th, 1833.

My work, about which I had recently many doubts, is finished; and now, when I look it over, I find that, quite contrary to my expectations, it satisfies myself. I believe it has become a good composition; but be that as it may, at all events I feel that it shows progress, and that is the main point. So long as I feel this to be the case, I can enjoy life and be happy; but the most bitter moments I ever endured, or ever could have imagined, were during last autumn, when I had my misgivings on this subject. Would that this mood of happy satisfaction could but be hoarded and stored up! But the worst of it is, that I feel sure I shall have forgotten it all when similar evil days recur, and I can devise no means of guarding against this, nor do I believe that you can suggest any. As, however, a whole mass of music is at this moment buzzing in my head, I trust that it will not, please God, quickly pass away.

Strange that this should be the case at a time, in other respects so imbued with deep fervour and earnestness, for I shall leave this place feeling more solitary than when I came. I have found my nearest relatives, my parents, my brother and sisters, alone unchanged; and this is a source of happiness for which I certainly cannot be too grateful to God; indeed, now that I am (what is called) independent, I have learned to love and honour, and understand my parents better than ever; but then I see many branching off to the right and to the left, whom I had hoped would always go along with me; and yet I could not follow them on their path, even if I wished to do so.

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