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A Day with Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy by Sampson


[Illustration: _Painting by N. M. Price._ FIRST WALPURGIS NIGHT. "Through the night-gloom lead and follow In and out each rocky hollow."]




_In the same Series._ _Beethoven._ _Schubert._


During the year 1840 I visited Leipzig with letters of introduction from Herr Klingemann of the Hanoverian Legation in London. I was a singer, young, enthusiastic, and eager--as some singers unfortunately are not--to be a musician as well. Klingemann had many friends among the famous German composers, because of his personal charm, and because his simple verses had provided them with excellent material for the sweet little songs the Germans love so well. I need scarcely say that the man I most desired to meet in Leipzig was Mendelssohn; and so, armed with Klingemann's letter, I eagerly went to his residence--a quiet, well-appointed house near the Promenade. I was admitted without delay, and shown into the composer's room. It was plainly a musician's work-room, yet it had a note of elegance that surprised me. Musicians are not a tidy race; but here there was none of the admired disorder that one instinctively associates with an artist's sanctum. There was no litter. The well-used pianoforte could be approached without circuitous negotiation of a rampart of books and papers, and the chairs were free from encumbrances. On a table stood some large sketch-books, one open at a page containing an excellent landscape drawing; and other spirited sketches hung framed upon the walls. The abundant music paper was perhaps the most strangely tidy feature of the room, for the exquisitely neat notation that covered it suggested the work of a careful copyist rather than the original hand of a composer. I could not refrain from looking at one piece. It was a very short and very simple Adagio cantabile in the Key of F for a solo pianoforte. It appealed at once to me as a singer, for its quiet, unaffected melody seemed made to be sung rather than to be played. The "cantabile" of its heading was superfluous--it was a Song without Words, evidently one of a new set, for I knew it was none of the old. But the sound of a footstep startled me and I guiltily replaced the sheet. The door opened, and I was warmly greeted in excellent English by the man who entered. I had no need to be told that it was Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy himself.

Nature is strangely freakish in her choice of instruments for noble purposes. Sometimes the delicate spirit of creative genius is housed in a veritable tenement of clay, so that what is within seems ever at war with what is without. At times the antagonism is more dreadful still, and the artist-soul is sent to dwell in the body of a beast, coarse in speech and habit, ignorant and dull in mind, vile and unclean in thought. But sometimes Nature is generous, and makes the body itself an expression of the informing spirit. Mendelssohn was one of these almost rare instances. In him, artist and man were like a beautiful picture appropriately framed. He was then thirty-one. In figure he was slim and rather below the middle height, and he moved with the easy grace of an accomplished dancer. Masses of long dark hair crowned his finely chiselled face; but what I noticed first and last was the pair of lustrous, dark brown eyes that glowed and dilated with every deep emotion. He had the quiet, assured manner of a master; yet I was not so instantly conscious of that, as of an air of reverence and benignity, which, combined with the somewhat Oriental tendency of feature and colour, made his whole personality suggest that of a young poet-prophet of Israel.

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