The Power of Music in the Ancient World
Music has power. The power to move us to the heroic as in battle, to comfort in grief, to communicate with children too young for words, and to reach out in almost every religion to that which is sacred in us. This power was once in our history recognized and explored. In the ancient worlds of China, India, Egypt, Sumer and Greece before the Common Era, it was called Music which governed the heavenly bodies, it was called Music which brought creation into being, it was called Music which healed, it was called Music which formed the character. Ancient Man lived in a Musical Garden of Eden.
History was chanted in myth and poetry. We can translate most ancient languages but much of the feeling and meaning of what the chants conveyed are hidden from us. The emotional impact of hearing Gilgamesh sung could help reveal the mythological mind set behind it. Possibly it takes a Jung in the field of psychology or Joseph Campbell talking about myth to begin to open our minds to the questions of meaning. Or could we simply, like the imaginative enthusiast Schliemann, read Homer as fact and actually discover Troy?
Music was related to government and society. One of the first duties of a new emperor in ancient China was to discover the sound which permeated the world. This pitch became the fundamental to which all other notes were tuned. Even the weights and measurements of his reign were adjusted to correspond to the appropriate musical sounds. On this depended the prosperity of his reign and the contentment of his people. Music was viewed as the regulating factor between heaven and earth.
Music was intrinsic to religious belief ‒ in ancient India it was said to be of divine origin. Before the creation of the world an all-pervading sound rang through space. For the ancient Chinese, the laws of music were part of the cosmic order and so affected the universe. And Plato states that “…In Egypt they have a tradition that their ancient chants which have been preserved for so many ages are the composition of the goddess Isis…” (Laws). Many of the gods and goddesses of antiquity played musical instruments. Hermes was credited with inventing the lyre, the instrument Apollo played.
Music relates to education “…Enough has been said to show that music has a power of forming the character, and should therefore be introduced into the education of the young…” from Aristotle, Politics.
Music relates to mathematics and the cosmic order of the universe. In China, India, Egypt, Sumer/Babylon and Greece, the exact tuning of musical intervals was of prime importance. The proportions for finding these intervals are well documented.
The mathematical correspondence of musical proportions to the cosmos has intrigued great thinkers throughout the centuries. Johannes Kepler in his Harmonies of the World presents melodies representing the Earth, Moon, Mars, Saturn, Jupiter Venus and Mercury. More recently Einstein, in this same tradition, claimed that his discoveries came through music.
We could go on and on with other aspects of ancient life directly related to music but this paper is too short and history too long to do so. How far we’ve come from those values that placed the department of music in the royal palace in China.
But there is a wakeup call to a different evaluation of music today. Amazing scientific research is demonstrating how sound actually affects different states of consciousness. Many organizations sponsor studies on music’s effects on the brain. This research has certainly come to the aid of music educators in the past decade. We see Music Therapy as a profession of growing importance. People who suffer from many ailments including dementia are being helped through music. Patients who have lost all memory can sing songs with lyrics intact. I am reminded of the place of the bard in antiquity, existing in parts of Asia and Africa to the present day. These incredible raconteurs memorized, with the aid of song and chant, stories and legends that fill our library shelves. Thanks to these story tellers we have the Vedas, the Mahabharata, the Epic of Gilgamesh, the Iliad and the Odyssey. We have no names for these bards except one: Homer.
Stories from Iamblichus, Cicero, Plutarch, Quintilian and others relate how Pythagoras cured mind and body through music. Luckily for us, there are people willing to investigate how this could be possible. The late Dr. Alfred Tomatis helped open the way to healing with the power of sound. In his book The Conscious Ear, he tells of how he helped to cure the monks in a Benedictine monastery. The order had decided to revamp their entire daily routine to make it more in tune with the modern world. One of the things they discarded was daily chanting. Soon the monks became ill, some very seriously so. Dr. Tomatis was asked to come to the monastery to find out what was wrong. After studying the situation he reinstated the practice of chanting, and the monks regained their health.
One of the more wonderful phenomena popping up today is drumming circles. People from all walks of our high tech life are coming together to drum. There is an amusing side to this based on the common misconception about music in the timeframe of the history we are discussing ‒ that ancients stood around in circles banging on drums, sticks and rocks to make music.
We’ve been speaking about new ideas and professions. But these views are very close to really ancient concepts. In some respects we are closer to ancient world views than we are to many ideas of a more recent past.
I believe that kids should be told that many of their ancestors were knowledgeable about the how and why’s of music and that their discoveries are part of a rich musical past. It’s important that children feel that they are the heirs to a great treasure of knowledge and that this treasure is waiting for them to discover it.
Historically music had a vital part to play in education. Education could take a giant leap forward if the first concern was a balanced curriculum rather than a balanced budget.
Whether music is the art of sounding mathematics, whose laws on a grand scale mirror the harmony of the cosmos; or in a microcosmic view, reflect and influence the laws of society and the individual, is up for investigation. However, that music has the power to touch us is real and that reality was known a long time ago.
By Carmela Mercuri
Illustrations by Robin Smith
Copyright 2008 by Carmela Mercuri
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Scott Joplin and His School, Centennial Edition
The revival of interest in Scott Joplin a century after his death is not unparalleled in the fortunes of earlier musicians. Bach, for instance, was highly regarded during his lifetime only in local circles. After his death in 1750, his memory was kept alive mainly by his pupils; and it was not until after 1800 that he became known to the concert-going public. Similarly. Schubert was known during his lifetime mainly among his friends in Vienna. His “Unfinished Symphony” is unfinished because he sent a couple of movements to the Society of the Friends of Music to see whether they would perform it. The manuscript got pigeonholed, and he never asked for it back. Well after his death it was discovered there, was performed, and swept the world.
Similarly with Scott Joplin. He was a musician of high aspirations who was to some extent appreciated within certain local circles. Like Chopin and Liszt he was highly regarded as a performer and composer of music for the piano, which during the 19th century achieved a very high point in its development.
But he was more than that. Like Schubert and Schumann he aspired also to compose for the theater. Like many of the great composers of the past, also, he felt a considerable drive to teach, expressing himself not only through his pupils who later became prominent but also leaving us an instructional work which he called School of Ragtime.
This school is significant — not just in itself as a method of playing his pieces but also as a key to his conception of music. Within the past few years there has been great interest in his compositions. His Collected Piano Works were issued in a volume edited by Vera Brodsky Lawrence and published by the New York Public Library in 1971; his opera Treemonisha was performed in Atlanta in 1972; notable concerts of his piano works have been given in Washington and New York; and albums of his pieces have been issued. Mass media have also come into play; there have been notable TV programs of his music, and it serves as background to the movie The Sting.
Apparently Joplin felt impelled to formulate his School of Ragtime in order to make it clear what a “Joplin Rag” is and to assist those who wished to play it to conceive of it properly. Popular forms like the rag, the blues, the waltz, the landler, the polka, the mazurka, the Hungarian dance, and so on, were — in their day — living popular forms. They hadn’t quite jelled — at least, to the extent that they may seem to have as we look back at them today. They had not been perfected. Various composers were working in more or less folk-material which they felt in their bones had possibilities. Just as Schubert lied is more than just a song, so a Joplin rag is more than just a rag. What that “more than” involves is the reason for the School of Ragtime’s being.
Basic to any work of art is a maximum co-existence in it of unity and variety, of simplicity and complexity, of order and departure from order — that is, a maximum within the self-imposed limits of its nature. The self-imposed limits of a “Joplin rag” arise from its being fundamentally a piano form. Here one has the regularity of the left hand part and the syncopated departure from and return to it in the right-hand part. This is the idea of tempo rubato as practiced in Chopin’s day. Rubato was not a matter of listless ritardano and accelerando, depending on how the player felt. Rather it was something exact. What was stolen from one beat was paid back in another. In many of Chopin’s pieces there is a regular left-hand part against a varied right-hand one — as in the compositions of many great composers. In fact, the whole basso ostinato idea is fundamentally this. In Joplin it is the rhythm rather than the melody that supplies the ostinato element. And, in general, the playing off of a regular part against a comparatively irregular one — though all comes out right at the end — is one of the perennial aspects of musical vitality.
Joplin insisted in his School that ragtime should never be played fast — at any time. There is the calm deliberateness about a Joplin rag that reminds one more of the slow middle movement of the older classical forms of concerted music.
Behind the slow march tempo, counted 1-2, he thought of each beat as consisting of four sixteenths. Basically, the unit in terms of which he thought was the sixteenth, not the quarter note. This goes back to a conception of music as an additive union of corpuscles of time. The approach is not primarily analytical or divisive, in which the piece as a whole is thought of as dissected into subdivisions, and they into sub-subdivisions, and so on. It’s all more like dance than like architecture.
Some of these sixteenth-note units, however, were thought of by Joplin as being tied together and not to be re-struck. It’s as in playing the organ, where repeated notes are usually not given separate impulses by the finger. They’re tied over. Thus the whole has a sense of relaxed dignity. It shouldn’t be too busy. Contrary to what its name might suggest, it should not sound ragged.
Actually, Joplin was taking account of the greater resonance of pianos in the late 19th century. Earlier — in say, Haydn and Mozart — when the clavichord, harpsichord, and wooden-framed piano was the norm, there had been a great deal of repeated striking of notes and redundant filling in of intervals, together with trilling and ornamenting the principal notes in various ways. In part this was due to the inability of the instrument to sustain tone. But by the middle of the 19th century, with greater use of metal in the piano framework, the instrument had become much more sonorous. Joplin’s insistence on tying over notes to create syncopation was a natural development, both in terms of his artistic conception of juxtaposing a varied right hand against a regular left and in terms of the state of the instrument that was now available to him.
Although much in his music can be rationalized in terms of his social background and in other ways, they do not by any means explain exhaustively the distinctive aspects of his achievement. Born in Texas shortly after the close of the Civil War, he grew up in a musical family. Early he received instruction from a German music teacher, with whom he maintained contact throughout his life. His early activities focused on Sedalia, Missouri, where he took courses in harmony and composition at a local college. In Sedalia he also himself taught extensively, playing at various clubs including The Maple Leaf, and began to see his works in print. His Maple Leaf Rag (1899) was a notable success. Also in 1899, at Sedalia, he saw his ballet The Ragtime Dance performed.
An opera of his, A Guest of Honor, was performed in St. Louis. Billed as “King of Ragtime Composers — Author of Maple Leaf Rag”, he successively made his base of operations St. Louis, Chicago and New York. Eventually, in the latter, he became more concerned with teaching, publishing his School of Ragtime there in 1908, and becoming increasingly absorbed in attempts to get a proper performance for his opera Treemonisha. This was not easy. The Met, according to Karl H. Worner’s History of Music, did not perform an opera by an American until 1910, and even then it was only a one-act.
Joplin’s death in a mental institution in 1917 perhaps recalls to us the unfortunate end of a number of other composers — Schumann, Wolf, MacDowell, Smetana, Ravel.
No one would wish to discount the folk-aspects of Joplin’s work, any more than one would wish to disregard the Polish aspects of Chopin’s or the Hungarian of Liszt’s or Bartok’s. But one must also not neglect the fact that he was a knowledgeable composer, quite aware of 19th century practice. His copy of Judassohn’s counterpoint manual showed that he studied it assiduously. His conception of music generally, and of the rag in particular, was simple not by necessity but by choice. It has a kind of sublime simplicity about it, like the late work of many other great creative artists.
by Dr. Willis Wager
© Copyright 2017 by carousel-music.com ltd
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Carousel has published Mozart’s original composing game, Musikalisches Wurfelspiel, K516f as the “Mozart Melody Dicer”. The Joplin Melody Dicer was created by Carousel using Mozart’s original idea of a dice game, with Scott Joplin’s music. Both games come in 3 versions: Individual Player, Classroom ans e-book.
The “Musikalishes Wurfelspiel” or “Melody Dicer” was published by N. Simrock in Berlin in 1792, with instructions in German, French, and English and by other publishers between 1793 and 1801.
Quite a number of important composers – including Haydn and Mozart – devised such systems. Also at least a dozen other composers were doing the same sort of thing. Some of them are today not so widely known, but in their time may well have cut a more imposing figure: Kirnberger, Stadler, de la Chevardiere, Hadyn, Graf, Fiedler, Fischer, Catrofo, Calegari, and possibly C. P. E. Bach. Their “musical dice games” were printed and reprinted all over Europe – especially around 1775-1800. This is precisely the period which we usually refer to as “classical” – the time when our very greatest music was being written.
So far as Mozart himself is concerned, the composing game is his all right. We have his handwritten manuscript for at least part of it, listed in Kochel’s index as 516F. It was not ghost-written. Besides Mozart was still fairly early in his career and not quite so widely known as he was to be later. It’s something he wanted to do, in the full effervescence of his lively spirits, to show how one might compose “without the least knowledge of music German walzer or Schliefer, by throwing a certain number with two dice.”
He was definitely not a stuffy composer, or one who thought of music as not really being for people. He thought of composition not as something to be approached only in a sort of dry-induced state of higher consciousness. If you’ve got a pair of dice around, just toss a number and begin.
Also, as has been suggested, this type of thing was not confined to Mozart. Johann Philipp Kirnberger brought out in Berlin in 1757 something with the same general intent, entitled “The Ever Ready Composer of Polonaises and Minuets” (Der allezeit fertige Polonaisen und Menuetten Komponist). In his introduction he explains that if you use this book you “will not have to resort to professional composition”. In other words, it’s a how-to-do-it book. It is intended, he says, for the music lover who wishes occasionally a change from the ombre table in his “hours of leisure”. Apparently Kirnberger did well with his method, for in 1783 he brought out another and more elaborate one explaining how to compose sonatas, symphonies, and overtures.
Actually, the conception of music here involved – so different from the Romantic one – goes back to the beginnings of the classical era and into the preceding one. The diarist Samuel Pepys had a sort of music composing machine. The friend of J.S. Bach and head of the musicians’ society to which he belonged, Ludwig Mizler, wrote in 1739 “The Initial Basses of Figured Bass, propounded mathematically and presented in a very clear way by a newly invented machine”. While Mizler did not shake the dice to get his numbers to compose by, he obviously was approaching music in a somewhat un-Romantic way.
By about 1775, however, a new spirit was stirring. Josef Haydn called his contribution to the burgeoning literature of musical crap-shooting a “Philharmonic Joke”, and it was brought out in 1790 by the publisher Luigi Marescalchi in Naples. Maximilian Stadler called his “Tables according to which one can toss off minuets and trios”; de la Chevardiere called his “The Harmonic Top” an anonymous work brought out in England has the explicit designation “A Tabular System whereby any person without the least knowledge of music may compose ten thousand different minuets in the most pleasing and correct manner.”
Antonio Calegari brought out in Venice in 1801 a Gioco piatogorico musicale apparently of this type; and in 1802 he moved to Paris, where he brought out his presumably similar L’Art de composer de la musique sans en connaitre les elements, which very shortly went into a second edition, dedicated to Mme. Josephine Boneparte. Oddly enough, he suggests in it that one use three dice “It is apparent” he says, “that music, which is taken to be the language of the heart, must – like any other language – have its phrases, its periods, its words, syllables, and letters.” He says texts may be put under the successions of notes mechanically arrived at, and strong dynamic contrasts may be achieved. Perhaps his work is a little overdone, and suggests that the taste for the Classical was waning.
The respect for Classical, objective, numerical elements in composition has, of course, revived again today, with twelve tone, serial, and aleatory composition. “Aleatory,” literally, means “having to do with dice” – the Latin phrase for “the die is cast” being alea jacta est. Mozart’s emphasis on the relationship of music to number, which appears clearly in his “Melody Dicer”, is something at once very old and very new. Other occasional features of Mozart’s music, such as his use of more than one tonality at once, are also both old and new.
But why would he want to link composition with that activity today so despised, crapshooting? Mozart was no high-brow. He once said he wrote his pieces for all sorts of ears – except the long ones.
In his day, one of the really exciting new ideas was that artistic achievement was not confined to those who had been “through the mill”. In olden times the guilds had insisted on a long apprenticeship. But things were now different. Mozart’s father felt really challenged by the evidences of musical ability shown by his infant son, and devoted his life to fostering them. He distrusted the Establishment, the hoary ceremony of courts and bureaucracies. A wild west wind was blowing through Europe – west because America lay to its west, Nature and naturalness were in vogue. Out of this frame of mind came the idea of playfully linking musical composition with crapshooting.
Not only was there a sentimental drive behind this but also it had its practical aspects. There was a great deal of amateur composition during this period when these musical dice games were in their heyday. Any well brought up person was expected to be able to compose something when the occasion demanded. The idea that music was something to be attempted only after long study and great suffering or to be bought in a store or to be read about in books, magazines, and newspapers was as foreign to this age as were the phonograph, radio, and television. Undoubtedly it was expected of the average music lover that he would occasionally write some music in an acceptable way – just as he was expected to be able to dance, make a speech, or write letters. Possibly the results may sometimes have seemed rather lame to composers like Mozart or Haydn. Thus in an off-handed and joking way they suggest that something acceptable could be easily obtained if the person who wished to produce a little piece would follow the very simple steps they indicated.
The basic idea behind such a musical dice game as Mozart’s is simple enough. The first two casts of the dice will refer anyone playing the game to measures that are essentially conceived in the tonic; the third cast will yield a measure in the dominant; and so on.
But what is important is that the writing of the resulting minuet or waltz be something completable. The person using it gets an idea of the whole resulting work – the Gestalt. It is little, but one’s own. It would be quite possible later to go on from there and introduce still further complications, as Calegari did. But so far as Haydn or Mozart is here concerned, the indispensable minimum is that the opening begin with the tonic and the first section wind up on the dominant, and that the second work its way back from the dominant to the tonic for the ending.
The value of this for the present is, first, as in Mozart’s day – that it is fun. It is a game. But, second and beyond that, there are some basic ideas about the normal structure of classical music that are here suggested. It is important that the person using it can thus take his first step towards composing, and that the whole matter be not transferred to a never-never land, but be presented in a quite simple clear, and definite way. It is important that this first step be feasible for the person taking it. And the result should have some musical integrity and completeness. Undoubtedly it has for us today an educational value over and above the purely recreational one that it had for those using it at the time it was originally issued.
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When a gong is struck in the center, it’s lowest sound is heard. The vibration at this point is at the maximum. As the vibration travels to the outer rim it diminishes (see diagram below). The sound is higher at the outer rim. Often players, before striking a gong, tap the outer rim lightly to begin the vibrations. The vibrations of the gong are opposite to that of the bell, which has the maximum vibration at the rim.
Ancient Chinese Music Ceremony to Confucius
Ancient Chinese Music, Ceremony to Confucius: Chinese music of the past can be divided into popular and religious. Of the two the latter is more ancient, and can be practically identified with the Confucian Ritual. The Chinese up to the 20th century had always jealously guarded the purity and the antiquity of their Ritual Music. In its performance they employed certain curious old instruments in a strikingly national way. All the “rubrics” in connection with their religious services were based on strict tradition, and a special board of officers saw to their proper observance.
The ceremonies which we may group together under the heading” ritual” were devoted to the worship of Heaven and Earth at the winter and summer solstices respectively, and of Confucius, with other departed saints and prophets, during the spring and autumn. The emperor was the president of the “Society of the Learned” under whose authority these festivals were held. He was always present in person, or at any rate fictitiously supposed to be present. The actual Confucian Ceremony at Peking took place in the vast temple dedicated to the memory of the sage, and was conducted with great splendor and solemnity.
The main features of musical interest were the slow” Guiding March” (tao-yin), which took the emperor from and back to the second gate of the temples, and the “Hymn to Confucius.”
Hymn to Confucius
The Hymn was the only one sung while the emperor was actually at the shrine. It consisted of six strophes, four of which were accompanied by slow ceremonial dancing. Each, strophe was made up of thirty-two long tones in the “white-note” scale of A-minor: each began with the four notes A-C-D-E, and ended on the tonic. It must be noted, however, that the actual lu in which the Hymn was sung varied according to the lunar calendar. It is a matter not of musical but of astronomical ordinance.
To Chinese ears and voices this was not of great importance; though one cannot help speculating what would be the feelings of an English Cathedral Choir if, when rehearsing for some special service, they received a preliminary order from the Astronomer Royal that all the music was to be transposed up a perfect fifth!
The instrumental accompaniment was ancient and curious. Each strophe started by a single heavy metal bell, which was immediately answered by a heavy stone-chime; two instruments which always work in pairs. The tune itself was played by small gong-chimes combined with small stone-chimes, plucked string-instruments, flutes, ocarinas, clappers, and “sheng.” At the end of the verse a drum was beaten three times and answered by two other drums. After the sixth strophe the “tiger-box” (modern equivalent of tiger box) was beaten three times. Then followed the second performance of the Guiding March. These musical details need to be heard to give them life. When heard under the conditions of a solemn night-festival they were said to be extraordinarily impressive.
Bells are musical instruments of percussion, consisting of a series of metal basins or cups, the outline of which has from time to time been modified. The materials of which bells are usually made are copper and tin, the proportions varying in several countries and even among the manufacturers.
The various parts of the bells are A, the Canons; B, the Shoulder; C, the Waist; the thick part between D and E, the Sound Bow; E, the Rim or lip; F, the Clapper. The following analyses of English and some foreign bells, will give a correct idea of the composition of older bells.
ENGLISH BELLS. Copper ……..80.0 % Tin …………10.1 % Zinc …………5.6 % Lead …………4.3 % ROUEN BELLS. Copper ……..72.0 % Tin …………25.0 % Zinc ……….…1.8 % Lead …………1.2 % PARIS BEL,LS. Copper ……… 72.90 % Tin ………….. 25.56 % Iron …………… 1.54 % SWISS HOUR BELLS. Copper ……….75.0 % Tin …………. 25.0 %
2.The use of bells to call worshippers together is supposed to be of Christian origin, but it is said that the feast of Osiris in Egypt was announced by the ringing of bells. Aaron and the Jewish high priests had bells attached to their vestments, and P1utarch says that small bells were used in the mysteries of Bacchus, and the priests of Cybele at Athens employed bells in their rites. The Greeks sounded bells in their camps, and the Romans indicated the hours of bathing and business by the tintinnabulum. It is also said, that in some places large gongs were suspended in the air, and as the wind brought them together, so was the character of the sounds made, interpreted as an unfavourable or favourable augury. Trumpets were employed among the Jews to call the faithful to worship (Exodus xx., 13; Numbers x., 2; Joel ii., 15). Plates of .iron are still used in the Levant, and a plank of wood is occasionally employed for the same purpose that we use bells in some of the old Wallachian monasteries. In the East the call to prayer is made by the Mueddin of each mosque, who, having ascended the gallery of the mad’neh or minaret, chants the “hadan” or call to .prayer. The introduction of bells into churches is attributed to Paulinus, Bishop of Nola, in Campania, about the year 400, but there is an epistle of that bishop still extant in which he describes his church, but makes no mention of either tower or bells; indeed, it is believed that towers were not constructed until two centuries later. Yet it is not a little remarkable that the general name for bells was Nolae or Campanae, and hence the words knoll as meaning the sound of a single bell, and campanile a bell tower. Sabianus, who was Pope in 604, ordered the bells to ring the horae canonicae at the proper times during the day, and Benedict, Abbot of Wearmouth, brought his bells from Italy about the year 680. Bells were hung in towers in the East in the 9th, and in Germany in the 11th century. Those that were in use before are supposed to be hand bells; several examples, as old as the 6th century, are still preserved in some parts of Europe and the United Kingdom. St. Patrick’s bell, St. Ninian’s bell, St. Gall’s bell, and others are plates of iron rivetted together; St. Gall’s bell (about 646) is still shown in the monastery of the city called by his name in Switzerland. In, the 13th century larger bells were cast, but it was not until the end of the 15th century that they began to assume great proportions. St. Dunstan, in the l0th century, seems to have the credit of having established the first foundry in England, Glastonbury, Malmesbury, and other places having been furnished with bells by him. Bells were rung not only to indicate the commencement of certain services, but also were tolled to mark certain stages in those services. Thus we find mention made of the Saints or Sanctus bell, the Compline bell, the Judas bell, the Pardon or Ave bell, the Passing bell, the last tolled to warn all “Christen soules” to pray for the parting soul of the dying. Bells, being thus intimately connected with the services of the Church, have been supposed to possess a certain sacred character. They were founded with religious ceremonies, consecrated, baptized, and were anointed with holy oil (see Schiller’s “Lay”). St. Colomba, in the 6th century, made use of a bell whose name was ” Dia Dioghaltus,” or “God’s vengeance,” to test the truth of assertions made, as it was believed that the wrath of God would speedily overtake any who swore falsely by it. Pious inscriptions are frequent on bells of the middle ages, and inscriptions, not always pious, are found on those of later date. Bells were often rung to allay storms, there being a special endowment belonging to Old St. Paul’s, “for ringinge the hallowed belle in great tempestes and lightninges.” The curfew bell, still sounded in many parts of England and Scotland, is of more ancient practice than the period usually assigned as its commencement, the reign of. William the Norman; and there are many social practices announced by the ringing or tolling of the church bells.
3. Change ringing, or campanology, is frequently practised when there are more than three bells, such changes being known by the names of bob-majors, bob triples, Norwich court bobs, grandsire bob-triples, and caters. The number of changes a set of bells is capable of, may be known by in-multiplying the numbers of the set. Thus, three bells may ring six changes, 1 2 3, 1 3 2, 21 3, 23 I, 32 I, 3 1 2; four bells will give 24 changes; 5 bells, 120 changes; 6 bells, 720 changes; 7 bells, 5040 changes; 8 bells, 40,320 changes; 9 bells, 362,880 changes; 10 bells, 3,628,800 changes; 11 bells, 39,916,800 changes; 12 bells, 479,001,600 changes. To ring the changes that 12 bells are capable of, would take 91 years at two strokes per second, while a peal of 24 bells can make so many changes that it would occupy 117,000 billions of years to ring them all. The technical terms for the various peals, on sets of bells of different numbers, are the following:
Rounds On three bells. Changes or singles ” four ” Doubles or grandsires ” five ” (Bobs) Minor ” six ” Triples ” seven ” (Bobs) Major ” eight ” Caters ” nine ” (Bobs) Royal ” ten ” Cinques ” eleven ” (Bobs) Maximus ” twelve ”
4. A bell is said to be “set” when she is mouth upwards, at “hand stroke” when the ” sallie” or tuft on the rope has to be pulled, at “back stroke” when the ringer has to pull the end of the rope. A bell is said to be “going up” when she moves her position in the change from “treble” towards that of “tenor,” and “down” when she is changing her position from that of “tenor” towards that of “treble.” A bell is said to be “behind” when she is the last of the changing bells, and at “lead” when she is the first. Thus the progress from “lead” to behind is said to be “going up,” and from behind to lead is called “going down.” “Dodging” is moving a place backwards out of the ordinary hunting course. A bell is said to be “hunting up” when she is pulled after the one which previously pulled after her. A bell is said to “make a place” when she strikes two blows in succession at anyone place. To “lie a whole pull” is synonymous with “making a place.” Two blows at “lead” and “behind” are a part of “hunting,” in making these therefore a bell is not said to be “making a place.” “Bob” and “singles” are words used to produce a certain series of changes by disturbing the ordinary system of “hunting.” The full knowledge of the meaning of these and many other technical terms used in ringing can only be learnt in the belfry. The method of Doubles named after Stedman. (1640) is, in principle, as follows: while three of the bells are ringing changes, the other two are dodging behind, but at the completion of each set of six changes one bell comes down from behind to take part in the changes, one, of course, at the same time going up behind to take part in the dodging.
5. Bells are occasionally employed as orchestral instruments-small bells, tuned to a certain scale, being most favored-as in Victor Masse’s “Les noces de Jeannette,” a whole peal of small bells being used with great effect. These, as in Mozart’s “Magic Flute,” are so arranged as to be played with keys, like a pianoforte. Auber employs a single bell in the finale to “Fra Diavolo.” Rossini has introduced a bell sounding
in the opening of the second act of “William Tell” Donizetti also, in the finale to “Lucia di Lammermoor,” has written for a bell tuned to the same note. Meyerbeer, in his “Huguenots,” employs a bell in
with clarinets and bassoons. In “Dinorah,” in what is popularly known as the “Goat Trio,” a bell with the note
is used. Ambroise Thomas has a series of clever harmonies for the orchestra in his opera “Hamlet,” while a deep-toned bell strikes the midnight hour. Flotow, in “Martha,” uses a bell, as does Gounod in “Jeanne d’Arc,” tuned to the following note:
and there are numerous other instances where bells of all grades of tone have been used with skill and effect. Bell founding. The shape and proportions of the intended bell having been decided upon according to a certain scale, the first part of the process of casting is commenced, by constructing an inner mould called the core, by which the form of the inside of the bell is determined. This core has a foundation of rough brickwork or iron, hollow in the centre, afterwards plastered over with loam or soft clay. A guage of wood, called a crook, made to revolve or sweep round on a central pivot by the hand of a workman, gives the clay the exact form required. This process will be at once understood on reference to the following diagram. A is the core, B the crook, which is fastened to c, the pivot on which it revolves:
The core is hardened by a fire made in its hollow, and when it is sufficiently “set,” it is covered with grease and tan, over which is placed a coating of haybands and loam, of the thickness of the intended bell, and upon this the cope or outer mould is shaped. When this is dried it is removed, the thickening of haybands and loam which represented the shape of the bell to be cast, is destroyed, and the two moulds, the core and the cope, are examined and finished. The core is sometimes made on an iron foundation, instead of brickwork, in which case it can be dried in a furnace, instead of by the fire in its hollow. The cope having been carefully adjusted over the core, the head and the staple to hold the clapper are then fitted on, and. the whole mould is firmly imbedded in the earth, leaving only the holes at the top visible.
The above diagram shows the position of mould ready for the metal. A is the core, B the cope, F the channel for the metal to run in, E the hole for the air and gases to escape during the casting, and the thick black line the section of the bell. When the metal is quite ready, the furnace-door is opened, and the molten mass rushes down a channel, previously prepared, into the moulds sunk in the pits, and excepting mishaps, from insecure “bedding,” the splitting of the cope, or other accidents, the bell is cast, and, when cold, is dug from the pit; the clay mould destroyed, and the bell is ready for the next .process, that of tuning. The tuning is effected by means of a lathe and some simple machinery. If the bell requires sharpening, the diameter is lessened in proportion to its substance, if it is too sharp, the sound-bow is thinned by the same means; but, as a rule, bells are now so accurately cast, that little if any tuning is necessary after the bell leaves the mould. It is stated in “Knight’s Encyc1opedia, 1854,” that the German bell-founders made the various dimensions of the bell to bear certain ratios to each other. The thickest part where the hammer strikes is called the “Sound Bow.” If this thickest be called one, then the diameter of the mouth equals 15, the diameter of the top or shoulder 7.5, the height equals 12, and the weight of the clapper 1/40 of the weight of the bell. Denison recommends that the sound bow of the three, or four larger bells of a peal should be of the thickness of a thirteenth of the diameter, and that the smaller bells may gradually increase in thickness up to the twelfth in a peal of six, the eleventh in a peal of eight, and to the tenth in a peal of ten or twelve, greater thickness impeding the freedom of the sound. The bells of the Cathedral at Exeter, one of the largest peal of bells in England, the greater number of which were cast in 1676, have the following weights, diameters, and tones; – WEIGHT DIAMETER TONE Cwt. qr lb. Ft. in. 67 1 20 5 11.5 Bflat. 46 3 14 5 4.5 C. 38 1 16 4 11 D. 30 1 12 4 7 E flat. 21 0 0 4 1 F. 15 0 0 3 10 G. 12 2 0 3 4.5 A. 10 1 2 3 1.5 B flat. 9 3 20 3 0 C. 8 3 20 2 9.5 D. The relative diameters of a peal of eight tuneable bells should be according to the following proportion: 60, 53.5, 48, 45, 40, 36, 32, 30. The relative weights being generally in the proportion, 100, 70.23, 51.2, 42.2, 29.63, 21.6, 15.18, 12.5.
Finding Intervals on the Monochord
There are different ways to find intervals on the monochord. One way is to divide the string by 1/2,1/3,1/4,1/5, etc., thus giving the harmonic series.
This way is quite straightforward. The second way is to divide the string by the mathematical proportion itself. For instance a string divided into three parts and two parts would give the fifth, a ratio of 3:2.
We are explaining here the second of the two ways for two reasons. The first reason is that when finding an interval by dividing the string by a half, third, fourth, fifth, sixth and so on, you must always go back to the open string. This could slightly change the tuning of the open string because the center bridge would have to be removed to hear the open string. The second reason is that the intervals go out of the octave of the open string, into higher octaves and could be more difficult for your students to hear.
Tuning by the proportions found among the Greeks
All the bridges on your monochord are moveable. The ratio of the octave is 2:1, the fifth 3:2, the fourth 4:3, the major third 5:4, the minor third 6:5, the major sixth 5:3, the minor sixth 8:5, the whole tone 9:8.
The Octave-ratio 2:1
Place the right bridge on 99 and the center bridge on 66.The string is now
divided in a ratio of 2:1 (66:33). Have your students play the string on either side of the middle bridge to hear the octave.
The fifth-ratio 3:2
Here we are dealing with a ratio which has 5 parts to it (3+2). 5 goes into 100, our complete ruler 20 times (100 divided by 5 equals 20). 20 times 3 equals 60 and 20 times 2 equals 40. Place the middle bridge on 60. The entire string should be on 100. Play both sides of the string the interval is the fifth.
The interval of the fourth-ratio 4:3
The numbers 4 and 3 have 7 parts (4+3). Divide 100 by 7 and you get 14 plus a remainder. We won’t use the remainder but will multiply 7 times 14 to get 98 (the closest number to 100). 4 times 14 is 56 and 3 times 14 is 42.Move the right bridge to 98 and place the center bridge on 56. your students will hear the interval of the fourth.
Major third 5:4
Place the middle bridge on 55, the entire length is 99.
Minor third 6:5 ratio
Place the middle bridge on 54. the entire string length is 99. The interval heard on either side of the middle bridge is the minor third.
The major sixth 5:3 ratio
Place the middle bridge on 60. The entire length of the string should be 96.
The minor sixth-8:5 ratio
Place the middle bridge on 56. The entire string length should be 91. Play both sides of the string, the interval is the minor sixth.
The whole tone, ratio 9:8
Place the middle bridge on 45. The entire string should be 85.
The half step was called a limma by the Greeks. To find this interval the entire ruler should be 99.8, while the middle bridge is 51.2. The ratio of this interval is 256:243. The Greeks even have another type of half tone, the apotome which has a ratio of 2187:2048. This ratio can also be found on the monochord. However if you think the Greeks went a little too far with their proportions, they didn’t come close to our equal temperament (tuning of the piano) a ratio of 1,059,463,094 : 1 ,000,000,000, the ratio of our half tone
If you are ever in the city of Vienna, and bend your steps to the district called the Lichtenthal, you will there find a thoroughfare, running north and south, called the Nussdorfer Strasse. This is its present name, but in former times it was known as ‘Auf dem Himmelpfortgrund’—meaning ‘Off the Gate of Heaven’—the ‘Himmelpfortgrund’ itself being a small street branching off to the west towards the fortifications. On the right-hand side of the Nussdorfer Strasse, as you face the outskirts of the city, you will come upon a house bearing the number 54 (it was formerly numbered 72), and the curious sign of ‘Zum rothen Krebsen’ (the Red Crab). But your attention will at once be drawn to another feature of the house—a grey marble tablet fixed above the door, with the inscription ‘Franz Schubert’s Geburthaus’ (the house in which Franz Schubert was born), in the centre, and on the right a lyre crowned with a star, and on the left a laurel wreath encircling the date ’31 January, 1797.’
Nothing more than this inscribed tablet will be needed to bring home to your mind the fact that you are actually face to face with the house in which Schubert, the composer of those beautiful songs, ‘The Erl King,’ ‘Hark, hark, the Lark,’ and ‘Sylvia,’ first saw the light. And as you stand before the home of the great song-writer your thoughts will revert in fancy to the time when, a century ago, there issued from that doorway the figure of a boy of eleven years of age, clad in a suit of grey so light as to be almost white, with chubby face, bright dark eyes, with a sparkle in them that the spectacles which he wore could not hide, and a head of thick, curly, black hair. That boy was Franz Schubert, setting out for his examination to be admitted as a scholar at the Imperial Convict, as the school for educating the choristers of the Chapel Royal in Vienna was called.
The son of Franz Schubert, a schoolmaster in the Lichtenthal district, whose character for uprightness and honesty, in addition to his abilities, had won him the respect and esteem of all who knew him, little Franz had from the first shown a remarkable fondness for music. The family were in poor circumstances, the father having sprung from a peasant stock, and by his own industry and a natural gift for teaching succeeded in raising himself to his present position, whilst his wife Elizabeth, in every way a perfect helpmeet for a poor man, was likewise of humble origin. Franz Schubert had nothing to depend upon but his schoolmaster’s pay, and the family included, besides little Franz, three boys and a girl. Nevertheless, such encouragement as could be given to Franz in his love for music was given heartily and sympathetically, for there could not have been a more devoted family than his. At the first, however, Franz showed his independence by making friends with a joiner’s apprentice, who used to take him to a certain pianoforte warehouse in the town, where, to his joy, he was permitted to play little tunes on one of the instruments. At home there was only an old, worn-out piano to practise upon, but with the aid of this and frequent visits to the warehouse the boy managed to acquire unaided a certain groundwork in music, so that when, at the age of seven, his father began to give him lessons on the violin he found that Franz had already made some headway. His elder brothers, Ignaz and Ferdinand, had been taken in hand by the father at the same age, and Ignaz, who was twelve years older than Franz, gave his little brother lessons on the pianoforte.
It was soon clear, however, that neither Ignaz nor his father could keep pace with Franz’s abilities—the boy had himself told Ignaz that he had no further need of his help, and could go on alone—and it was decided to send him to the choirmaster of the parish, Michael Holzer, to learn the violin and piano, as well as singing, the organ, and thorough-bass. Holzer, in turn, was astonished at the boy’s powers, and assured the father that he had never had such a pupil before. ‘If I wish to teach him anything now,’ he declared, ‘I find that he knows it already! I can only listen to him in amazement!’
Franz, with all his devotion to music, was a merry-hearted boy, never so happy as when, in the play-hour, he found himself surrounded by his schoolfellows, with whom he was first favourite. By the time he had reached his eleventh year his voice had acquired such power and beauty of expression as to procure him the chief soprano’s place in the choir of the parish church, where he also played the violin solos as they occurred in the service. At home he was even then writing little songs and pieces for the pianoforte—an early promise of what was to follow. The family, as we have seen, were poor and hardworking, Ignaz and Ferdinand were helping their father in the school, and it was evident, therefore, that the talent which Franz undoubtedly possessed must be turned to good account as soon as possible. The necessary step to this end was to obtain his admittance to the Convict, in order that he might be trained for the Imperial Chapel, and in the meanwhile receive his education free in return for his services.
Accordingly, one morning in the month of October 1808, Franz, attired in his suit of grey, presented himself for examination by the Court Capellmeisters and singing-master. A number of boys were to be examined at the same time, and whilst they were waiting they indulged themselves in mirth and jokes at the expense of the short, chubby-faced, spectacled boy clad in grey, ‘Hullo, my friend,’ cried one, who towered a good foot above poor Franz’s head, ‘how did you leave your father the miller?’—an allusion to Franz’s appearance which was greeted with a burst of laughter from the other boys. A second preferred a sarcastic inquiry as to the price of flour, whilst a third desired to know whether Franz expected to get through in such a garb—sallies which the victim bore with open good humour, the more so as he felt conscious of his own powers. And, indeed, the laugh was soon turned against his mockers; for, when he came to be examined, his singing of the trial-pieces, in addition to his skill in solving the problems set him, so astonished his examiners that they passed him through at once, and he was ordered to don the uniform of the imperial choristers forthwith. With a glow of pride Franz arrayed himself in his new dress, which, with its edgings of gold lace, he thought dazzlingly beautiful after his despised suit of grey.
Franz’s entry into the Convict implied a long separation from home, but he soon found plenty to occupy his mind and claim his interest. The school orchestra was a great feature of the new life, in which our hero, from his home studies, was enabled at once to take a prominent place. Practice was held daily, and the musicians bent their energies to mastering the overtures and symphonies of Haydn and Mozart, with the works of many of the minor masters. Even Beethoven’s works were not considered to be beyond the scope of their powers as time went on. The work of all others which made the deepest impression on Schubert’s mind at this stage, however, was Mozart’s ‘G minor Symphony.’ ‘One can hear the angels singing in it,’ he used to say. But he revelled also in the overtures to ‘Figaro’ and the ‘Zauberflöte,’ and, indeed, the orchestral music to which he was now introduced opened up to his mind a vista of never-ending delight.
On the very first day that he took his seat in the orchestra his clever playing attracted the attention of the leader, a big fellow named Spaun, who sat immediately in front of him. On turning round to ascertain who it was that was bringing forth such excellent tone from his fiddle, and, moreover, playing with such precision, Spaun discovered it to be ‘a small boy in spectacles, named Franz Schubert.’ From that moment big Spaun became little Franz’s intimate friend and counsellor. To him one day Franz, who was characteristically shy of speaking about himself and his longings, made a blushing admission that he had already composed a good deal. ‘Indeed,’ he added, as if in extenuation, ‘indeed, I cannot help it, and I should do it every day, only I cannot afford to get music-paper.’ Spaun grasped the situation at once, and thenceforth Franz was kept supplied with all the music-paper he required, a kindness for which he showed his gratitude by devoting his spare time to composition. In his playing, too, he made such rapid progress that before long he was taking the first violin, and on occasions when Ruzicka, the conductor, was not present he was appointed to lead the orchestra. It was observed by others besides Ruzicka and Spaun how greatly Schubert’s gifts and earnestness influenced the rest of the players, and tended to increase and strengthen their taste for good music. His deep sentiment for what was greatest and best in his art had from the first separated him from his schoolfellows, and now the magnetism of his genius and earnestness was drawing them one after another to his side. Franz Schubert had already become a power in the school.
Visits to the home were only to be made on Sundays and holidays, and they were events to which he looked forward with the keenest delight. Performances in which each member could take a share formed the chief occupation of the family on these occasions. Perhaps Franz had brought home a quartet of his own writing, and then the father would bring forth his ‘cello, and Ignaz and Ferdinand take first and second violins, while Franz chose the viola, in order that he might be better able to judge of the effect, and the work would be played through, with criticism or approval of its merits at the conclusion. The father would sometimes play a wrong note; at first Franz would take no notice, but if the error were repeated he would look up with a smile, and say gently, ‘Herr Vater, something must be wrong there,’ and it is a proof of the rapid progress which he had made in music since the days of his father’s teaching that his judgment in such matters was never questioned.
By degrees a reverence for Beethoven’s genius was making itself felt in regard to Franz’s musical studies. Not long before he joined the school the orchestra had been invited to give a performance at Schönbrunn, when Beethoven was present, and Franz had listened with the deepest interest to his schoolfellows’ account of their reception by the great master. One day, when some of his songs had been sung at a school performance, Franz turned to his friend Spaun with the inquiry whether the latter thought it possible that he (Franz) would ever be able to accomplish anything in the shape of composition. To which Spaun, in surprise, answered that there could be no doubt in the matter, since he had already done a great deal. ‘Perhaps,’ replied Franz thoughtfully; ‘I sometimes have dreams of that sort, but who can do anything after Beethoven?’
With his passionate love for music dominating his thoughts and energies, it is not surprising that Schubert should have fallen behind in his ordinary studies. From the point of view of the authorities the Convict represented a complete school with a strongly-developed musical side; but for Schubert it existed merely as a means to an end, and that end music. This fact was apparent in about a year after he entered the school, nevertheless his popularity suffered no decrease thereby, for his backwardness in most of the subjects in which other boys excelled was overshadowed by his extraordinary progress in the art which was absorbing him so entirely. And as time went on his desire for composition increased to such an extent that his kind friend Spaun must often have been taxed to keep pace with his demand for music-paper. Franz had already begun with methodical care to place the date of composition upon every piece which he wrote, and thus we are enabled to ascertain precisely when he composed his first pianoforte work of importance; it is a fantasia for four hands, comprising more than twelve movements, and filling thirty-two closely-written pages of music-paper, and it bears the date, ‘April 8—May 1, 1810.’ Following this came his first attempt at song-writing, in the shape of a long piece for voice and pianoforte, called ‘Hagars Klage’ (Hagar’s Lament over her dying Son), which also contains twelve movements, and is remarkable for its frequent unconnected changes of key. Melancholy ideas were evidently uppermost in Schubert’s mind at this time in connection with music, for the ‘Hagar’ was followed by another piece of even more lugubrious character, called ‘Leichenfantasie’ (Corpse-fantasia), a musical setting of Schiller’s grim poem beginning:
‘With a deathlike glimmer
Stands the moon above the dying trees;
Sighing wails the Spirit through the night;
Mists are creeping;
Stars are peeping
Pale aloft like torches in a cave.’
He was now fairly launched upon composition, and during the two succeeding years his pen was not allowed to rest, songs and instrumental pieces being produced in rapid succession.
Despite the many acts of kindness which he received at the hands of his friends Franz was made to feel in many ways the want of a little pocket-money such as fell to the lot of his more fortunate schoolfellows. He had to contend with numerous discomforts, more especially in the winter months, when the supplies both of firing and food were inadequate, and one dark November day we find him sitting down, chilled and hungry, to pen the following appeal to his brother Ferdinand:
‘You know from experience that one can often enjoy a roll and an apple or two, especially when one must wait eight hours and a half after a poor dinner for a meagre supper. The few groschen which my father gives me are all spent the first day, and what is one to do the rest of the time? “Those who hope will not be confounded,” says the Bible, and I firmly believe it. Suppose, for instance, you send me a few kreutzers monthly. You would never miss them, whilst I should shut myself up in my cell and be quite happy. St. Matthew also says: “Let him that hath two coats give one to the poor,” In the meantime I trust you will lend your ear to the voice crying to you incessantly to remember your poor brother Franz, who loves and confides in you.’
But these long waits between dinner and supper, together with the hardship of being compelled to sit for hours in a fireless practice-room, were not destined to endure much longer for Franz. The termination of his career at the Convict was decided upon in consequence of his resolution to devote himself wholly to music. He had a little circle of faithful friends in the school, every one of whom regarded him as a genius, and who loved him also for his own sake; they only waited for him to compose in order to perform under his direction, and they would fain have kept him amongst them; but they knew his longings, and they realised the impossibility of retaining so gifted a composer within the compass of their ranks. Schubert loved them too, and though he went out from their midst to seek a wider field for his genius, he never forgot that he was one of them, and as composition after composition flowed from his pen it was brought to the Convict orchestra to be tried and approved by his kindest and best of critics.
Apart from this determination to give himself up to music there was no pressing reason for his leaving the school, for it was reported that the Emperor himself, having observed Schubert’s beautiful voice and wonderful power of expression, had evinced so much interest in his progress as to offer him a foundation scholarship in the school, on condition that he should qualify himself for examination during the holidays. Schubert, however, had made up his mind, and towards the end of the year 1813 he quitted the Convict, his farewell being signalised by the composing of his first Symphony in honour of the birthday of Dr. Lang, the musical director. A year before this event took place, the mother, who had worked unceasingly to keep the home together on the slender means which her husband’s calling provided, had died. Her loss was keenly felt by the family, but by none more than by Franz himself, who realised how much he owed to the love and care bestowed upon him in his childhood by this excellent, hard-working mother.
Schubert was now entering upon his seventeenth year, and stood at the entrance of a career in music which, judging from his compositions at the Convict school, must have seemed to his friends to be full of promise. He himself was full of fire and energy, and longing to follow in the footsteps of the great masters whose works had inspired his earliest efforts. But, though as yet perhaps he failed to realise it, his genius, whatever may have been the source of its inspiration, was surely leading him towards the path wherein his strength chiefly lay—a path almost untrodden, and which he alone was destined to adorn with the choicest flowers of his imagination, in order that others might enjoy their perfume for evermore—the pathway of song. Already those early songs to which the school musicians had accorded a sympathetic hearing as they flowed fresh from his pen evinced to those capable of judging far more power and individuality than did any of his more ambitious instrumental compositions.
But, as we have said, Schubert himself probably had not realised this great truth as yet. He stood at the threshold of a future which gave him no insight into its possibilities, which for him at that moment conveyed no more than a hope of fulfilment of his one burning desire—to write, write, write. It was the pure longing of the true musician to make mankind at large partakers of his heavenly gift. Let us remember this of Franz Schubert, because it is absolutely true of him, and because it helps us to understand his true nature.
Schubert’s determination was put to a severe test on leaving the Convict, for he had hardly returned home ere the dread summons for enlistment was placed in his hands. The Continental law of conscription admits of no distinction such as that which Nature confers upon an individual by the gift of genius; and to escape the danger which now threatened him, and which, by depriving him of his liberty for several years to come, appeared to be wholly insupportable, Schubert seized upon the only remedy which offered itself. He at once qualified himself for becoming an assistant to his father in the latter’s school. The choice lay between two evils, and Schubert chose the lesser; for though he cordially detested the drudgery of teaching, it at least prevented his being called upon to serve in the ranks, and at the same time secured to him a certain amount of leisure for composition. Moreover, there was opportunity for maintaining relations with his little circle of intimates at the Convict—a privilege which Schubert could not have forgone without a severe pang—as well as for making new friends.
It is easy to imagine the reluctance with which Schubert went about his daily task of teaching the infant class in his father’s school. Every minute thus spent must have seemed to him an hour, and probably the little ones, no less than their impatient teacher himself, breathed a deep sigh of relief when the play-hour arrived. To Schubert it meant freedom for work—real work—when he could fly to his desk, and write down the musical thoughts which he had been burning to express the whole morning. Impatient as he felt under the constraint put upon him he never complained; probably the dread of the conscription was constantly haunting him, for no fewer than three summonses to serve reached him at this time. There were, moreover, bright intervals in the round of scholastic work, when he could forget that he was a schoolmaster, and throw himself heart and soul into his art. He had lately made the acquaintance of a musical family named Grob, residing in the Lichtenthal, comprising a mother and her son and daughter, in whose house he was received on terms of friendship, quite as much for himself as for his music. Therese Grob possessed a fine soprano voice, with which she did full justice to the songs which Schubert brought to her to sing, whilst Heinrich Grob played both the pianoforte and the ‘cello, with the result that many evenings were passed in musical enjoyment. His circle of admirers at the Convict, too, were always eager to welcome every new piece that he found time to compose. Nor had he forgotten his old friend and master Holzer, the organist and choir-master at the Lichtenthal Church, who had been the first to acknowledge his talents. Schubert regularly attended the church, and this fact, combined with his affection for the old organist, led to his writing his first Mass for performance by the church choir. The performance, on October 16, 1814, excited so much interest that it was repeated on the 26th of the same month at the Augustine Church. The latter occasion was one not likely to be soon forgotten by those who were present. Franz conducted, the choir being led by Holzer, whilst Ferdinand presided at the organ, and Therese Grob sang the part for first solo voices. Amongst the audience was Antonio Salieri, Court Capellmeister at Vienna, whom Beethoven had acknowledged as his master, and who now, having praised Schubert warmly for his work, declared that the latter should henceforth be his pupil. Every one was delighted, and the father felt so proud and happy that he signalised the event by presenting Franz with a five-octave piano. To be able to rank himself with Beethoven as ‘scholar of Salieri’ was indeed a high reward for Schubert, and the old man was as good as his word, for he gave his new pupil daily lessons for a considerable time.
The year 1814 did not close without witnessing a striking addition to the pile of manuscript by which the young schoolmaster-composer was surrounded. How variously his mind was swayed during this period we may understand from the fact that he had hardly finished the third act of a comic opera (‘Des Teufels Lustschloss’—The Devil’s Pleasure-Castle) before setting to work on his ‘Mass in F’ which we have just mentioned. The compositions of this year also include seventeen songs, and one at least of these, the beautiful ‘Gretchen am Spinnrade’ (Gretchen at her Spinning-wheel), we may regard as a forerunner of the immortal songs that were to follow. And now, too, the special circumstance which was destined to influence Schubert in choosing the path wherein his genius found its most fitting expression was near at hand. One afternoon in December of this year a friend took him to call upon a poet named Johann Mayrhofer, the words of a poem by whom Schubert had set to music a few days before. They found the poet at his lodgings, situated in one of the darkest and gloomiest streets of the city. The apartment contained little furniture beyond a worn-out piano and a worm-eaten bookcase filled with well-used books, and the general air of neglect and dilapidation was heightened by the fact that the window was overshadowed by a huge building on the opposite side of the narrow street. Gloomy and cheerless as it was in appearance, the room was in keeping with the character of the man who occupied it. Johann Mayrhofer was regarded by his acquaintance as an hypochondriac, whose general depression of spirits entered largely into his poetical writings. But those who knew him intimately were aware of a gentle and tender side to his ordinarily stern nature. He was, in fact, a ‘lonely, self-contained, self-taught man’—one whose gifts conveyed to him the ability to discern and appreciate beauty, but at the same time left him powerless to banish from his mind the thought of evil working its destructive influence both upon himself and his surroundings. Upon the impressionable mind of Schubert—already attuned to sadness—the personality of Mayrhofer exercised a special charm, and the two at once became fast friends. The attraction, however, was perfectly mutual, for Schubert’s friendship helped to mature Mayrhofer’s powers, with the result that the one wrote in order that the other might set to music that which was written, and to this alliance we are indebted for some of Schubert’s finest songs.
Every moment that could be snatched from the drudgery of the schoolroom was now devoted to composition, and the year following that in which the acquaintance with Mayrhofer began furnishes the most remarkable testimony to Schubert’s powers. In this year (1815) he composed no fewer than a hundred and thirty-seven songs, and six operas and melodramas, in addition to a great deal of Church and chamber music and pieces for the pianoforte. Of the songs, twenty-nine were written in August alone, eight of this number bearing one date, August 15, and seven more being produced on the 19th of the same month. A wonderful year, indeed, and our astonishment is increased when we reflect that many of these songs, written as they were under conditions which would seem to have precluded the possibility of their having been matured and developed in his mind before being written down, are deservedly placed amongst the most immortal of Schubert’s works. When, too, the extraordinary length of some of the songs is taken into account—fifty-five pages of closely-written manuscript in one case, twenty-two pages of print in another—one marvels how the time could have been found for the mere mechanical process of writing them down.
To enumerate the songs included in this long list would take up too much space, but the story of how one great song came to be written must be told here. Mayrhofer could claim friendship with Goethe, and it was doubtless through Mayrhofer that Schubert’s attention was first drawn to the writings of the great German poet. One afternoon in the winter of this year 1815, the ‘old Convicter’ Spaun called upon Schubert, and found him in his room intently writing music, with a book of poems by his side. On inquiring what it was that absorbed his attention, Schubert looked up with a face aglow with inspiration. ‘Oh, I have come across such a poem!’ he exclaimed. ‘Have you ever read it? It is Goethe’s “Erl King.”‘ Without giving his friend time to reply he turned once more to his paper, and recommenced jotting down the notes with astonishing rapidity. Spaun sat by, wondering, but not daring to disturb him. At length Schubert threw down his pen with a sigh. ‘It is finished,’ said he, ‘and now let us look it through.’ It was the first sketch of the famous song of the ‘Erl King,’ and when the accompaniment had been filled in, the two friends conveyed the manuscript to the Convict. His old friends and admirers soon formed a group around the piano, and Schubert, sitting down, sang the song through, and then one of the school singers sang it after him. To Schubert’s surprise—and the fact comes to us with something like a shock—the first hearing of the ‘Erl King’ was received by the Convict orchestra with some coldness. The truth is the dramatic force embodied in the music was too strong for them—it fairly took their breath away; it was so unlike anything that Schubert had hitherto produced, or that they had ever heard. And when he came to the passage, ‘Mein Vater, mein Vater, jetzt fasst er mich an!’ in which an apparent disharmony discovered itself, one or two of the listeners ventured to express their dissent, and it was necessary for Herr Ruzicka, the professor of harmony who was present, to explain to his pupils that the conjunction was permissible. Of the ‘Erl King’ our story will have more to relate later on; in the meantime we may remark that the rapidity of its composition leaves no room for doubt that it was in itself as pure a piece of inspiration as any other of Schubert’s works that could be named, and, furthermore, that it affords a striking instance of the power which he possessed of grasping, almost at a single glance, the musical significance of a poem which appealed strongly to the emotions.
Unquestionably, however, the monotony of his school work weighed heavily upon his mind, and, in his own opinion, was cramping his powers of production. The longing to be free to devote himself wholly to his art was intensified day by day, and when, in the following year, he learnt that a director was about to be appointed at a newly-created Government school of music at Laibach, near Trieste, he hastened to apply for the post. True, the salary was only £21 a year, but the gaining of the position would mean instant freedom from his present bondage, and to Schubert that implied almost everything. It is evident, however, that those who recommended him for the post were by no means convinced of his fitness for governing, for their letters were but half-hearted, and the selection fell upon another man who, it turned out, was also recommended by one of Schubert’s supporters.
The depression resulting from his disappointment was soon to be relieved by the agency of a new friend. A young man, named Franz von Schober, of good family and some private means, came to Vienna with the object of entering the University. Some time before taking this step Franz Schober had met with several of Schubert’s songs, which at that date were being circulated in manuscript, and, lover of music as he was, the young student had revelled in the beauties of the unknown composer, and longed to make his acquaintance. When, therefore, he reached Vienna he lost no time in finding his way to the Schubert home in the Himmelpfortgrund. He found Schubert seated at his desk busily writing, for Schober had happened upon a favourable moment when school was over for the day. Little did the composer dream, as he heard his visitor announced, that his deliverance from the bondage which had become wellnigh insupportable, was so close at hand. A few minutes’ intercourse sufficed to show the two young men that their sympathies and interests lay on a common plane. Schubert, quick to detect the sympathy which Schober was not loath to express, felt drawn towards his new friend, whilst Schober, for his part, as he glanced at the piles of manuscript which occupied every available space in the small room, evinced so deep an astonishment at the evidence of such untiring industry that Schubert was fain to tell him in a few words how he was placed, and of his longings for freedom. Then Schober saw his opportunity for rendering a service which he hoped might prove as acceptable to Schubert as it would be congenial to himself—would not Schubert consent to live with him, at any rate, for a time? Schober had a claim on which to found this proffer—namely, that he was already well known to Spaun, to whose medium, indeed, was due the fact that Schubert’s songs had been first brought under his notice. Franz’s heart leapt within him at the prospect of being able to give his whole time to his beloved music; he could not refuse a request so modestly and tactfully conveyed, and obviously so kindly meant, and the tears started to the eyes of both as the young men grasped each other by the hand. It was not difficult for Schubert to obtain his father’s consent to the arrangement, for there was more than a suspicion that the latter was not altogether satisfied with the manner in which Franz had of late fulfilled his scholastic duties—a fact which need occasion no surprise when his strong musical temperament is taken into consideration.
Thus it came about that Schubert gained his release, and the two friends took up residence together at Schober’s lodgings. Schubert, however, was not inclined to live entirely at his friend’s expense, and so, unwillingly enough, he gave a few music-lessons. But not for long—the same unconquerable dislike to teaching in any shape or form asserted itself, and the pupils vanished. He might easily have secured more pupils had he so desired, for there were many friends, moving in higher circles than his own, who were ready to assist him; but it is just here that we get a glimpse of Schubert’s true character. He had no aspiration to mingle with those whom, in his modest, unaffected way, he considered to be above him. He valued friendship, from whomsoever it came, but his whole nature was opposed to turning the advances of the rich or great to his own advantage. Unlike Beethoven, he had no faculty for ‘imposing’ on the aristocracy (to borrow Beethoven’s favourite phrase for describing his own relations with those of superior rank to himself); on the contrary, Schubert courted no society beyond that of his own class—in which, indeed, his affections wholly centred themselves, and in which alone his true nature allowed itself to be revealed. It is a strong instance of this feeling that he loved best of all the praise that came from the members of his own family, and next that which emanated from his own circle of friends. Nevertheless, whatever of class distinction may have influenced Schubert in the distribution of his affections and in the revelation of himself, no such barrier existed in the minds of those who were drawn to his side; in a word, he was loved by all who knew him without regard to rank, wealth, or age.
The year 1821 found Schubert, at the age of twenty-four, a composer of more than seven years’ standing, and yet almost unknown outside the circle of his friends and acquaintance. Since the date when he went to reside with Schober he had continued to pour forth his compositions without intermission, and yet so far not a single work had been printed. True, many of his songs had been sung from manuscript before large and appreciative audiences at the musical meetings organised by the father of Leopold Sonnleithner, one of Schubert’s old schoolfellows, and the most faithful of friends; but when the leading Vienna publishers were asked to undertake the publication of the song which had evoked the greatest enthusiasm when rendered by the well-known amateur Gymnich, they shook their heads. The composer was unknown, and with so difficult an accompaniment as that of the ‘Erl King’ the sale of the song could not be great. Such was the opinion of the publishers; but, to their honour let it be recorded, Sonnleithner and Gymnich refused to be influenced by this adverse verdict. They instantly resolved to print the song at their own risk, and when the next concert took place at the Sonnleithner mansion the resolution was announced. One hundred copies were subscribed for on the spot, and with this substantial encouragement the engraving of the ‘Erl King’ and a second song, ‘Gretchen am Spinnrade,’ was at once proceeded with, the sale of these songs being undertaken by the music publishers on commission. The enterprise was attended by so much success that its promoters were enabled to proceed with the publication of further songs, until, when the seventh had been reached, the publishers deemed themselves perfectly safe in assuming the entire risk of publication, and the eighth work appeared on May 9, 1822, as ‘the property of the publishers.’
A great step towards the establishment of Schubert’s fame was thus assured; but we must pause in our story to recount the means by which, apart from the initiative taken in the matter by his faithful friends, Schubert’s recognition at the hands of the public was brought about. On March 7, 1821, the ‘Erl King’ was sung by Johann Vogl, a famous opera singer in Vienna at that time, at a public concert held under royal patronage. The song was received with storms of applause, and from this point the public demand for Schubert’s writings commenced. The attention of Vogl, whose intellectual gifts are said to have outshone even his vocal attainments, had been drawn to Schubert’s songs some five years before the event just mentioned. Franz Schober, who knew him well as a visitor at his father’s house, had pressed the singer to accompany him to his lodgings in order to be introduced to Schubert, and Vogl had smilingly acquiesced. Schober’s praises of his newfound friend had sounded so often in Vogl’s ears that the request could not be refused. Schober was certain that the great man would be enchanted with Schubert’s writings, at which the actor-singer had only smiled once more; he deemed it to be merely youthful enthusiasm influenced by personal affection. On reaching the lodgings in the Landkrongasse they had found Schubert hard at work as usual, and the floor as well as the table strewn with sheets of music-paper. Vogl, whose society was courted by all ranks, at once made himself at home, and did his best by a few gay sallies to put the composer at his ease. In this, however, he was quite unsuccessful. The fact that there was a difference of twenty years between their respective ages, when added to the singer’s popularity, may have partly accounted for the failure; at any rate, Schubert was overwhelmed by confusion, and had nothing to say in his own behalf. Vogl thereupon took up several of the songs, humming them to himself as he went along, and Schober, watching him intently, saw his interest deepen, until at length, despite his great experience as a singer, he was evidently impressed by what he read. When he left he shook Schubert’s hand warmly, and said: ‘There is stuff in you, but you squander your fine thoughts instead of making the most of them.’
Nevertheless, Schober was right; Vogl had been deeply impressed, and the visit marked the beginning of a close friendship. Schubert soon learned to appreciate Vogl’s sincerity and advice, and as time went on the latter’s visits became more and more frequent, until the picture might often have been seen of Vogl singing Schubert’s latest songs to the latter’s accompaniment. To the completeness of this union Schubert himself testifies in a letter to his brother Ferdinand: ‘When Vogl sings and I accompany him we seem for the moment to be one.’ Vogl, for his part, afterwards wrote of Schubert’s songs that they were ‘truly Divine inspirations, utterances of a musical clairvoyance!’ and he emphasised the fact, which had not hitherto been appreciated, that ‘the finest poems of our greatest poets may be enhanced and even transcended when translated into musical language’—an important testimony to the great service which Schubert was rendering to vocal music.
The five years which had elapsed since the friendship with Vogl began had been passed in the production, as we have seen, of an immense mass of compositions covering almost every branch of the art; but as none of these works had so far produced any money it is obvious that, for the first two years after leaving his father’s house, Schubert must have been dependent upon the hospitality of his friends. His residence with Schober lasted only six months, at the end of which time Schober’s brother came to reside with him, and Schubert had to give up his room. Teaching was entirely distasteful to him, as we know; yet we can well understand that the pressure of circumstances alone may have compelled him to accept, in the summer of 1818, an engagement as music-teacher in the family of Count Johann Esterhazy. The terms of this engagement were that he should spend the summer months with the family at their seat at Zelész, in Hungary, returning with them to Vienna for the winter. How difficult it must have been for Schubert to sever himself, even for a time, from the circle of which he was the life and centre, in order to enter a family belonging to those ranks with which he avowedly had nothing in common, may be imagined. Within his own circle he was adored—nay, worshipped—by one and all. The life, too, was so entirely free and unrestrained; the members addressed each other by nicknames. Schubert had several pet names, amongst them the ‘Tyrant,’ from his affectionate persecution of young Hüttenbrenner, who in return lavished upon him the affection of a slave for his idol. They were all boisterous, merry, life-loving spirits, venting their feelings in howls, repartees, sham-fights, and mock-concerts—there is even a story of their ‘performing’ the ‘Erl King,’ with Schubert himself accompanying them on a tooth-comb! The change from this unconventional life to the aristocratic surroundings of Zelész was therefore immense; yet Schubert was not unhappy. The family were musical, the comforts were undeniable, and the duties not so heavy as to preclude his enjoying a considerable amount of leisure for composition.
At Zelész he heard for the first time many of the national Hungarian melodies sung or played by the gypsies, or by the servants at the castle, and their beauty seems to have been impressed upon his memory by the beautiful country in which he took his rambles. Later on he was to give these airs an artistic setting in the shape of his ‘First Waltzes.’ Of one of his pieces—the ‘Divertissement à la hongroise’—it is told that returning late one afternoon from a walk, he lingered beside the open window of the kitchen, in order to listen to the air which was being sung by the kitchen-maid within as she leaned against the fireplace. He wrote frequent letters to his friends—his home circle—whom he addresses as his ‘dearest, fondest friends, Spaun, Schober, Mayrhofer, and Senn—you who are everything to me.’ He entreats them to write soon: ‘Every syllable of yours is dear to me.’ Nobody is overlooked or forgotten, for his messages include ‘all possible acquaintances.’ As for himself, he speaks of his happiness and good health, and tells them that he ‘is composing like a god.’ As regards his duties, he describes himself as ‘composer, manager, audience, everything in one.’ ‘No one here,’ he says in another letter, ‘cares for true art, unless it be now and then the Countess, so I am left alone with my beloved, and have to hide her in my room, or my piano, or my own breast. If this often makes me sad, on the other hand it often elevates me all the more. Several songs have lately come into existence, and I hope very successful ones.’ Of his relations with the family he says: ‘The Count is a little rough; the Countess proud, but not without heart; the young ladies good children. I need not tell you, who know me so well, that with my natural frankness I am good friends with everybody.’
A letter of this time, written to his brother Ferdinand, affords a pleasing insight into his frank, loving nature, as well as an instance of his fondness for his old home. Ferdinand had sent him a Requiem of his own composing to look over.
August 24, 1818.
‘Dear Brother Ferdinand,
‘It is half-past eleven at night, and your Requiem is ready. It has made me sorrowful, as you may believe, for I sang it with all my heart. What is wanting you can fill in, and put the words under the music and the signs above. And if you want much rehearsal you must do it yourself, without asking me in Zelész. Things are not going well with you; I wish you could change with me, so that for once you might be happy. You should find all your heavy burdens gone, dear brother; I heartily wish it could be so. My foot is asleep, and I am mad with it. If the fool could only write it wouldn’t go to sleep!
‘Good morning, my boy, I have been asleep with my foot, and now go on with my letter at eight o’clock on the 25th. I have one request to make in answer to yours. Give my love to my dear parents, brothers, sisters, friends, and acquaintances, especially not forgetting Carl. Didn’t he mention me in his letter? As for my friends in the town, bully them, or get some one to bully them well, till they write to me. Tell my mother that my linen is well looked after, and that I am well off, thanks to her motherly care. [After asking for some articles of clothing, for which he will send the money very soon, he proceeds.] For July, with the journey-money, I got 200 florins [about £8]…. Though I am so well and happy, and every one so good to me, yet I shall be immensely glad when the moment arrives for going to Vienna. Beloved Vienna, all that is dear and valuable to me is there, and nothing but the actual sight of it will stop my longing! Again entreating you to attend to all my requests, I remain, with much love to all, your true and sincere.
The story of Schubert’s life, from the time when by the powerful aid of his friend Vogl the musical public of Vienna were awakened to the fact that a composer of rare quality was working in their midst unknown, unfolds itself to us as a record of continuous struggle, relieved by occasional success. It is true that as he became better known the appreciation of his works spread far beyond the confines of his native city; at the same time it must be remembered that his poverty was extreme. As yet his works had brought him little or nothing; add to this his native bashfulness, together with the fact that his marvellous productive powers were animated by no desire to push himself where, as a composer, he had every right to be; that he was always retiring, and always modestly undervaluing everything he produced; that even when he had finished a fine composition it was often put aside in some receptacle and forgotten; that, in a word, he wrote, not for the public eye, not for praise, but simply and solely because he was impelled by the spirit within him. When we consider all this it need not surprise us to learn that Schubert’s progress in a worldly sense was slow and halting. Again, his physical strength was by no means adapted to bear the immense strain which this continuous labour involved; and when we learn that his mode of living was most irregular (when he was not staying with friends he would be living from hand to mouth in poor lodgings by himself), and that his sensitive overstrung nature was denied the nourishment which it so sorely needed—a result due in part to his distresses, but partly also to his improvidence—we can form a tolerably clear picture of the manner in which his days were passed.
Yet if his distresses and anxieties were so many dense clouds shutting out, for months together, the sunshine and warmth from his life, that life itself, taken as a whole, was by no means destitute of happiness. The musical temperament is one which cannot be cast down for long; let the cloud-rift be ever so small, it suffices to let in a flood of sunshine to such a nature as that which Schubert possessed. But how much happier might his life have been if, in the absence of the ability to manage his own affairs to better advantage, some one had been at hand to take this responsibility off his shoulders. Alas! not one of his friends seems to have assumed this important part, notwithstanding the affection they professed for him. Left to himself, no sooner had his songs attained a marketable value than, pressed by hunger and the other necessaries of life, he consented to part with the copyright of the first twelve of his published songs—including in this number the ‘Erl King’ and the ‘Wanderer’—for the sum of eight hundred silver gulden (equal to eighty pounds sterling), and this in face of the fact that more than eight hundred copies of the ‘Erl King’ had already been sold!
Of his improvidence there is much that could be told; his inherent good nature was never proof against imposition, and he gave away as freely as he earned. Moreover, he was regarded by a certain set of his friends as a Crœsus, or, rather, as a never-failing coiner of money, and two of these so-called friends were not ashamed to live openly upon his easy-going, careless ways, under the pretence of sharing the expenses of a joint lodging. The partnership, if such it could be called where one was called upon to find the money, extended even to articles of clothing—boots, hats, coats, cravats, etc., being regarded as common property—whilst if one of the trio found himself unable to pay his reckoning, it fell to the lot of the ‘man of wealth’ to discharge his obligation. Needless to say, this friendly office was cheerfully filled by Schubert for either or both of his companions. Great was the jubilation when the composer brought back the news that he had sold a piece of music. For the time being he was regarded by the others as literally swimming in money, and expected to spend right and left so long as it lasted, and then they would all go short until the next piece of luck came along. One day, when the trio were in very low water, Schubert and one of the others met at a small coffee-house and surprised each other in the act of ordering coffee and biscuits, because neither could summon from his pockets the requisite amount—namely, eightpence halfpenny—wherewith to pay for a dinner!
But no amount of distress could check his capacity for work. Save during the hours of sleep, his pen would seem never to have been idle; even whilst talking to a friend who was waiting to take him for a walk, he was jotting down at great speed one of his most beautiful dramatic ballads, the ‘Zwerg.’ Another friend, Carl Umlauff, has related how he used to go to Schubert’s lodgings in the mornings, and find him lying in bed jotting down musical ideas; at other times he would be out of bed, clad in his dressing-gown, composing at his standing-desk. Writing would go on till two o’clock. ‘When I have done one piece I begin the next,’ was his own way of describing the continuity of his work, and it is known that a single morning produced no fewer than six songs. The afternoon would be devoted to music-making at the house of a friend, or to a walk in the suburbs, whilst the evening would be divided between a pipe at the Gasthaus with his companions, and a visit to the theatre or the house of a musical friend. The hours reserved for sleep were constantly being curtailed by the encroachments of nightly pleasures, and yet he was always ready to seize his pen and begin work directly he was awake. The story even goes that he slept in his spectacles in order to save the trouble and time of putting them on in the morning!
His omnivorous appetite for setting to music every poem which struck his fancy—whether it were suited for the purpose of a song, or, what is far more important, in any way worthy of the setting which he proposed to give to it—was one of Schubert’s most marked characteristics. Another was the rapidity with which, having once grasped the sense of the words, he translated them into music, and such music, let it be remembered, as was destined in many cases to live for ever. Like the ‘Erl King,’ the beautiful song the ‘Wanderer’ was composed in the space of a few hours; again, with respect to the strikingly beautiful collection of songs known as the ‘Schöne Müllerin,’ the poems were lighted upon quite by accident. Schubert was visiting a friend, and when the latter was called away he picked up a volume of Müller’s poems which was lying upon the table; he grew interested in them, the friend delayed his return, and finally Schubert put the book in his pocket and went home. The next morning, when the friend called to apologise for his detention and to inquire for the missing volume, he found that Schubert had already set several of the poems to music. What Schumann the composer wrote of Schubert was true: ‘Everything that he touched he turned into music.’ One day in the month of July, 1826, he was returning with his friends from a Sunday walk through the village of Währing, and, passing by a beer-garden, he espied an acquaintance seated at one of the tables. On joining him Schubert found he was reading a volume of Shakespeare; he seized the book, and began turning over the pages, and then, drawing his friends’ attention to the line, ‘Hark, hark, the lark,’ he exclaimed: ‘Such a lovely melody has come into my head, if I had but some music-paper!’ One of his companions seized a bill-of-fare, and on the back of it scribbled a few staves, and then, upon the spot, ‘amid the hubbub of the beer-garden, that beautiful song, so perfectly fitting the words, so skilful and so happy in its accompaniment, came into perfect existence.’ Later on in the evening of the same day he added to this creation two more songs from Shakespeare—the drinking-song from ‘Antony and Cleopatra,’ and the well-known ‘Who is Sylvia?’ In the instances just given Schubert’s choice could not have been more happily made; but this does not render it less difficult for us to understand why in so many cases he should have elected to immortalise by his music poems devoid of merit both in feeling and expression.
We have seen something of Schubert’s veneration for Beethoven as a grand personality, even before the latter’s music had begun to take hold of him. At first there is no doubt that the music of Mozart had the greatest fascination for him; there is evidence of this in Schubert’s early instrumental works, and in the following passage from his diary, penned after he had heard one of Mozart’s quintets played in 1816: ‘Gently, as if out of the distance, did the magic tones of Mozart’s music strike my ears. With what inconceivable, alternate force and tenderness did Schlesinger’s masterly playing impress it deep, deep into my heart! Such lovely impressions remain on the soul, there to work for good, past all power of time or circumstance. In the darkness of this life they reveal a clear, bright, beautiful prospect, inspiring confidence and hope. O Mozart, immortal Mozart! what countless consolatory images of a bright better world hast thou stamped on our souls,’ Beethoven was a great personality then, but as time went on the influence of his music grew ever stronger. So far, however, Schubert had been content to worship his hero at a distance, for which purpose he would haunt the restaurant at which Beethoven usually dined. But in 1822 he published a set of Variations on a French Air, which he dedicated to Beethoven ‘as his admirer and worshipper,’ and his longing to present these in person to the composer was so great as to overcome his natural timidity. Accordingly, accompanied by the publisher, Diabelli, he called at Beethoven’s house; they found the composer at home, and a courteous but somewhat formal welcome was accorded them. This in itself was bad enough for poor Schubert, whose courage straightway forsook him; but when Beethoven proceeded to hand to him the bundle of paper and the carpenter’s pencil which, owing to his deafness, he kept in readiness for his visitors, Schubert’s shyness prevented him writing a single word. The production of the Variations afforded a welcome relief to his confusion, and as Beethoven was in an uncommonly good humour the dedication pleased him very much. The effect of the diversion, however, was only momentary, for Beethoven, looking through the composition, lighted upon something to which he took exception, and forthwith proceeded to point it out to his visitor. This was the last straw, and Schubert, losing his presence of mind altogether, fled from the room. On reaching the street his courage returned, and too late he thought of all that he might have said. Let us complete the anecdote by relating that Schubert derived some consolation from the knowledge that Beethoven not only retained the Variations, but was very pleased with them, and often played them over with his nephew.
It was not until five years after this event that Beethoven realised how great a singer had been uttering his sweet notes within the span of the city in which he lived, and then the master lay upon his death-bed. Into his hands had been placed a collection of Schubert’s songs, some sixty in all, and as he turned them over his attention was arrested by their beauty, and he uttered frequent expressions of surprise and delight. But even greater was his astonishment when he learned that there were more than five hundred of such songs extant. ‘How can he have found time,’ he asked, ‘for the setting of such long poems, many of them containing ten others?’ (by which he meant to convey that they were as long as ten ordinary poems). For several days the collection occupied his attention. ‘Ah, if I had had this poem I would have set it myself!’ he would exclaim. ‘Truly, Schubert has the Divine fire in him!’ He made frequent references to Schubert, expressing his regret that he had not sooner known him for the composer he was, and prophesying a great future for him in the world of music. Schubert himself longed to pay his respects to the master he revered so highly, and one day, in company with his friends Anselm Hüttenbrenner and Schindler (both of whom were well known to Beethoven), he presented himself at the door of the sick man’s chamber. Schindler informed Beethoven of their arrival, and asked who he would like to see first. ‘Schubert may come in first,’ was the reply. Before they left, Beethoven, regarding them with a smile, said: ‘You, Anselm, have my mind, but Franz has my soul.’ When for the second time Schubert found his way to the bedside of the master death was very near, and though as they stood around the bed he made signs to them with his hand to show that he recognised their presence, he could not speak, and, overcome with emotion, Schubert quitted the room.
A little more than three weeks after the second visit Schubert was walking as one of the torch-bearers beside the coffin of his loved master, as the latter was borne to his last resting-place in the Währinger cemetery. On the way back Schubert and his friends passed through the Himmelpfortgrund, close to the old home, and, entering a tavern, called for wine. Schubert, having filled his glass, raised it aloft: ‘I drink,’ said he, ‘to the memory of Beethoven.’ Then once more filling the glass, he drained it to the first of the three friends then present, who was destined to follow the master to his grave.
Little did Schubert dream that he was emptying his glass to his own memory! Nor in the eyes of his friends would there seem to have been anything in his appearance at that moment which could be taken as foreshadowing the early closing of that eager, active life. Gazing at him then, as he sat drinking his grim toast, the picture presented to his companions was that of a short, stout, thick-set man of about thirty, with a head of thick, black hair, disposed in crisp curls, bushy eyebrows, and a pair of bright black eyes which beamed through his spectacles. The face was round with full cheeks, the complexion pasty, the nose short and insignificant, the lips full and protruding, the jaw broad and strong; the hands, like the rest of the body, were plump, and the fingers thick and short. There was nothing striking about his general expression; but when the conversation turned upon music, and especially if Beethoven were the topic of discussion, his eyes would brighten at once, and the whole face light up with animation.
As he sat in the dingy parlour of the little tavern, beaming upon his friends, whilst the minds of all three were rapt by the solemn event which they had just witnessed, the proximity of death within that circle was not contemplated. Yet the story of his life shows us that the period which had elapsed between the date of his presenting his Variations to Beethoven and that of his first visit to the composer on his death-bed had been full of anxieties and bitter disappointments; and there is no doubt that the continuous struggle for existence, coupled with the strain of unceasing work, had only too surely undermined a constitution which could never have been robust.
One of Schubert’s greatest longings was to write for the stage. The longing was evident almost at the first, and it grew with his strength and the consciousness of his powers as a composer. As the finger of fame beckoned him forward it had directed his steps to the theatre as the goal of his aspirations, and it was upon the attainment of this object that he lavished all the later powers of his genius—only, alas! to reap the bitter fruit of disappointment. One after another of his operas was rejected, even, as in the case of ‘Fierabras,’ when at the very point of production—the reasons assigned in each case being either the unsuitableness of the libretto or the difficulties presented by the music, and the door which he hoped to enter was closed against him during his lifetime. The score of ‘Fierabras’ comprised no fewer than one thousand pages, and the mournful state into which he was thrown by its rejection may be gathered by an extract from a letter penned just after the fate of the opera had been sealed. He refers to himself as ‘the most unfortunate, most miserable being on earth,’ and proceeds: ‘Think of a man whose health can never be restored, and who from sheer despair makes matters worse instead of better. Think, I say, of a man whose brightest hopes have come to nothing, to whom love and friendship are but torture, and whose enthusiasm for the beautiful is fast vanishing, and ask yourself if such a man is not truly unhappy.
‘My peace is gone, my heart is sore,
Gone for ever and evermore.
This is my daily cry; for every night I go to sleep hoping never again to wake, and every morning only brings back the torment of the day before…. I have composed two operas for nothing.’
Thus sadly he wrote in the hour of bitterness, but happily for Schubert, and still more fortunately for us, there were brighter days yet in store for him, and the enthusiasm for the beautiful, which he speaks of as ‘fast vanishing,’ returned in all its accustomed force. No disappointment, however great, seemed to have the power to check the flow of production—that is the one great point which we notice about Schubert’s life; we find him at one moment despairing, but at the next his troubles appear to be forgotten, and he is immersed in the writing of another song, another symphony, or another sonata, as the case may be; but it is always work, work in the face of every obstacle that fortune can throw in his way. ‘His life is all summed up in his music.’ ‘Music and music alone was to him all in all. It was not his principal mode of expression, it was his only one; it swallowed up every other. His afternoon walks, his evening amusements, were all so many preparations for the creations of the following morning.’ And so it continued until the end. The very last year of his busy life, far from exhibiting any diminution of his powers, is marked by the production of some of his very finest works.
It was not until the end of October, 1828, that the signs of serious illness made themselves apparent in attacks of giddiness, accompanied by a marked loss of strength. Schubert was at this time living with his brother Ferdinand at the latter’s house in the Neue Wieden suburb—the house is now known as No. 6, Kettenbrücken Gasse—having removed thither on the advice of his doctor for the sake of the fresh air and the adjacent country. Although he rallied somewhat during the first week of November, and was able to resume his walks and discuss his plans for the future, the weakness increased, and on the 11th he wrote to his friend Schober what was destined to be his last letter:
‘I am ill. I have eaten and drunk nothing for eleven days, and I am so tired and shaky that I can only get from the bed to the chair, and back. Rinna is attending me…. In this distressing condition be so kind as to help me to some reading. Of Cooper’s I have read the “Last of the Mohicans,” the “Spy,” the “Pilot,” and the “Pioneers.” If you have anything else of his I entreat you to leave it with Frau von Bogner at the Coffee-house. My brother, who is conscientiousness itself, will bring it to me in the most conscientious way. Or anything else. Your friend,
On the 14th he took to his bed, but for two days more he was able to sit up and correct the proofs of some of the songs in the ‘Winterreise.’ He grew rapidly weaker, however, and by the 17th he was quite delirious. On the evening of the next day he called Ferdinand to his side, and, bidding him put his ear close to his mouth, he whispered: ‘Brother, what are they doing with me?’ ‘Dear Franz,’ was the reply, ‘they are doing all they can to get you well again, and the doctor assures us you will soon be all right, only you must do your best to stay in bed.’ For a space the sick man lay quiet, then, as the delirium increased, his mind reverted to the same idea: ‘I implore you to put me in my own room, and not to leave me in this corner under the earth. Don’t I deserve a place above ground?’ ‘Dear Franz,’ cried his brother, ‘be calm—trust your brother Ferdinand, whom you have always trusted, and who loves you so dearly. You are in the room which you always had, and lying on your own bed.’ ‘Ah, no,’ replied the dying composer, ‘that cannot be true, for Beethoven is not here!’ Thus in his last moments his poor, wandering mind was dwelling upon the master whom he reverenced; to be near him, even in death, was the last wish, the last hope to which he clung!
When, later on, the doctor came, he tried to reassure the sufferer with hopes of recovery; but Schubert gazed at him with earnestness without speaking, and then, turning himself away, he beat the wall with his hands, saying in slow, earnest tone: ‘Here, here is my end,’ At three o’clock in the afternoon of the following day, November 19, 1828, he breathed his last. Thus passed away, in comparative youth, a composer of whom it has been written: ‘There never has been one like him, and there never will be another.’
The funeral took place on November 21, and a large number of friends gathered to pay their last respects to the dead composer as he lay in his coffin, dressed in accordance with the prevailing custom, like a hermit, with a crown of laurel about his brows. The poor old father, still drudging as schoolmaster in the Rossau district, where he had been labouring ever since he had left the old home in the Himmelpfortgrund, would have buried his dear son in the cemetery near at hand; but Ferdinand told him of Franz’s last wish, and, like the noble brother that he was, gave a sum out of his own scanty earnings in order to defray the extra cost of removing the body to the Währinger burial-place. Thither, accordingly, it was taken, and committed to the ground in a grave close to that occupied by the master he loved so well. The monument which was erected over the grave in the following year, by the efforts of his friends and admirers, bears the following inscription:
MUSIC HAS HERE ENTOMBED A RICH TREASURE,
BUT MUCH FAIRER HOPES.
FRANZ SCHUBERT LIES HERE.
BORN JAN. 31, 1797;
DIED NOV. 19, 1828,
31 YEARS OLD.
SCHUBERT’S PRINCIPAL COMPOSITIONS
Operas and Dramatic Works:
Des Teufels Lustschloss. Comp. 1813-1814, pub. 1888.
Die Zwillingsbrüder. Comp. 1818-1819, pub. 1872.
Alfonso und Estrella. Op. 69. Comp. 1821-1822, pub. 1827.
Die Verschworenen, oder Der Häusliche Krieg. Comp. 1823, pub. 1862.
Fierabras. Op. 76. Comp. 1823, pub. 1827.
Rosamunde (Overture and Incidental Music). Op. 26. Comp. 1823, pub. 1824.
No. 1, in F, Comp. 1814, pub. 1856.
No. 2, in G, Comp. 1815, pub. 1846.
No. 3, in B♭, Op. 141. Comp. 1815, pub. 1838.
No. 4, in C, Op. 48. Comp. 1818, pub. 1826.
No. 5, in E♭, Comp. 1828, pub. 1865.
No. 6, in A♭, Comp. 1819-1822, pub. 1876.
Deutsche Messe in F. Comp. 1826, pub. 1870.
Lazarus (cantata—unfinished). Comp. 1820, pub. 1866.
Psalm XXIII., for female voices, Op. 132. Comp. 1820, pub. 1831.
The Song of Miriam, Op. 136. Comp. 1828, pub. 1838.
No. 1, in D, Comp. 1813.
No. 2, in B♭, Comp. 1814-1815.
No. 3, in D, Comp. 1815.
No. 4, in C minor, The Tragic. Comp. 1816, pub. 1870.
No. 5, in B♭, Comp. 1816, pub. 1870.
No. 6, in C, Comp. 1818.
No. 8, in B minor, The Unfinished. Comp. 1822, pub. 1867.
No. 9, in C, Comp. 1828, pub. 1840.
Overture in the Italian Style in D. Comp. 1817, pub. 1872.
Overture in the Italian Style in C, Op. 170. Comp. 1817, pub. 1872.Octet for strings and wind in F, Op. 166. Comp. 1824, pub. 1854.
Quintet for strings in C, Op. 163. Comp. 1828, pub. 1854.
Quintet for pianoforte and strings in A, Op. 114. Comp. 1819, pub. 1829.
8 Quartets for strings:
In D. Comp. 1814, pub. 1871.
In B♭, Op. 168. Comp. 1814, pub. 1865.
In G minor, Comp. 1815, pub. 1871.
In E♭, Op. 125, No. 1. Comp. 1824, pub. 1830.
In E, Op. 125, No. 2. Comp. 1824, pub. 1830.
In A minor, Op. 29. Comp. 1824, pub. 1825.
In D minor, Comp. 1826, pub. 1831.
In G, Op. 161. Comp. 1826, pub. 1852.
2 Trios for pianoforte and strings:
Op. 99, in B♭, Comp. 1827, pub. 1828.
Op. 100, in E♭, Comp. 1827, pub. 1828.
4 Sonatas. For pianoforte and violin.
Fantasia in C, Op. 159. Comp. 1827.
Rondeau Brilliant in B minor, Op. 70. Comp. 1826.
2 Sonatas (in C minor and B♭), Comp. 1814 and 1824. For pianoforte duet.
Fantasia in F minor, Op. 103
Marche Héroïque in A minor, Op. 66. Comp. 1826.
Marche Funèbre in C minor, Op. 55. Comp. 1825.
Variations on a French Air in E minor, Op. 10. Comp. 1821, pub. 1822.
Grand Duo in C, Op. 140. Comp. 1824.
Overture in F, Op. 34. Comp. 1824.
10 Sonatas for pianoforte solo.
Fantasia in C, Op. 15. Comp. 1820. For pianoforte solo.
Fantasia Sonata in G, Op. 78. Comp. 1826.
4 Impromptus, Op. 90. Comp. 1828.
4 Impromptus, Op. 142. Comp. 1827.
6 Moments Musicals, Op. 94.
2 sets of Variations.
44 Part Songs for male voices.
6 Part Songs for female voices.
21 Part Songs for mixed voices.
457 Songs have been published. We may mention:
Die Schöne Müllerin (20 songs), Op. 25. Comp. 1823.
Die Winterreise (24 songs), Op. 89. Comp. 1827.
Der Schwanengesang (14 songs). Comp. 1828.
And the following single Songs:
An Sylvia, Op. 106, No. 4. Comp. 1826.
Ave Maria (Scott’s words), Op. 52, No. 6. Comp. 1825
Der Tod und das Mädchen, Op. 7, No. 3.
Der Wanderer, Op. 4, No. 1. Comp. 1816.
Der Zwerg, Op. 22, No. 1. Comp. 1823.
Die Forelle, Op. 32. Comp. 1818.
Geheimes, Op. 14, No. 2. Comp. 1821.
Gretchen am Spinnrade, Op. 2. Comp. 1814.
Ständchen (Hark, hark! the Lark!). Comp. 1826.
Erlkönig, Op. 1. Comp. 1815.
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The short winter afternoon was drawing to a close, and a grey mist had already begun to blot out the canal and the trees which were studded along its banks, accentuating the prevailing cheerlessness and silence, and throwing into yet stronger relief the animated scene presented within the comfortable, well-warmed dining-room of a house standing on the further side of the broad street which ran parallel with the canal. A large company was gathered in this room for the enjoyment of music and conversation, and it was evident from the whispered remarks which passed between the guests that something out of the common was expected at the hands of the youthful player who, in obedience to his father’s request, now advanced to take his place at the pianoforte.
Peculiarly winning, both in manner and appearance, was the boy who modestly seated himself at the instrument. He was about thirteen years of age, of slight build, with a handsome face, in which strong traces of Jewish descent were apparent. His black hair clustered thickly above a high forehead, while the dark, lustrous eyes, with their continuous play of expression, imparted to the face an indescribable charm such as no degree of beauty in itself could have exercised. It was, in a word, the sensitive face of an artist, reflecting the varying imagery of a mind attuned to lofty and beautiful thoughts; and as such its power and charm could be felt even by those to whom as yet his thoughts were a sealed book. The temperament which we designate by the term ‘artistic’ resembles the ocean in its varying moods, and in the surprising swiftness with which one mood or aspect gives place to another. Just before he was called upon to play, the boy’s eyes had been sparkling with merriment, and his spirits had so infected the rest of the company as to cause the intervals separating the performances to be filled with laughter and merry chatter. Yet no one watching his face now, as his fingers swept over the keys, could have failed to be struck by the change in its expression. Every trace of fun had vanished, and to the sparkle of the eyes had succeeded an expression of deep earnestness that showed how readily the mind had adapted itself to the character of the music he was playing, and as the performance progressed one could have read in his face every shade of feeling which the music was intended to express. No self-consciousness marred the spontaneity of the player’s interpretation. Everything seemed to come direct from his soul, as if that soul had found the voice by which alone it could be heard and understood, and revelled in its freedom. And as he played on, weaving fresh melodies out of the original theme, ever and anon breaking through the web of harmony to recall the simple, plaintive air with which he had begun—his face at one moment lighted up with radiant happiness and at the next shaded with quiet sadness—his listeners almost held their breath, fearful of losing any portion of the music which was passing away from them, perhaps for ever. And as he played, the shadows of the December afternoon crept into the room, enveloping the slight figure seated at the instrument, until his outline became lost to view, and the melody pouring forth from beneath his fingers seemed to come from heaven itself.
To those who visited the home of Abraham Mendelssohn, the wealthy Berlin banker, the fact that his son Felix had a remarkable genius for music did not admit of a doubt. The capacity for learning music had begun very early, but his wonderful gift of extemporisation, which gave his genius wings as well as voice, had only lately revealed itself at the time at which our story opens. Nevertheless, it had made great strides, and opened up all sorts of possibilities with regard to the future. And withal there was such an unaffected modesty and simplicity about the boy, so complete an absence of anything like a desire to show off his talents, as sufficed to disarm any tendency towards captiousness on the part of his hearers. Felix’s whole wish was to satisfy himself as to his progress in music, and, young as he was, he had the sense and determination to pursue his bent without regard to the plaudits of his father’s friends. Abraham Mendelssohn, notwithstanding his business capacities, was himself a great lover of the arts, and especially of music, in regard to which, indeed, he showed considerable judgment. That his children should exhibit similar tastes to his own was, therefore, to him a matter of delightful satisfaction, for he shared with his wife Leah a deep interest in all that affected his children’s education. He watched Felix with peculiar care, for it seemed to him that he inherited many of the traits as well as the capacity for learning which had distinguished the grandfather and philosopher, Moses Mendelssohn. Felix undoubtedly possessed the bright dark eyes and the humorous temperament of his grandfather, for he was one of the brightest and merriest of children. The family was not a large one. Jakob Ludwig Felix (to give the subject of our story his full names), who was born February 3, 1809, ranked second in age, the eldest child being Fanny Cäcilie; after Felix came Rebekka, and, lastly, little Paul. The three elder children were born in Hamburg, where the family continued to reside until the occupation of the town by the French soldiers in 1811 made life there so miserable for the German inhabitants that as many families as could contrive to do so escaped to other towns of Germany which were free from the presence of the invading army. Amongst those who successfully eluded the watchfulness of the French guards by resorting to disguise was the family of Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, the head of which had followed the example of his wife’s brother in adopting the latter name as a means of distinguishing his own from other branches of the Mendelssohn family. With his wife and children Abraham fled to Berlin to make his home in the house of the grandmother, situated beside the canal in the north-east quarter of the town, to which we have been already introduced.
No happier surroundings could have been imagined than those amidst which Felix Mendelssohn’s childhood was passed. The residence was in the Neue Promenade, a broad, open street, bounded on one side only by houses, and extending on the other side to the banks of the canal. Here a wide stretch of grass-land, with a plentiful dotting of trees, imparted a pleasant suggestion of the country, whilst the waters of the canal reflected the blueness of the sky, or, when rippled by the breeze, lapped the grassy banks with a murmuring sound that was half sigh, half song. To this spot daily resorted the Mendelssohn children in company with the occupants of other nurseries in the promenade, and here amongst the rest might often have been seen little Felix, his eyes sparkling with merriment, and his black curls tossed by the wind, as, with surprising quickness of movement and ringing peals of laughter, he joined with his sister Fanny in the excitement of the game.
Every encouragement was given to the development of Felix’s musical talent as soon as his fondness for the art made itself apparent. In company with Fanny he began to receive little lessons on the pianoforte from his mother when he was about four years old. Then came a visit to Paris, when Abraham Mendelssohn, taking the two children with him, placed them under the care of a teacher named Madame Bigot. Their progress was so satisfactory—for the lady was an excellent musician and quick to recognise the abilities of her pupils—that on their return to Berlin it was decided to engage the services of professional musicians to carry on the instruction in the pianoforte, violin, and composition as a regular part of the children’s education. There was a continual round of lessons in the Mendelssohn home at this time, for in addition to music the children were taught Greek, Latin, drawing, and other subjects; and with so much to get through it was necessary to begin the day’s work at five o’clock. As a consequence of this close application to study, the children used to long for Sunday to come round, in order that they might indulge themselves a little longer in bed. No amount of lessons, however, could detract from the happiness of a home wherein love was the dominant note, and in which each strove for the good of all; whilst as for Felix himself, no name could have been more symbolical of his true nature than that by which he was called. Nothing served to check the flow of his spirits. Both in work and play he was thoroughly in earnest—indeed, he regarded both in the same enjoyable light. He and Fanny were inseparables, and very soon after he began to compose they were often to be found laughing heartily together over Felix’s attempts at improvisation upon some incident of a comical nature which had occurred during their play-hours.
Such beginnings, though small in themselves, soon led to more ambitious attempts being made to set to music short humorous dialogues, so as to make little operas. To write an opera, however, was not enough—it must be performed, in order to ascertain how it would go. This was a serious matter, and one calling for the services of several performers—a miniature orchestra, in fact—with singers to undertake the various parts. But Felix, as we have seen, was thoroughly in earnest about all that he undertook, and his earnestness enabled him to surmount even so great a difficulty as was here presented. The appearance in his character of this love of completeness must be noted, as, later on, it became one of his most strongly-marked characteristics. ‘If a thing is worth doing at all, it is worth doing well,’ was the saying which, even as a child, controlled all his actions; and so Felix would have his orchestra.
Love and money combined can accomplish the apparently impossible, and hence the orchestra was duly selected and engaged by the indulgent father from the members of the Court Band. To his delight—yet nowise to his embarrassment—Felix found himself in command of a company of sedate and experienced musicians, ready to follow the lead of his baton when it pleased him to take his place at the music-desk. Everything was now furnished for the performance, but the sense of completeness was not yet satisfied. There must be a better judge than the composer himself present to pass judgment on the merits of the piece, and so no less a person than Carl Zelter, the director of the Berlin Singakademie, and Felix’s professor for thorough-bass and composition, was induced to undertake this delicate office, whilst a large number of friends of the family were invited for the occasion.
This was the beginning of a long and regular series of musical parties at the Mendelssohn house—parties to which, as time went on, it became a privilege to be invited, at which, indeed, hardly a musician of any note who happened to be passing through Berlin failed to put in an appearance. The picture is before us as we write—and as it must often have been recalled by those who frequented the house beside the canal—of the child-musician standing on a footstool before his music-desk, baton in hand, gravely conducting his orchestra. ‘A wonder-child indeed,’ as one has described him, ‘in his boy’s suit, shaking back his long curls, and looking over the heads of the musicians like a little general; then stoutly waving his baton, and firmly and quietly conducting his piece to the end, meanwhile noting and listening to every little detail as it passed.’
The performance of these operettas was not accompanied by action, the rule being for some one to read the dialogue at the piano, whilst the chorus were seated round the dining-table. It must not be supposed that Felix’s compositions monopolised the entire time of the orchestra; though it rarely happened that the weekly concert failed to include one or more of his productions. At some of the performances all four children took part—Fanny taking the pianoforte when Felix conducted at the desk, Rebekka singing, and Paul playing the ‘cello. Zelter, who was generally averse to praising any of his pupils, and, indeed, was regarded as a very grumpy personage, was a regular attendant at these performances, and never failed at the finish to speak a few words of praise or criticism. The old musician was secretly very proud of his pupil, and despite his habitual roughness of manner, Felix had a sincere affection for his master, as well as a deep respect for his judgment.
Felix was by this time composing a great deal, and, though little more than twelve years old, work of a more serious kind than the writing of operettas had been claiming his attention. To such a degree, in fact, had the flow of ideas and the facility of giving them expression developed, that within the space of a twelve-month from the completion of his twelfth year he had composed between fifty and sixty pieces, including a trio for pianoforte and strings, containing three movements (an ambitious work for a child!), several sonatas for the pianoforte, some little songs, and a comedy piece in three scenes for pianoforte and voices. Now, too, he began to collect his writings into volumes, each piece being written out with the greatest care and in the neatest of hands, with the date at which it was written, and any other note which might serve to identify the work or to show how it came to be written. Nor was this care and neatness confined to his compositions. It soon showed itself in regard to everything which he undertook—his letters, memoranda, sketches, and so forth—and the strangest part of it all is that the more he wrote and the harder he worked, the more clearly this habit of orderliness and accuracy exhibited itself. It would seem, indeed, as if for Felix Mendelssohn time was as truly elastic as some other busy folk would fain have it to be.
Hand in hand with this thoroughness in regard to work went, as we have intimated, a love of frolic and games and every species of fun that the mind of a healthy and spirited boy could devise; and with all, permeating all, was a lovability that won its way to every heart. Rarely has such a perfect combination of light-heartedness and seriousness—capacity for the hardest work and the keenest enjoyment of life—been seen as that which burst upon the world in the person of Felix Mendelssohn. The quickness with which he made friends, the firmness with which he bound those friends to himself, the constancy and affection which he lavished upon those nearest and dearest to him, were alike extraordinary.
One day a famous composer, named Carl von Weber, was walking in Berlin in company with his young friend and pupil, Jules Benedict, when the pair observed a slightly-built youth of about twelve years of age, with long, dark curls and bright, dark eyes, advancing towards them. Suddenly the boy’s keen eyes sparkled with the joy of recognition, for Carl Weber had lately visited his father’s house, and he had taken a great liking to him at first sight; and now, without giving the composer time to realise the fact that they had met before, Mendelssohn, with a run and a spring, had thrown his arms about Weber’s neck, and was entreating him to accompany him home. As soon as the astonished musician could speak he turned to his friend, and with a comical air, half apologetic and half proud, said, ‘This is Felix Mendelssohn.’ The friend held out his hand with a smile. Felix gave him a quick glance, then seized the hand in both of his own. The glance and the action that followed it settled the matter—Jules Benedict and he must be friends henceforth. Weber stood by, laughing at his young friend’s enthusiasm, and Felix turned to him sharply and once more begged that he and Benedict would favour him with their company. But Weber shook his head. He had to attend a rehearsal—he had come to Berlin for that purpose. ‘A rehearsal!’ exclaimed Felix disappointedly, and then the next moment his eyes flashed. ‘Is it the new opera?’ he asked excitedly. Weber nodded. ‘Oh,’ said Felix thoughtfully; then, indicating Mr. Benedict, ‘Does he know all about it?’ he inquired. ‘To be sure he does,’ assented the composer laughingly—’at least, if he doesn’t he ought to, for he has been bored enough with it already.’ Felix passed unnoticed the last part of Weber’s speech. It was enough for him that young Benedict was familiar with what he himself was dying to know. He therefore seized Benedict by the arm, exclaiming, ‘You will come to my father’s house with me, will you not?’ There was no refusing the appeal in those eyes, and the young man acquiesced willingly. Then Felix dragged Weber down for a parting embrace, and, taking his new friend by the hand, as if fearful that he might change his mind, he pulled him away.
The distance to the house was short, but Mendelssohn’s impatience could only be met by his companion’s consenting to race him to the door. On entering he retained Benedict’s hand tightly in his grasp, conducted him at once upstairs, and, bursting into the drawing-room, where his mother was seated at her knitting, he exclaimed, ‘Mamma, mamma! Here is a gentleman, a pupil of Carl Weber’s, who knows all about the new opera, “Der Freischütz!”‘
If Benedict had expected a more formal introduction to Madame Mendelssohn he had reckoned without a knowledge of Felix’s enthusiasm. But the mother knew and understood, and the young musician not only received a warm welcome, but found it impossible to take his leave until he had complied with his new friend’s request that he would seat himself at the piano and play as many airs from the great opera as he could remember at such short notice, Felix listening, meanwhile, with rapt enjoyment.
The acquaintance thus begun awakened a mutual regard in Mendelssohn and Benedict, for the latter shortly afterwards paid a second visit to the house. On this occasion he found Felix engaged in writing out some music, and inquired what it was. ‘I am finishing my new quartet for piano and stringed instruments,’ was the reply, gravely spoken, and without the least self-consciousness. Benedict glanced at the work in surprise. He did not know Mendelssohn yet. It was the ‘First Quartet in C Minor,’ which, later on, was published as ‘Opus I.’ ‘And now,’ said Felix, laying aside his pen, ‘I will play to you to convince you how grateful I am for your kindness in playing to us last time.’ He thereupon sat down and played with precision several of the airs from ‘Der Freischütz’ which Benedict had played on his previous visit. ‘You see, I have not forgotten the pleasure you gave me,’ he said, with a smile, as he rose from the piano. ‘But now,’ he added, as a new thought entered his mind, ‘I want you to see the garden, please.’ Down they went, and in a moment Mendelssohn had thrown off the musician’s cloak, and was a boy again. With a bound he leapt over a high hedge, turned, and cleared it a second time, and then challenged his companion to a race. Another moment he burst out with a song, as if the open air had incited him to imitate the birds, and then, pointing to a favourite tree, he ran to it and climbed it like a squirrel.
These meetings took place in the summer of 1821, a year which brought much happiness to Felix, for ere it had drawn to a close he had found a new friend. When the autumn came round, Zelter announced that he was going to pay a visit of respect to his old friend and master, Goethe, the aged poet of Weimar, and he was willing to take Felix with him. Needless to say, Felix and his parents were equally delighted with the proposal. The boy had so often heard Zelter speak of Goethe, whose works, moreover, he was always quoting, that he felt he already loved the master almost as much as Zelter did himself. Goethe’s house at Weimar was regarded as a shrine at which his countless admirers were wont to pay homage, even though their devotion often met with no further gratification than was to be derived from gazing at its walls or peeping into the grounds, which were sacred to the poet’s footsteps. Hence the promise of an introduction to one who was the object of so much hero-worship stirred the heart of Felix to its depths, and filled his mind with reverential emotions such as few events could have had the power to awaken in one so sensible of what was due to a great and lofty intellect.
It was a bright November day when Zelter and his pupil set forth upon their journey. Both were looking forward to the meeting, though with somewhat different feelings. What Mendelssohn’s feelings were we have tried to imagine, but Zelter was nursing within himself a certain pride and confidence in the prospect of introducing his favourite pupil to so keen a judge as Goethe, which he would not have revealed to that pupil for worlds. Felix’s spirits, however, were so high on this occasion that Zelter had enough to do to satisfy all his questions without allowing his usually taciturn nature to relax under the sunshine of the boy’s enthusiasm.
On arriving at Goethe’s home they found the poet walking in his grounds. The meeting was simple and affectionate. Goethe greeted Felix with every show of kindness, and sent the boy to bed with an overflowing heart and a mind resolved upon cherishing the minutest details of this happy encounter. The next day he was to play to Goethe, and at an early hour of the morning he was sauntering in the grounds, awaiting the poet’s arrival, and feasting his eyes upon the scenes which were the accustomed haunts of the author of ‘Faust’; and then, selecting a sunny spot, he sat down to write a long letter home, full of description of the events of the previous day.
Nothing short of the severest of tests would satisfy Goethe of the truth of what Zelter had privately conveyed to him regarding his pupil’s talents. Accordingly, sheet after sheet of manuscript music was selected by the poet from his store and placed upon the music-desk to be played by Felix at sight. The manner in which he performed his task, the ease with which he overcame the difficulties presented by penwork of various styles, and often far from clear, astonished and delighted the assembled company. But their manifestations of delight were far more pronounced when Felix, taking one of the airs which he had just played as a theme for extemporisation, exhibited in a most charming fashion, and with true musicianly feeling, the capacities of the subject for varied treatment. Still Goethe withheld his praise, and, interrupting the applause, declared that he had a final test to propose which, he jokingly warned Felix, would infallibly cause him to break down. Thus speaking, the poet placed on the desk a sheet of manuscript which at first sight was enough to strike terror and dismay into the stoutest heart, for it seemed to consist of nothing else than scratches and splotches of ink, interspersed with smudges. Mendelssohn glanced at it, and then, bursting into a laugh, exclaimed: ‘What writing! How can it be possible to read such manuscript?’ Suddenly he became serious, and bent to examine the writing more closely, Goethe looked triumphantly round at the company. ‘Now, guess who wrote that!’ he said. Zelter rose from his place beside the pianoforte, and, looking over Felix’s shoulder, cried out: ‘Why, it is Beethoven’s writing! One can see that a mile off! He always writes as if he used a broomstick for a pen, and then wiped his sleeve over the wet ink!’
Mendelssohn could decipher the manuscript only by degrees, having to search the sheet to find the successive notes; but when he reached the end he exclaimed, ‘Now I will play it to you,’ and this time he played it through without a mistake. Upon this Goethe let him off, and rewarded him with some kind words of praise. Thenceforth, until the visit came to an end, Felix was called upon to play to the poet every day, and the two became fast friends. The old man treated the boy as if he were a son, laughed and joked with him, and was never so happy as when he was near. It was altogether a delightful visit, and Goethe would only part with Felix on the understanding that they should meet again very soon.
The following summer brought a new happiness to Felix, for it had been decided that the entire family should make a tour through Switzerland. In those days a journey of such length was an undertaking of much consequence, more especially when, as in this case, the family were accompanied by the children’s tutor and the doctor, in addition to several servants. It was an essential part of the father’s scheme of education that his children’s minds should be widened by travel, and more particularly that they should make personal acquaintance with the classic ground of history—advantages which wealth enabled him to place at their command. It was with light spirits that the party set out on their journey, Felix keenly alive to every fresh scene or incident as it presented itself, and there were few of either that failed to leave their stamp upon his impressionable mind. To his insatiable curiosity must be attributed the adventure which befell him on the very first day of their travel. They had to change carriages at Potsdam, and when the horses had traversed three German miles of road from that town Felix was suddenly missed, and a brief colloquy elicited the melancholy fact that the boy had been left behind at Potsdam. The tutor thereupon turned back in one of the carriages, whilst the rest proceeded to the next stopping-place. In the course of an hour he returned with the truant seated by his side, dusty and footsore, but otherwise as fresh as when he had started. He had, it appeared, strayed from the party at Potsdam, and returned to the starting-place in time to see the carriages disappearing in the distance enveloped in a cloud of dust. He began to run, but seeing that he could not overtake them, he abated his speed, and determined to perform the journey to Brandenburg on foot. A little peasant-girl joined him. They broke stout walking-sticks from the trees at the road-side, and together marched on cheerfully, conversing as they went, until the tutor’s carriage met them about a mile from the next halting-place.
It was a most delightful tour, enjoyed by all concerned, and long to be treasured by the young musician, to whom Interlaken, Vevey, and Chamounix, with their mountains, lakes, glaciers, torrents, and valleys, their sunrises and sunsets, presented a panorama of endless enchantment. Amidst the constant demands upon the senses there was little time for actual composition, but two songs and the beginning of a pianoforte quartet were inspired by the sight of the Lake of Geneva and its beautiful surroundings. Nor was the journey without the pleasures afforded by meetings with many eminent people in the musical world, such as the composer Spohr at Cassel, and Schelble, the conductor of the famous Cäcilien-Verein concerts, at Frankfort. To the latter Felix exhibited his powers by an extemporisation on Bach’s motets, which called forth the musician’s astonished praise.
On the return journey a call was made at Weimar, in order that Abraham Mendelssohn might pay his respects to the poet, and personally acknowledge the old man’s kindness to Felix. Goethe received them most kindly, and talked much with the father on the subject of the boy’s future. Of Felix’s playing he never seemed to get tired. There was a charm about the boy’s bright presence, and a soothing restfulness in his playing which appealed to the old poet’s kindlier nature in a way that few things had the power to do. ‘I am Saul, and you are my David,’ he said to Felix one day, when his temper had been ruffled by something that had occurred. ‘When I am sad and dreary, come to me and cheer me with your music.’ How much sunshine had been infused into the old man’s declining days by these brief visits Felix himself could never have guessed, but he knew that he loved Goethe, and that his love was returned.
Felix’s progress, not only in music, but in his other studies as well, was by leaps and bounds. Knowledge to him seemed a food for which his appetite was insatiable, difficulties to him were but spurs to increased effort, and the effort itself appeared to be inappreciable. It was impossible to regard any longer as a boy one who possessed knowledge and powers that entitled him to take rank with performers and composers of the day. Too soon for some of those who loved him had Mendelssohn passed from his childhood stage, landing almost at a single bound into that of advanced youth, if not, indeed, into manhood itself. The Swiss tour had in a measure bridged over the interval; for when he returned it was with a taller and robuster frame, more strongly marked features, and a new and indefinable expression that was the result of widened experience, and, last of all, without the beautiful curls which had helped to make the child’s face what it had been. With these changes, however, his happy boyish nature remained as strong and as irrepressible as ever. And so we pass on to the date when the transformation of which we have spoken found a fitting opportunity for recognition by his friends.
It was the night of February 3, 1824, Felix’s fifteenth birthday, and the family and guests were gathered around the supper-table. Earlier in the evening there had been a full rehearsal of his first full-grown opera in three acts—’Die beiden Neffen, oder der Onkel aus Boston’ (The Two Nephews, or the Uncle from Boston), which had gone most successfully, and now Zelter held up his hand as a signal that he had something important to say. All eyes were turned to him, and the clatter of tongues ceased in a moment. The old musician’s face was lighted up by a most unusual expression. His grumpiness had cleared away, and a look of benevolence beamed from his eyes, in which there was even a suspicion of moisture, as, lifting his glass on high, he said:
‘I have a toast to propose which I make no doubt you will acquiesce in most readily. I raise my glass to the health and happiness of my late pupil (no one failed to note the emphasis on the word ‘late’), ‘Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy!’
The toast was honoured with enthusiasm, and then Zelter, rising from his seat, took Felix by the hand and addressed him in these words:
‘From this day, dear boy, thou art no longer an apprentice, but an independent member of the brotherhood of musicians. I proclaim you “assistant” in the names of Mozart, Haydn, and old Father Bach!’
He then embraced Felix with much tenderness, imprinting a hearty kiss on both his cheeks; and, the little ceremony ended, the company toasted the proclamation of independence with great merriment, following it up with the singing of songs by Zelter and others.
Notwithstanding that Mendelssohn had thus received his initiation into the ‘brotherhood,’ and that Zelter had plainly shown that he had nothing more to teach him, Abraham Mendelssohn still had some lingering doubts as to the advisability of his son’s choosing music as a profession. This attitude arose quite as much from Felix’s all-round knowledge and attainments as from any particular misgivings regarding the steadfastness of his love for music, or the continued development of his genius in that direction. Abraham clearly perceived that Felix had in him the makings of a man of business; he was methodical, quick, and shrewd, and possessed that infinite capacity for taking pains which is the accompaniment of true genius. These were qualities pre-eminently fitting him for a successful business career, and hence the doubtings as to whether such a rare combination of qualifications ought to be expended in following up a branch of art that might in the end prove fruitless of solid results. The father must be forgiven for entertaining such doubts, unreasonable as they may seem, when regard is paid to the absolute honesty of purpose by which his own life was governed, and the sincerity of his affection for the members of his family.
There was one man who might be trusted to give an impartial opinion on this pressing question. Cherubini, the eminent composer and musical judge, was living in Paris, and to Cherubini it was decided to apply forthwith for advice. Accordingly, Felix and his father journeyed to Paris with this object, the former being fully as anxious as his father to have the opportunity of making the acquaintance of so famous a musician, as well as of receiving at his hands the support and encouragement which would put an end, once and for all, to his father’s doubts. Cherubini was hardly ever known to praise, but perhaps for this very reason his opinion was eagerly sought by young performers and composers. Of those who went to him for advice, however, by far the greater number were sent away with burning cheeks and downcast eyes. This dismal fate was not reserved for Felix, for no sooner had the great man listened to his playing of one of his own compositions than he recognised Mendelssohn’s power and genius, and, turning to the father, he said with a smile; ‘Sir, the boy is rich; he will do well.’ After some further tests Cherubini expressed himself as perfectly satisfied with regard to Felix’s future, and when father and son returned to Berlin it was with the settled conviction on the part of the former that thenceforward the boy’s life must be devoted to music.
And now a great change came into the daily life of the family. The house in the Neue Promenade was exchanged for a statelier and more commodious mansion, No. 3, Leipziger Strasse, situated on the outskirts of the city near the Potsdam Gate. The grounds of the new house adjoined the old deer-park of Frederick the Great, and in themselves were almost large enough to be styled a park. Stretches of green turf, shaded by fine forest-trees, winding walks amidst sweet-scented flowering shrubs, and arbours nestling in retired corners, inviting retreats for study and meditation, comprised an ideal spot for one who loved the surroundings of Nature. Nor was the house itself behindhand in offering special attractions for the purposes of study and recreation, in addition to the more solid requirements of comfort and accommodation. The rooms were spacious and elegant, and comprised one large apartment perfectly adapted for musical or theatrical entertainments. But, just as there are not a few of us who, in choosing a residence, are drawn towards the garden before proceeding to investigate the dwelling itself, so Felix’s delight was first of all expressed with regard to the beautiful surroundings of the new home. And there was one feature of the garden which opened up to his mind splendid possibilities in connection with his beloved pursuit. This was a garden-house, containing a central hall capable of accommodating several hundred people, and furnished with windows and glass doors opening and looking upon the lawns and trees. The garden-house was as essentially a part of the garden as any large summer-house could be, and yet comprised sufficient rooms to fit it for occupation as a separate dwelling if such were necessary.
No sooner had the family established itself in the new home than the musical and artistic gatherings were resumed on an even larger scale than heretofore. The Sunday concerts were held in the ‘Gartenhaus,’ which, on most of the other evenings of the week, was the resort of friends, both old and young, who came to listen to the music, or to play or act, or in other ways amuse themselves. So famous did these gatherings become, and so completely were the mansion and its surroundings identified with the family which occupied it, and dispensed its open-handed hospitality, that it was impossible to mention the Leipziger Strasse without connecting it with information respecting the Mendelssohns. The two things, indeed, were inseparable in everybody’s mind. Thither, amongst others, came Ferdinand Hiller, the eminent performer, who had visited Beethoven while the latter lay on his death-bed, and whose friendship with Felix had begun at Frankfort a short time before. Moscheles, who had worked under Beethoven, also became a regular visitor at the house, and one of Felix’s closest friends. Moscheles had already acquired fame as a player, and during his stay in Berlin he was induced, though not without reluctance, to give some lessons to Mendelssohn. ‘He has no need of lessons,’ he remarked, with reference to Felix’s ability. ‘If he wishes to take a hint from me as to anything new to him, he can easily do so.’ Felix, however, frankly acknowledged afterwards how much he owed to these lessons at the hands of him whose graceful, elegant touch could not be excelled. Speaking of Moscheles’ playing on one occasion, Mendelssohn said that ‘the runs dropped from his fingers like magic.’
We must now speak of two works which were composed very soon after Zelter’s declaration of his pupil’s independence. The first of these was an Octet for stringed instruments, designed as a birthday present for Edward Ritz, the young violinist, for whom Mendelssohn entertained a deep affection, and whose premature death caused him much sorrow. Felix had not completed his seventeenth year when the Octet was written. He had already composed a great deal, but he had done nothing so entirely fresh and original as this. Indeed, one might place one’s finger on the Octet, and, forgetting everything which he had written before, say with emphasis and truth: ‘This is Mendelssohn himself; this is his very own.’ No longer an ‘apprentice,’ swayed or, at least, influenced by the masters who had gone before him, he has here given us the first-fruits of his ‘assistantship’ in a work which expresses his own musicianly feelings, and in which we get our first glimpse of his true genius. The whole piece was intended to be playedstaccato and pianissimo. It has a fleeting, spiritual, and fairy-like effect, with ‘tremolos and trills passing away with the quickness of lightning.’ The Scherzo is especially beautiful, and Mendelssohn admitted to his sister Fanny that he had taken as his motto for this movement a stanza from Goethe’s Walpurgis-night Dream in ‘Faust’:
‘Floating cloud and trailing mist
Bright’ning o’er us hover;
Airs stir the brake, the rushes shake—
And all their pomp is over.’
We are reminded of this in the last part, where ‘the first violin takes a flight with a feather-like lightness, and all has vanished.’
But if the Octet serves to mark a distinct stage in the development of Mendelssohn’s genius, what are we to say of the work which followed it? Several things had paved the way for this new composition. To begin with, Felix and Fanny made their first acquaintance with Shakespeare in this year through the medium of a German translation, and they fell completely under the spell of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream.’ Then the summer proved to be an exceptionally fine one, and led to many hours being spent in the beautiful garden—in fact, there is no doubt that the garden began it. It is not difficult to imagine how the romantic mind of Felix was stirred by reading this delightful fairy play amidst such charming surroundings. To read thus was to picture in music, to give a musical setting to both scene and action, at first indefinite, shadowy, suggestive, but as reading and thinking progressed, growing ever stronger and more clearly defined. Thus, stretched upon the turf, book in hand, the silence broken only by the singing of the birds and the humming of the bees, the music of the Overture to ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ gradually shaped itself in Mendelssohn’s mind, until what at the beginning had in itself been little more than a dream, became a tangible creation.
When the Overture had been written down, it was frequently played by Felix and Fanny as a duet. In this simple form Moscheles heard it for the first time, and he was struck by the force of its beauty. The work was elaborated and perfected by degrees, until the day arrived when it was performed by the garden-house orchestra before a crowded audience. So great was the reception accorded to the overture on this occasion that in the February following Felix journeyed to Stettin to conduct the first public performance.
When we listen to this beautiful work, we are constrained to admit that no happier introduction to the play could have been devised; for just as the play itself seems to demand for its environment some lovely garden or woodland glade, so Mendelssohn’s music conjures up visions of the fairy scenes of enchantment with which the play abounds. It is a work instinct with musicianly feeling, and its strength is borne out by the soundness and skill displayed in its construction. As a great musical judge has said of it: ‘No one piece of music contains so many points of harmony and orchestration that had never been written before, and yet none of them have the air of experiment, but seem all to have been written with certainty of their success.’
But we must not linger over this portion of our story, though we are tempted to do so; for there can be no doubt that these years spent in the Leipziger Strasse house, when the members of the family were all together, each contributing his or her share to the intellectual intercourse that went on beneath its hospitable roof, afford the happiest pictures of Mendelssohn’s young life. It was so full and many-sided a life, hard work alternating with gymnastics, dancing, swimming, riding, and, of course, music, each occupation pursued with such zest and heartiness as to convey the impression at the moment of its being the most absorbing of all.
Amidst these pleasures, however, a new project had taken hold of his mind, one which, like many another great undertaking fraught with far-reaching results, owed its inception to the feeling aroused by the indifference and lack of sympathy shown by others towards what he himself believed to be deserving of the highest praise. Two years before, Felix’s grandmother had presented him with a manuscript score of Bach’s ‘Passion according to St. Matthew,’ which Zelter had permitted to be copied from the manuscript in the Singakademie. A more devoted lover of Bach’s music than Zelter could not have been found, and the old man had infused some of this love into his pupil; consequently, when the score of the ‘Passion’ was placed in Mendelssohn’s hands, he set to work to master it, and with such earnestness had he applied himself to the study that at this point of our story he knew the whole of it by heart.
The more he studied this great work, the more was he impressed by its beauty and the grandeur of its conception. Could it possibly be true, he asked himself, that throughout the length and breadth of Germany so stupendous a work as this remained unheard, unknown? that a creation so deathless in itself could be permitted to sleep without even the hope of an awakening? ‘Alas!’ replied Zelter, when the question was put to him—’alas! it is nearly a hundred years since old Father Bach died, and though his name lives, as all great names must live, the majority of those who speak of him as a master are ignorant of the works which made him great; they have forgotten, if, indeed, they ever heard, the sound of the master’s voice!’
Here, then, in the apathy manifested in regard to Bach’s greatest works, Mendelssohn found the stimulus that was needed. If only this state of things could be changed, if only he might be permitted to show the way to an understanding and appreciation of these priceless treasures! Towards this great end something, at least, might be accomplished by the force of example. As we have seen, he knew the ‘Passion’ music by heart, and he now proceeded to enlist others in a study of the work. In a short time he had got together sixteen carefully selected voices, and had arranged for his little choir to meet once a week at his house for practice. It was a small beginning, but his own enthusiasm soon infected the rest, and they all grew deeply earnest in their work—so earnest, indeed, that ere long the yearning had seized them for a public performance. The Singakademie maintained a splendid choir of between three hundred and four hundred voices. If only the director could be induced to allow a trial performance to be given under Mendelssohn’s conducting! Much as he personally desired such a consummation of their labours, however, Felix felt convinced that he knew Zelter only too well to indulge any hopes that he would sanction so great an undertaking. Zelter had no faith in the idea that public support would be given to a revival of the ‘Passion,’ and Felix well knew that nothing would shake him in this opinion. But this conclusion was strongly opposed by a prominent member of the Garden-house choir, a young actor-singer named Devrient, who insisted that Zelter ought to be approached on the subject; and as he himself had been a pupil of Zelter, and possessed the gift of eloquence in no small degree, he succeeded in persuading Mendelssohn to accompany him on a visit to the director’s house.
Accordingly, the pair set forth early one morning to brave the old giant in his den, Mendelssohn haunted by a dread of the manner in which their proposals would be received, and Devrient, who was to be spokesman, keeping up a bold front, and assuring his friend that they would ultimately succeed.
They found Zelter seated at his instrument, with a sheet of music-paper before him, a long pipe in his mouth, and enveloped in a cloud of tobacco-smoke. In response to his gruff inquiry, what had brought them at so early an hour, Devrient unfolded his plan by degrees, beginning by enlarging upon their admiration for Bach’s music, with a gentle reminder to Zelter that this taste had been acquired under his own guidance, and proceeding to dwell upon the progress of their studies and the yearning which they all felt for a public trial of the work, and concluding with an eloquent appeal for assistance from the Academy itself.
Zelter listened with an outward show of patience that was as extraordinary as it had been unlooked for, but his eyes gleamed through the clouds of smoke with a light that foreboded a speedy outburst of his slumbering fires. Nevertheless, when he began to speak, it was not to condemn the young men for their presumption, but to point out that the difficulties in performing such a work at that time were inconceivably greater than they had supposed. In Bach’s time it was different, the Thomas School could supply what was necessary—the double orchestra, double chorus, and so forth; but now such things were insuperable difficulties; nothing could overcome them.
As he spoke he laid aside his pipe, and rising from his chair, paced excitedly to and fro, repeating again and again: ‘No, no; it is not to be thought of; it is mad, mad, mad!’ To Felix he looked the picture of a shaggy old lion stirred up by his keeper. Still Devrient persevered. He even ventured to say that they had considered those difficulties; that they did not believe them to be insuperable; that they had implicit faith in their own enthusiasm having the power to kindle the like in others; and, finally, that with the Academy’s co-operation success must ensue.
Zelter grew more and more irritated as Devrient proceeded, and Felix, observing the growing anger in his eye, plucked his companion by the sleeve, and edged nearer to the door. At length the explosion came. ‘That one should have the patience to listen to all this! I can tell you that very different people have had to give up attempting this very thing, and yet you imagine that a couple of young donkeys like yourselves will be able to accomplish it!’
Felix by this time was at the door, feverishly beckoning to Devrient to come away, but his friend refused to budge; he even began afresh. He pleaded in his most telling tones that, inasmuch as it was Zelter himself who had awakened their love for the master, the honour would be to him quite as much as to themselves if his pupils succeeded in bringing about this grand result, and how well-deserved and fitting a crown this would be to his long career, this honour and testimony to the greatness of Father Bach.
Felix opened his eyes wider in astonishment; but there could be no mistake—the crisis had passed, and Zelter was visibly weakening; the lion died out of his eyes, the pipe once more found its way to his lips, and after many demurs, many arguments, much pacing up and down, Zelter with a sigh of relief gave in. It was a noble surrender, for it included a promise of all the help that he could give, and the young enthusiasts quitted the lion’s den triumphant.
‘You are a regular rascal, an arch-Jesuit!’ said Felix to his friend as they descended the stairs.
‘Anything you like for the honour of Sebastian Bach!’ retorted the other as they stepped out into the keen, wintry air.
How Mendelssohn grappled with this great work; how he threw into it all the energy he possessed; how he mastered its every detail, and gave it life; how, with infinite tact and patience, he made it a living, dramatic masterpiece in the eyes of those who were to perform it; how the rehearsals at the Academy were thronged by professionals and amateurs desirous of realising its true nature and power; how at length the first public performance of the ‘Passion according to St. Matthew’ since the composer’s death took place at the Singakademie, with Mendelssohn conducting, on March 11, 1829, and how every ticket was sold, and fully a thousand disappointed ones were turned away from the doors—all this must be read elsewhere. Suffice it here to say that this performance marked the beginning of a great revival—the awakening throughout Germany and England of a love and appreciation of Bach which has never since faded or diminished.
It was in connection with this work that Mendelssohn made the first and only allusion to his Jewish descent. ‘To think,’ he remarked to Devrient, with a look of triumph in his eyes as they were walking together to the final rehearsal—’to think that it should have been reserved for an actor and a Jew to restore this great Christian work to the people!’
The excitement attending the performance, with its repetition on March 21, the anniversary of Bach’s birth, had not subsided ere Mendelssohn was engaged in taking leave of his dear ones prior to embarking at Hamburg on his first visit to England. Several circumstances had combined to render the present a favourable moment for undertaking the journey. The Moscheleses, and another friend named Klingemann, who had been a constant visitor at the Berlin house until called away to occupy a London post, had assured him of a warm welcome; it was his father’s wish, shared by Zelter also, that he should travel, and he for his own part was desirous of showing that he could support himself by music. Abraham Mendelssohn had, indeed, designed this visit as the first portion of a lengthened tour which would enable Felix to see more of various countries, and assist him in choosing that which offered the best opportunities for his life-work.
The London musical season was at its height when he arrived, but his first letters home were chiefly occupied with descriptions of the city itself, and how it had affected him. ‘It is fearful! it is maddening!’ he writes to Fanny three days after he had settled into his Great Portland Street lodgings. ‘London is the grandest and most complicated monster on the face of the earth…. Things roll and carry me along as in a vortex. Not in the last six months at Berlin have I seen so many contrasts and such variety as in these three days…. Could you see me at the exquisite grand-piano which Clementi has sent me for the whole of my stay here, by the cheerful fireside’ (the open grate fire was a novelty to one who had come from the land of closed stoves), ‘in my own four walls … and could you see the immense four-post bed in the next room in which I might go to sleep in the most literal sense of the word, the many-coloured curtains and quaint furniture, my breakfast-tea with dry toast still before me, the servant-girl in curl-papers, who has just brought me my newly-hemmed black necktie, and asks what further orders I have … and could you but see the highly respectable, fog-enveloped street, and hear the pitiable voice with which a beggar down there pours forth his ditty (he will soon be outscreamed by the street-sellers), and could you picture to yourselves that from here to the City is three-quarters of an hour’s drive, and that in all the cross streets of which one has glimpses the noise, clamour, and bustle are the same, if not greater, and that after that one has only traversed about a quarter of London, then you might understand how it is that I am half distracted!’
One needs to be something of an artist as well as of a poet to appreciate London at her true worth, and Mendelssohn possessed both qualities in no small degree; hence it is only natural that the artistic and poetical aspects of our city should have appealed most strongly to his sensitive nature. A few days later he writes: ‘I think the town and the streets are quite beautiful. Again I was struck with awe when yesterday I drove in an open carriage to the City along a different road and everywhere found the same flow of life … everywhere noise and smoke, everywhere the end of the streets lost in fog. Every few moments I passed a church, or a market-place, or a green square, or a theatre, or caught a glimpse of the Thames…. Last, not least, to see the masts from the West India Docks stretching their heads over the housetops, and to see a harbour as big as the Hamburg one treated like a mere pond, with sluices, and the ships arranged not singly, but in rows, like regiments—to see all that makes one’s heart rejoice at the greatness of the world.’
The magnificence of a ball at Devonshire House reminds him of the ‘Arabian Nights.’ The Duke of Wellington and Sir Robert Peel were present, and he describes the beauty of the girls dancing, the lights, the music, the flowers, etc. ‘To move among these beautiful pictures and lovely living forms, and to wander about in all that flow of life and universal excitement, perfectly quiet and unknown, and unnoticed and unseen, to notice and to see—it was one of the most charming nights I remember.’ Again, of a fête held at the Marquis of Lansdowne’s, he says: ‘That such magnificence could really exist in our time I had not believed. These are not parties—they are festivals and celebrations.’
In the mind of Mendelssohn, therefore, London struck a sympathetic chord, and the pleasure which he felt on entering the city was heightened by the warmth of the welcome which he received at the hands of the musical public. His first appearance was at the Argyll Rooms, in Regent Street, at a concert of the Philharmonic Society on May 25, when his ‘Symphony in C minor’ was performed. He gives a full description of the rehearsal and performance in his letter to Fanny:
‘When I entered the Argyll Rooms for the rehearsal of my Symphony, and found the whole orchestra assembled, and about two hundred listeners, chiefly ladies, strangers to me, and when, first, Mozart’s “Symphony in E flat major” was rehearsed, after which my own was to follow, I felt not exactly afraid, but nervous and excited. During the Mozart pieces I took a little walk in Regent Street, and looked at the people; when I returned, everything was ready and waiting for me. I mounted the orchestra, and pulled out my white stick which I have had made on purpose (the maker took me for an alderman, and would insist on decorating it with a crown). The first violin, François Cramer, showed me how the orchestra was placed—the furthest row had to get up so that I could see them—and introduced me to them all, and we bowed to each other; some, perhaps, laughed a little that this small fellow with the stick should now take the place of their regular powdered and bewigged conductor. Then it began. For the first time it went very well and powerfully, and pleased the people much, even at rehearsal. After each movement the whole audience and the whole orchestra applauded (the musicians showing their approval by striking their instruments with their bows and stamping their feet). After the finale they made a great noise, and as I had to make them repeat it, because it was badly played, they set up the same noise once more; the directors came to me in the orchestra, and I had to go down and make a great many bows. Cramer was overjoyed, and loaded me with praise and compliments. I walked about in the orchestra, and had to shake at least two hundred different hands. It was one of the happiest moments within my recollection, for one half hour had transformed all those strangers into friends and acquaintances. But the success at the concert last night was beyond what I could ever have dreamed. It began with the Symphony; old François Cramer led me to the piano like a young lady, and I was received with immense applause. The Adagio was encored; I preferred to bow my thanks and go on, for fear of tiring the audience, but the Scherzo was so vigorously encored that I felt obliged to repeat it, and after the finale they continued applauding, while I was thanking the orchestra and shaking hands, and until I had left the room.’
On another occasion, when he was to perform at a concert, he describes how he went to the room early in order to try the piano, which was a new one. He found the instrument locked, and dispatched a messenger for the key. In the meantime he seated himself at another piano of ancient aspect, and beginning to extemporise soon became lost in reverie. The empty room, the ‘old grey instrument which the fingers of several generations may have played,’ and the silence affected him so deeply that he forgot the passing time, until he was reminded of the approach of the concert hour by the people coming in to take their seats. When, having first put himself into grande toilette—very long, white trousers, brown silk waistcoat, black necktie, and blue dress coat—he mounted the orchestra he felt nervous; a panic seized him, for the hall was crowded, ladies even sitting in the orchestra who could not get places in the room. ‘But as the gay bonnets gave me a nice reception, and applauded when I came … and as I found the instrument very excellent and of a light touch, I lost all my timidity, became quite comfortable, and was highly amused to see the bonnets agitated at every little cadenza, which to me and many critics brought to mind the simile of the wind and the tulip-bed.’
A dinner-party followed the concert, and then he went to visit some friends living out of town with whom he was to spend the night. Finding no carriage to convey him, he set out to walk through the fields in the cool of the evening. Can we not picture him crossing the still meadows by a lonely path, meeting no one, the air redolent of spring flowers, musical ideas floating through his mind—ideas which there was nobody to hear, which nobody, perhaps, was ever destined to hear, as he sang them aloud in the fading light, ‘the whole sky grey, with a purple streak on the horizon, and the thick cloud of smoke behind him.’
Amidst the round of work and the pressure of invitations which made up the sum of his daily life in London, the love of boyish fun, which formed a wholesome counteraction to his serious moods, broke out every now and then with its old accustomed force, eclipsing for the moment the memories of stately dinner-parties and receptions. One night when in company with two friends he was returning from what he terms ‘a highly diplomatic dinner-party’ at the Prussian Ambassador’s, where they had taken their ‘fill of fashionable dishes, sayings, and doings,’ they passed a very enticing sausage-shop in which some German sausages were exposed in the window. A wave of patriotism overcame them; they entered, and each bought a long sausage, and then the trio turned into a quiet street to devour them, accompanying the meal with a three-part song and shouts of laughter.
Mendelssohn’s heart was easily touched by the distresses of others, and when he learnt of the sufferings of those who had lost their all in the floods in Silesia at this time, he set to work at once to arrange a concert in their behalf. The ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream Overture’ formed one of the items of the programme—this being the second occasion of its performance since his arrival. It was most enthusiastically received, and, indeed, the whole concert was a great success. The room was so besieged that no fewer than one hundred persons were turned from the doors. Ladies who could not find seats in the body of the hall crowded upon the orchestra, and Mendelssohn was delighted at receiving a message from two elderly ladies, who had strayed between the bassoons and the French horns, anxiously inquiring ‘whether they were likely to hear well!’ Another enthusiastic lady esconsced herself contentedly upon a kettledrum. There could be little doubt that the overture had secured a firm hold upon English hearts at its first hearing. Jules Benedict, who was present on the occasion, describes the effect upon the audience as electrical. At the end of the first performance a friend who had taken charge of the precious manuscript was so careless as to leave it in a hackney-coach on his way home, and it was never recovered. ‘Never mind,’ said Mendelssohn, when the loss was reported to him, ‘I will write another.’ And he sat down at once and rewrote the score entirely from memory, and when the copy was afterwards compared with the parts it was found that he had not made a single variation.
From London, when the season came to an end, he went in company with his friend Klingemann to Scotland, his keen sense of perception drinking in all the variety and charm which the tour presented, and his genius supplying a musical setting to whatever struck him as specially beautiful. The ruined chapel attached to the old Palace of Holyrood, seen in the twilight, with its broken altar at which Mary received the Scottish crown, overgrown with grass and ivy, and its mouldering, roofless pillars, with patches of bright sky between, gave him the first inspiration for his Scotch Symphony. But it was the Hebrides which, in their lonely grandeur and bleakness, affected him most of all. Of Iona, with its ruins of a once magnificent cathedral, and its graves of ancient Scottish Kings, he writes that he shall think when in the midst of crowded assemblies of music and dancing. Of Staffa, again, with its strange, basaltic pillars and caverns, he says: ‘A greener roar of waves surely never rushed into a stranger cavern—its many pillars making it look like the inside of an immense organ, black and resounding, and absolutely without purpose, and quite alone, the wide, grey sea within and without.’ How deeply the Hebrides impressed him he shows by a few lines of music added to his letter, which he says were suggested to him by the sight of these lonely sister isles. Later on this very piece of music formed the opening to his ‘Overture to Fingal’s Cave.’
How thoroughly music entered into his daily life and permeated his thoughts, we may know from his habit of seating himself at the piano in the evening, and improvising music to express what he had bothseen and felt throughout the day. To Mendelssohn music was a natural language by which he could express, in the most perfect manner, the emotions which had been aroused by reading or by the contemplation of Nature. Thus, when he went from Scotland to North Wales to stay with some friends named Taylor, he wrote for Susan Taylor a piece called ‘The Rivulet,’ which was a representation of an actual rivulet visited by them in their rambles. Again, Honora Taylor had in her garden a creeping plant (the Eccremocarpus), bearing little trumpet-shaped flowers, and Mendelssohn was taken with a fancy for inventing the music which the fairies might have been supposed to play on those tiny trumpets. The piece was called ‘A Capriccio in E minor,’ and when he wrote it out he drew a branch of the plant all up the margin of the paper. For another member of the family he wrote a piece which was suggested by a bunch of carnations (his favourite flower) and roses arranged in a bowl, and he put in some arpeggio passages to remind the player of the sweet scent rising up from the flowers.
Felix had just returned to London, and was contemplating an early departure for Berlin, when an injury to his knee, the result of a carriage accident, compelled him to lie up for several weeks, and hence to forego a pleasure to which he had been looking forward with feelings of eager affection. Shortly before he left home Fanny’s engagement to William Hensel, a young painter of promise, had received her parent’s sanction, and it had been confidently expected that Felix would return in time for the marriage. The disappointment caused by the accident was therefore keenly felt both by himself and those at home. Hensel was clever, and by no means a stranger to the gatherings at the Gartenhaus; but his entry into the select and innermost circle of the brotherhood, armed with the kind of right which his engagement to Fanny had conferred upon him, caused him to be regarded in a new light, and it was not until a little time had elapsed that he found his way to their hearts by his gentle ways, assisted in no small degree by his pencil. At first the exclusiveness of a set which had received the title of ‘The Wheel,’ and which prided itself on the freemasonry which obtained amongst its members, was somewhat chilling; but Hensel was not easily discouraged; he took to drawing the members’ portraits as his contribution to the bonhomie of the circle, and with such success that ‘The Wheel’ soon came to regard him as an indispensable spoke, whilst the portraits multiplied until they formed a huge collection. Fanny’s marriage, moreover, did not imply any break in the family circle, for when her brother returned to Berlin he found that Hensel and his bride had taken up their residence in the Gartenhaus.
The grand tour had practically only begun, and was now to be resumed, but the visit to England was exercising over Mendelssohn’s mind a strong influence which, though not unconnected with the success and fame it had brought to him, might with more justice be ascribed to the sympathetic appreciation and kindness which he had received at the hands of the English. ‘A prophet is not without honour, save in his own country,’ and Berlin had so far held back the encouragement that strangers were so willing to accord him. Moreover, for one of his artistically sensitive temperament London possessed a magnetic charm that was lacking in Berlin. At home his very youth seemed to count against him, but in London it was, if anything, in his favour. The fame of his visit, however, had preceded him to Berlin, and shortly after his return he was offered the Professorship of Music at the University, an honour which he at once declined, feeling that its acceptance would not only interfere with his freedom in composition, but bind him down to an occupation which he confessed was not his forte. This Chair had been specially created in the hope that he would fill it, and it marks the first, though by no means the last, attempt on the part of the Berliners to secure his services for their city.
In the May following he set forth once more on his travels, bound for Venice, Florence, and Rome. He could not pass through Weimar, however, without paying a visit to Goethe; it proved to be the last meeting, and it was filled with incidents that left a deep impression on his mind. Never had the sympathy and friendship between the two been closer or more confidential than on this occasion. ‘There is much in my spirit that you must light up for me,’ said Goethe to Felix one day when they had been conversing together. Goethe called upon him continually for music, but showed an indifference towards Beethoven’s works; Felix, however, insisted that he must endure some of the master, and played to him the first movement of the ‘C minor Symphony.’ Goethe listened for a few moments, and then said: ‘That does not touch one at all; it only astonishes one.’ But Felix played on, and presently, after some murmuring to himself, the poet burst out with: ‘It is very great, it is wild! It seems as though the house were falling! What must it be with the whole orchestra!’
The tour was a long one, for several cities had to be visited before he could cross the Swiss frontier. Each day brought its full measure of incident and delightful sight-seeing. It was in Switzerland, however, that Mendelssohn’s passionate love for Nature was stirred to its depths. His Alpine walks were a revelation of Nature in her most decided moods, and one particular walk over the Wengern Alp was destined to be long remembered. The mountain summits were glittering in the morning air, every undulation and the face of every hill clear and distinct. Formerly it was their height alone that had impressed him, ‘now it was their boundless extent that he particularly felt—their huge, broad masses; the close connection of all those enormous fortresses, which seemed to be crowding together and stretching out their hands to each other.’
He loved all beautiful things, but he loved the sea best of all; it seemed to him to express in its varying moods every feeling which he himself possessed. ‘When there is a storm at Chiatamene,’ he wrote to Fanny when she was visiting Italy, ‘and the grey sea is foaming, think of me.’ And now as he approached Naples, and saw the sea sparkling in the sunlit bay, he exclaims: ‘To me it is the finest object in Nature! I love it almost more than the sky. I always feel happy when I see before me the wide expanse of waters.’ Again, the ancientness of Nature herself conveyed far more to him than any legend of antiquity connected with the works of man; he could not feel in ‘crumbling mason work’ the interest and fascination that existed for him in the unchanged outlines of the hills, or in the fact that the waves lapped the island which formed the refuge of Brutus, and the lichen-covered rocks bent over them then just as they did now. These were monuments on which no names were scribbled, no inscriptions carved, and to such he clung.
Yet in Rome itself he found a centre of unending interest and fascination. ‘All its measureless delights lay as a free gift before him; every day he picked out afresh some great historic object: one day a ramble about the ruins of the ancient city, another day the Borghese Gallery or the Capitol, or else St. Peter’s or the Vatican. So each day was one never to be forgotten, and this sort of dallying left each impression firmer and stronger. If Venice seemed like the gravestone of its own past, its ruinous, modern palaces and the enduring remembrance of a bygone supremacy giving it a disquieting, mournful impression, the past of Rome struck him as history itself; its monuments ennobled, and made one at the same moment serious and joyful, for there was joy in feeling how human creations may survive a thousand years and yet possess their quickening restoring, influence. Each day some new image of that past imprinted itself on his mind, and then came the twilight, and the day was at an end.’
The tour was not completed until the spring of the following year (1832), and during that interval two sad notes had been struck—the first being the death of Edward Ritz, the young violinist, Felix’s closest friend, from whom he admitted that he had taken the model of his delicate, musical handwriting; and the second that of Goethe. In connection with the latter loss Felix felt deeply for Zelter, for he knew how the old man had worshipped and leant upon the master-poet. ‘Mark my words,’ said Mendelssohn, when he received the sad intelligence, ‘it will not be long now before Zelter dies!’ The words were but too prophetic, for in less than two months from the day on which they were spoken Zelter had followed the master he loved so well.
Before the latter event happened, however, Mendelssohn had returned to London. His affection for the City had now become a settled part of his nature. Even amidst the sunshine of Naples, with the glittering sea before his eyes, he had longed for London. ‘That smoky nest is fated to be now and ever my favourite residence,’ he writes; ‘my heart swells when I think of it.’ Even with the love he felt for those who were awaiting his return to the Berlin home it must have been hard for him to tear himself away from London, where his genius and his attractive personality found recognition at every turn. Consequently it is not surprising that he should have found his way back to his ‘smoky nest’ before very long—this time accompanied by his father. It was Abraham Mendelssohn’s first visit, and it served to bring out more clearly than ever the closeness of the bond which united them. Felix nursed his father through an illness of three weeks’ duration with a tenderness and solicitude that called forth a touching tribute from the patient. ‘I cannot express,’ writes Abraham to Leah, ‘what he has been to me, what a treasure of love, patience, endurance, thoughtfulness, and tender care he has lavished on me; and much as I owe him indirectly for a thousand kindnesses and attentions from others, I owe him far more for what he has done for me himself.’
Two years later Mendelssohn was mourning the loss of this parent, whose sudden death had cast a deep gloom over a time when everything seemed to promise happily for the young composer. Only a month before the sad event Felix had joined the home-party at Berlin, and the house had once more assumed the full and complete life of its earlier days. The merriment, the joyous laughter were as hearty and resounding as they had been of yore, and there the father and mother had sat watching the fun—Abraham by this time quite blind, but keenly interested in all that was going on. Now the first definite break in that happy circle had come, shutting out the past for ever!
The extraordinary fullness which characterised Mendelssohn’s life—’he lived years whilst others would have lived only weeks,’ was the true remark of one who knew him well—reminds us of the impracticability of giving anything like a complete description of even its chief incidents. The stage at which our story has arrived does not, it is true, show him at the pinnacle of his fame as a composer, but if we entertained any doubts as to his greatness or his popularity at this time, we have only to imagine ourselves present at the scene which was being enacted on a certain afternoon in May, 1836, in the music-hall at Düsseldorf to be assured on both of these points. The long, low-pitched room is filled with an excited and enthusiastic audience applauding with all their might and main, for the first performance of Mendelssohn’s oratorio ‘St. Paul’ has just come to an end. Amidst the roars of applause the ladies of the chorus have risen from their seats, and, advancing to the spot where Mendelssohn stands bowing his acknowledgments to the audience and orchestra, they shower garlands upon him, and then to complete the display they place a crown of flowers upon the score itself.
Some time before this event the town of Düsseldorf had claimed his services as director of music, and a little later Leipzig had followed suit—the latter event marking the beginning of a connection fraught with results of the highest importance to the musical world, and of much happiness to Mendelssohn himself. It was at this period that he composed many of those charming part-songs, intended for performance in the open air, that have since become such recognised favourites; of these we need only recall ‘The Hunter’s Farewell’ and ‘The Lark’ as examples. But the time is marked for us in even clearer notes than these, for to this era belong several of his ‘Songs without Words’—those melodies which have grown into our hearts never, we may well believe, to be uprooted. Mendelssohn not only invented the title ‘Lieder ohne Worte,’ but also the style of composition itself. Sir Julius Benedict remarks that ‘at this period mechanical dexterity, musical claptraps, skips from one part of the piano to another, endless shakes and arpeggios, were the order of the day.’ Mendelssohn, however, would never sacrifice to the prevailing taste; his desire was to ‘restore dignity and rank to the instrument,’ and he accordingly wrote what Sir Julius aptly describes as these ‘exquisite little musical poems.’
The year of which we are speaking was productive of the deepest happiness to Mendelssohn, for it was that of his engagement to Cécile Jeanrenaud, the beautiful daughter of a French Protestant clergyman, whose acquaintance he had formed whilst on a visit to Frankfort. In the following spring they were married, and thus began for both a new life replete with happiness. In Cécile Felix found one who, out of her loving, gentle nature, could give him the sympathy and support that he needed, whilst she in turn received from her husband the fullest return that a grateful and sensitive heart, obedient to the promptings of a love that never wavered in its steadfastness and devotion, could bestow. No home life could have been happier, none more simple in its give and take of affection, than that of Mendelssohn and his wife; nothing transpired to destroy or even to obscure for a moment the halo of romance which surrounded it from the beginning, and which rendered it from first to last a marriage of love.
A picture of Mendelssohn at this period of his life shows us a short, slightly-built figure, with the dark, Jewish type of face, high forehead surmounted by thick, black, wavy hair, and dark brown eyes full of fire and animation, which we have already described as marking his appearance as a boy. The mouth was delicate and sensitive, the corners frequently curved into a smile. The change of expression in the eyes when playing, or stirred by any deep emotion, was most striking; ‘they would dilate and become nearly twice their ordinary size, the brown pupil changing to a vivid black.’ His lithe, muscular frame showed expression in all its movements corresponding with the actions of the mind; when he thoroughly agreed with a speaker he nodded so vigorously as to bring the black curls down over his face; his laughter was ringing and hearty, and merriment found added expression in the doubling up of his body and the shaking of his hand. His hands were small, with sensitive, tapering fingers, and when playing the fingers acted as if endowed with separate life and intelligence. There was no effeminacy connected with his lovable nature; he was quick to resent meanness or deceit, or wrong-doing of any kind. His anger was exceedingly sharp, and his manner of expressing contempt an astonishing revelation to those who had failed to grasp his character as a whole.
Despite his love of hard work no one more thoroughly enjoyed being lazy when there was nothing to do. Sleep was his never-failing resource when overtaxed—the power of compelling sound, refreshing sleep at the moment when it was most needed was one of the most remarkable traits of a temperament distinguished by its astonishing activity. Yet it may be taken perhaps as a part of his orderly nature, which in everything was governed by method. The completeness with which he carried out every detail connected with his work or his amusements excites our wonderment; the sense of neatness pervades the whole—nothing is wanting. He wrote numberless letters, many of them containing descriptions of scenery and incident such as entitle them to rank as literary productions—yet there is not the slightest evidence of haste or carelessness; even the writing itself is artistic in its delicacy and finish. He received countless letters, and he preserved them all by pasting them into scrapbooks kept for the purpose. The same scrupulous care is observable in the writing of his musical manuscripts, and no fewer than forty-four volumes of these works, constructed by his own hands, are preserved in the Imperial Library at Berlin. His talent for drawing was considerable, and his love for the pursuit enabled him to accumulate a large collection of finished works, in every one of which is exhibited the same painstaking care and accuracy with regard to detail. Finally, we must mention his devotion to his family. No more loving father could have been found than Mendelssohn was to his children; he entered into their games and lessons with the same eager desire to add to their enjoyment, or to ease their labours, as he displayed towards the greater world outside his home.
We must now hasten to record an event which was destined to stamp Mendelssohn’s career with undying fame—the completion of his oratorio ‘Elijah.’ This, his greatest work, owed its inspiration to a short passage in the book he reverenced most of all. One day his friend Hiller found him deep in the Bible. ‘Listen,’ he said, and then he read in a gentle, agitated voice the passage from the First Book of Kings, beginning with the words, ‘And behold, the Lord passed by.’ ‘Would not that be splendid for an oratorio!’ he exclaimed; and from that moment the idea began to grow in his mind. And as it grew he saw it in a clearer, brighter light, until, when the spring of 1846 arrived, the work was all but completed. In a letter to Jenny Lind, the famous singer and his intimate friend, he writes: ‘I am jumping about my room for joy! If it only turns out half as good as I fancy it is how pleased I shall be!’
The years intervening between the inception of this great work and its completion had brought no little anxiety and strain connected with his arduous labours, and they had brought one deep sorrow, the loss of his mother, whose death had been as sudden and unexpected as that of the father. Honours had been bestowed upon him by royal hands—the King of Prussia had personally conveyed to him his wishes that he should assume the directorship of music in Berlin, and when Mendelssohn found himself unable to retain the position he had begged him to reconsider his decision; the King of Saxony had made him Capellmeister to his Court; and last, but not least, he had received at the hands of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert such marks of personal regard and esteem as must have served to endear him more than ever to the country which had been foremost in recognising the greatness of his genius.
Those years, too, had witnessed the fruits of his unceasing labours for the advancement of his art in those centres over which his personal influence extended. Leipzig under him had become a musical centre to which young students and composers flocked, in order to obtain his opinion and guidance in respect to their work, or even, in many cases, to place themselves for a time where his methods could be studied and his personality enjoyed at the same time. Amongst others came William Sterndale Bennett, filled with enthusiasm, to profit by his advice, and to find in the master a kind and generous friend. Nor should we omit to mention, amongst the numerous offshoots of his labours, the foundation of the Conservatorium of Music at Leipzig, a scheme entirely due to his initiative, and which under his fostering care developed into one of the first academies of the day. Lastly, amidst the whirl of work he found time to carry out a project which he had for long cherished—the erection, at the threshold of the Thomas School at Leipzig, of a monument to the memory of Sebastian Bach.
On the morning of Wednesday, August 26, 1846, the Town Hall of Birmingham presented a scene of unusual animation. A huge crowd was entering its doors and taking possession of the phalanx of chairs occupying the floor of the building. In the gallery every seat had been taken an hour earlier, and very soon every eye was directed towards the conductor’s desk in expectation of Mendelssohn’s appearance. Eager anticipation was in the air, for this day was to witness the first performance of ‘Elijah’ under the baton of the composer, who had thus elected to submit his greatest work to the judgment of an English audience.
‘At half-past eleven o’clock,’ wrote one who was present on the occasion, ‘a deafening shout from the band and chorus announced the approach of the great composer. The reception he met with on stepping into his place from the assembled thousands was absolutely overwhelming, whilst the sun, emerging at that moment, seemed to illumine the vast edifice in honour of the bright and pure being who stood there, the idol of all beholders.’ The applause which broke forth at the end of the first part gave a sufficient indication of the impression which the audience had formed of the work, and at the conclusion the enthusiasm was such that the entire assembly rose to their feet, and shouted and waved for several minutes.
It was over, and Mendelssohn’s gratification at his reception was expressed in the letter which he wrote to his brother Paul the same evening: ‘No work of mine ever went so admirably at the first performance, or was received with such enthusiasm both by musicians and the public as this…. I almost doubt if I can ever hear one like it again.’
In April of the following year four performances of the ‘Elijah’ took place at Exeter Hall under his conductorship, the Queen and Prince Albert gracing the second performance with their presence. This was destined to be his last visit to these shores, and when he departed, after fulfilling a round of engagements which tried his strength to its uttermost limits, it was with the haunting shadow of coming illness. Scarcely had he rejoined his family at Frankfort than a messenger brought the sad intelligence that his sister Fanny had died suddenly at Berlin; the news was broken to him all too suddenly, and with a loud shriek he fell to the ground in a swoon.
From that moment his spirits failed him; there was no rebound from the deep depression into which he had fallen—only occasional flickerings of his former self showed that the struggle to assert his will-power over an ever-increasing loss of physical strength was still going on. There were moments, indeed, when it seemed to himself, if not to those who watched him with growing anxiety, that he was regaining his old buoyancy—the old craving for work which nothing seemed to have the power to destroy. But though compositions still came from his pen, though he had not yet given up hope in himself—’You shall have plenty of music from me; I will give you no cause to complain,’ he had remarked to an English publisher shortly before this time—it was plain to those nearest to him that the inexorable finger of death was pointing the way to the Valley of Shadows.
The streets of Leipzig were flooded with sunshine, though November had just entered upon its course, and though the approach of winter was apparent in the crispness of the air. Yet a cloud overhung the town which no degree of atmospheric brightness could dispel—a cloud of sorrow which took its birth from the placards affixed to the street corners, and spread its shadow over street after street, from one knot of inquirers to another, until the brief announcement which those placards conveyed became the common news, the common sorrow, of all. Mendelssohn was dead. On the evening of the previous day (November 4, 1847) the master whose bright, genial spirit had endeared him to so many hearts beyond the confines of his own circle, had passed to his rest. The blow had fallen with terrible swiftness, and we who love his music can only faintly realise how keenly those who knew and loved him, and who had come within the influence of his happy nature, must have felt the sudden break in that continuous flow of harmony which his life presented. Sweet as summer wind across the garden, wafting scents of choicest flowers, his life had passed over like a breath of heaven.
Without doubt his was a beautiful life—one of which, as it has been truly said, ‘there is nothing to tell that is not honourable to his memory, and profitable to all men.’ We cannot separate—we can have no wish to separate—such a life from the genius which enriched it, because the noble ideals which governed it throughout were embodied and expressed in the creations of that genius, as well as in his private conduct; rather should we be content to accept his life as it stands—in actions, deeds, and works—as a priceless gift, an indivisible whole.
Mendelssohn’s funeral was a very imposing one. The first portion of the ceremonies was performed at Leipzig, and was attended by crowds of musicians and students—one of the latter bearing on a cushion the silver crown presented to the composer by his pupils, side by side with the Order ‘Pour le Mérite’ conferred upon him by the King of Prussia. As the long procession went on its way to the Pauliner Church the band played the ‘Song without Words’ in E minor, and at the close of the service the final chorus from Bach’s ‘Passion’ was sung by the choir. At night the body was conveyed to Berlin for interment in the family burial-place in the Alte Dreifaltigkeits Kirch-hof. His resting-place, marked by a cross, is beside that of his sister Fanny, whilst on the other side of him rests his boy Felix, who died four years later.
MENDELSSOHN’S PRINCIPAL COMPOSITIONS
Die beiden Neffen. 1822.
The Wedding of Camacho, Op. 10. 1825.
The First Walpurgis Night, Op. 60. 1831-32.
Son and Stranger (Heimkehr), Op. 89. 1829.
Antigone, Op. 55. 1841.
Midsummer Night’s Dream, Op. 61. 1843.
Athalie, Op. 74. 1843-45.
Oedipus in Colonos, Op. 93. 1845.
Loreley (unfinished), Op. 98. 1847.
St. Paul, Op. 36. 1836.
Hymn of Praise (Lobgesang), Op. 52. 1840.
Elijah, Op. 70. 1846.
Lauda Sion, Op. 73. 1846.
Christus (unfinished), Op. 97. 1847.
Psalms, with orchestral accompaniment:
Ps. 115, Not unto us, Op. 31. 1830
Ps. 42, As the Hart pants, Op. 42. 1837.
Ps. 95, O come, let us sing, Op. 46. 1839.
Ps. 114, When Israel out of Egypt came, Op. 51. 1839.
Ps. 13, Lord, how long? Op. 96. 1840-43.
Ps. 98, Sing to the Lord, Op. 91. 1843.
Hear my Prayer. 1844.
Hymns of Praise (Festgesang). 1840.
Festgesang: To the Sons of Art, Op. 68. 1846.
Te Deum in A. 1846.
Jubilate, Magnificat, and Nunc Dimittis, Op. 69. 1847.
3 Motets for female voices and organ, Op. 39. 1830.
3 Psalms, unaccompanied, Op. 78 (Pss. 2, 43, and 22), 1844.6 short Anthems for 8-part chorus, Op. 79.
18 Part-songs for male voices.
28 Part-songs for mixed voices.
C minor, Op. 11. 1824.
D minor, The Reformation, Op. 107. 1830.
A, The Italian, Op. 90. 1833.
A minor, The Scotch, Op. 56. 1842.
Midsummer Night’s Dream, in E, Op. 21. 1826.
Military Band (Harmonie-musik) in C, Op. 24. 1824.
Fingal’s Cave, or Hebrides, in B minor, Op. 26. 1830
Meerestille, in D, Op. 27. 1828.
Melusine, in F, Op. 32. 1833.
Ruy Blas, in C minor, Op. 95. 1839.
The Trumpet, in C, Op. 101. 1825.
2 Marches for Orchestra:
Funeral March, in A minor, Op. 103. 1836.
Cornelius, in D, Op. 108. 1841.
Octet in E♭, Op. 20. 1825.
2 Quintets for Strings:
Op. 18, in A. 1831.
Op. 87, in B♭. 1845.
6 Quartets for Strings:
Op. 12, in E♭. 1829.
Op. 13, in A. 1827.
Op. 44, Nos. 1, 2, and 3, in D, E minor, and E♭ 1837-38.
Op. 80, in F minor. 1847.
Violin Concerto in E minor, Op. 64. 1844.
2 Pianoforte Concertos:
Op. 25, in G minor. 1832.
Op. 40, in D minor. 1837.
Sextet for pianoforte and strings, in D, Op. 110. 1824.
3 Quartets for Pianoforte and Strings:
Op. 1, in C minor. 1822.
Op. 2, in F minor. 1823.
Op. 3, in B minor. 1824-25.
2 Trios for Pianoforte and Strings:
Op. 49, in D minor, 1839.
Op. 66, in C minor, 1845.
Sonata for pianoforte and violin, in F minor, Op. 4. 1823.2 Sonatas for Pianoforte and Violoncello:
Op. 45, in B♭. 1838.
Op. 58, in D. 1843.
3 Sonatas for Pianoforte Solo:
Op. 6, in E. 1826.
Op. 105, in G minor. 1820-21.
Op. 106, in B♭. 1827.
8 Books of Songs without Words (Lieder ohne Worte), (each book containing 6 pieces):
Op. 19b. Pub. 1832.
Op. 30. ” 1835.
Op. 38. ” 1837.
Op. 53. ” 1841.
Op. 62. ” 1844.
Op. 67. ” 1845.
Op. 85. ” 1850.
Op. 102. ” 1868.
3 Fantasias for pianoforte (Andante and Allegro, Capriccio, and Rivulet), Op, 16. 1829.
17 Variations Sérieuses, Op. 54. 1841.
3 Preludes and Fugues for organ, Op. 37. 1837.
6 Sonatas for organ, Op. 65. 1844-45.
Soprano Aria, Infelice, Op. 94. 1834.