DEATH OF IIENDELSSOHN.
SINCE the untimely death of Mozart, cut off, somewhat more than half a century ago, at the early age of thirty-aix, no calamity has befallen the art of music so heavy as the no less untimely death of Mendelssohn' cut off a few days ago in his thirty-ninth year. No similar event, in our day, has been of a nature to produce so deep an impression, except perhaps the death of Weber, whose brilliant career was suddenly closed at the age of eight-and-thirty: but even the death of Weber did not extinguish such high hopes as those which have been blasted by the fate of Mendelssohn.
The present brief notice of his life and character is a tribute to his me- mory from one who enjoyed his friendship ever since his first arrival in this country, eighteen years ago—who rejoiced in his growing fame, and now, in ccmmon with all who knew him, deplores his loss.
Felix Mendelssohn's life, though short, was happy. He was a rare in- stance of a great artist passing through the world free from the cares and struggles which genius is generally heir to. He was the son of an eminent banker in Berlin, and the grandson of the famous Moses Mendelssohn, whose dialogue on the Immortality of the Soul gained for him the name of the modern Plato. Felix was born on the 3d of February 1809; and showed the bent of his mind so strongly at a very early age, that his father re- solved to give him the complete and regular education of a musician. He studied counterpoint and composition for some time at Paris, under Che- rubini, and afterwards under Zelter, the Director of the Singing Academy of Berlin,—one of the greatest contrapuntists of the Age, who has acquired posthumous literary celebrity by the recent publication of his correspond- ence with Goethe. In that correspondence the illustrious poet often speaks of-the gifted boy in terms. of affectionate admiration. On the pianoforte he received instructions from Berger, Moscheles and Hummel. Like Mozart, and all other musicians who have exhibited early genius, Mendelssohn produced many juvenile compositions which have not been preserved, and among them no fewer than three operas. His first published work was one which is still known and prized; his three Quartets for the pianoforte, violin, viola, and violoncello. In these pieces he first showed that love for the minor mode which is so conspicuous in all his music. All of them are in minor keys; and such is their originality and beauty that they share with the quartets of Mozart and Beethoven the admiration of the most accomplished amateurs. In 1827, when he was sixteen, his comic opera, Die lloehzeit des Camas& (" The Wedding of Camacho") was per- formed at the Berlin Operahouse. He himself, with the modesty which distinguished him no less than genius, was averse to its production; and his reluctance was overcome only by the sense of filial duty, which led him to comply with the wish of his parents. The performance was conducted by Spontini and the piece was received with tumultuous applause; but some cci udentt1 circumstance (the indisposition of a performer, we believe) pre- vented its repetition at the time, and the author's own severe judgment Was opposed to its subsequent resumption. It was published in a piano- forte arrangement; in which form it will be found a delightful work. The music is not only beautiful, but full of character and viz cornice. Sancho's drollery is admirably contrasted with the grandiose gravity of the knight, who never opens his mouth without a sonorous accompaniment of trombones. The parts of the hero and heroine, Basileus and Quiteria, have much romantic tenderness and grace; and the concerted pieces are rich and masterly. There is, in particular, a nuptial chorus, for female voiees,--Which has all the delicious simplicity of Mozart.* This publication of Mendelssohn's only opera is very scarce, and little known; and though_ a -revival of so youthful a work on the stage is not to be attempted, yet it contains too many beauties to be lost. Its republication for chamber performance, and the production at concerts of the principal morceaux, would be very gratifying.
Before this time a collection of twelve Songs had been published at Ber- lin, all of them Under Mendelssohn's name- but three of them (not less beautiful than the others) were composed by his sister. She was akin to him in mind as well as in blood; and her musical acquirements, in their youth, were hardly inferior to his own. The late lamented John Thom- son, the first Professor of Music in the University of Edinburgh, who soon aftei-Mendelssohn's _first visit to England was hospitably entertained at his father's house in Berlin, thus describes Miss Mendelssohn's musical attain- ments--" Miss M. is-a first-rate pianoforte-player, and is no superficial musician. She has studied the science deeply, and writes with the free- dom of a master. Her songs are distinguished by tenderness, warmth, and originality- some, which I heard, were exquisite." This lady, to whom Mendelssohn was fondly attached, afterwards became the wife of Mr. Hen- selt, a distinguished painter. She died a few months ago; and grief for her probably contributed to the brother's malady, which has ended so fatally.
It was in the season of 1829, when Mendelssohn was in his twentieth year, that he first visited this country. His reputation was already con- siderable, not only in consequence of the works above mentioned, but of several masterly Quartets tor stringed instruments, Sonatas, and orchestral pieces, particularly the Overture to The Midsummer Night's .Dream. Very soon after his arrival, this Overture, and his Symphony in C minor (then newly written,) were performed by the Philharmonic Society, with the greatest success. During that season, he visited Edinburgh, and made the tour of the Highlands; a journey of which he has left remarkable reminis- cences. In Edinburgh he attended (in company with the present writer) the annual "Competition of Bagpipers," and heard the pibrochs with an in- terest wholly unexpected by his companions, who had imagined that such uncouth sounds would only offend his refined ear. He listened intently to every piece, drawing comparisons between the powers of the different per- former; and their instruments; and afterwards spoke warmly of the spirit- stirring character of those ancient warlike strains of the North. The im- pressions he received on this occasion, and during his Highland journey, were vividly reproduced in his Overture The Isles of Fingal; and, still more lately, in the Symphony in A minor, which he composed for the Phil- harmonic Society, the slow movement and finale of which are based on the pipe music of Scotland.
Since the above period his visits to this country have been frequent. He was warmly attached to England. He found his genius appreciated, from the beginning, with a readiness and fullness not surpassed even in his native country; and he gained "troops of friends" by his amiable dispo-
* An adaptation of this chorus to English words, by the writer of the present notice, appeared in the Harmonicon for March 1830. sition and pleasing manners. He was, moreover, master of our language and conversant with our literature; and among the musicians of this coun- try, as well as in its general society, he felt himself completely at home. Among his visits to England, the most remarkable were those which pre_ ceeded from the invitations of the Committee of the Birmingham Festival, in 1837, 1840, and 1846. On the first of these occasions, the Oratorio of St. Paul was produced; on the second, the great Cantata called the Lobge- sang, or Hymn of Praise; and on the third, the immortal Elijah. Three seasons ago he was engaged to conduct the concerts of the Philharmonic Society; and in the present year he directed several performances of his Elijah in Exeter Hall, and also at Birmingham and Manchester.
During this last visit, though as active as ever, he seemed oppressed and over-excited by an accumulation of avocations and cares, and gave vent to earnest aspirations for rest and tranquillity. With the view of obtaining these, he took up his abode at Interlachen, in Switzerland; where he re_ mained till within these few weeks, and then returned to his home at Leipsic. In Switzerland, however, he was not idle; for he appears to have composed two stringed-instrument Quartets, and to have been employe upon an opera, with the subject of which (a wild German legend) he ex pressed himself greatly pleased. He arrived at home in apparent health; but, on the 8th of October, had an attack of an apoplectic nature, which, after several intermissions, proved fatal on the 4th of this mouth. Mos- cheles, who witnessed his last moments, says, (in a letter which has been published,) that he was insensible for some hours before his death, and expired without suffering. During all his illness, Mrs. Moscheles as- sisted his afflicted family in tending his sick bed, with unremitting assiduity.
Mendelssohn has left a young widow and several children. Madame Mendelssohn accompanied him in one of his visits to England, and was justly admired for her qualities of mind and graces of person.
When he was seized with his last sickness, he was on the eve of setting out for Vienna to direct the performance of his Elijah by a baud and chorus of a thousand performers. Next year he was again to have visited Eng- land, for various purposes; one of which was to direct the performance of one of his own works at the Norwich Festival. All these plans and pros- pects, alas! are ended fur ever.
Anything like a view of Mendelssohn's character as a musician would demand an analysis into which it is impossible at present to enter; and it is the less necessary, as his principal works, on the occasions of their vari- ous performances, have been fully described and criticized in this journal. Though his genius embraced a wide range of art, yet his inclination evi- dently led him to its highest branch, the Oratorio; which from its pre- eminence may be likened to the epic in poetry. Spohr and Mendelssohn, a few days since, were the only living possessors of the mantle of Handel, which now rests undivided upon the shoulders of the venerable musician of Cassel. Between the illustrious dead and the equally illustrious living we desire not to make comparisons exalting the one at the expense of the other. They themselves have been united by the bonds of esteem and affection; and the works of both ought to be regarded by the world as they regarded the works of each other. In construction and style they differ widely; each possesses peculiar excellences and defects: but they are akin in sublimity and beauty; and the Last Judgment and Elijah will descend to the latest posterity along with the Messiah and the Creation. But with respect to Mendelssohn, there is one consideration which must strike every one—his state of progress, and its accelerating rapidity to the last moment of his career. St. Ford is a.great work—one of the greatest works of the age: but Elijah exhibits a sustained grandeur and power, a depth of thought, a freedom from conventional forms, and a mastery of all the resources of art, which excited as great and general astonishment as if St. Paul had never existed. In El;jah Mendelssohn appeared to have taken a new flight into the regions of inspiration, the ultimate height of which no one could even imagine. In the great orchestral Symphony, too, Spohr and Mendelssohn shared the vacant throne of Beethoven, and the veteran of Cassel is now its sole , occupant. As a composer for the pianoforte, Mendelssohn's works trans- cend everything that has been produced since those of Beethoven; and as a performer on that instrument, in every quality belonging to legitimate art, he had no superior. As an organist—in his manner of developing the powers of the instrument, and in the depth, imagination, and exhaustless variety of his extemporaneous playing—he realized the conceptions we are led from tradition to form of Handel and Bach.
That he has not left to the world a single opera the fruit of his matured genius, is much to be regretted. It is not to be questioned that in this branch of his art, as in others, he would have reached the highest excel- lence. He desired to compose an opera, and frequently expressed a wish to obtain a suitable poem; but his severe judgment and delicate taste led him to reject many that were submitted to him. When at length he was satis- fied, and began his work, he was cut off in the middle of it. His music, however, for The Midsummer Night's Dream, and for the Antigone of Se- phocles, shows what he might have done in the loftiest walk of dramatic composition.