J. Cuthbert (James Cuthbert) Hadden.

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Schumann's personal appearance is familiar through
his portraits. One of his biographers gives this descrip-
tion of him towards the close of his life :

Robert Schumann was of middling stature, almost tall,
and slightly corpulent. His bearing, while in health, was
haughty, distinguished, dignified, and calm ; his gait slow,
soft, and a little slovenly. He often paced the room on tip-
toe, apparently without cause. His eyes were generally
downcast, half-closed, and only brightened in intercourse
with intimate friends, but then most pleasantly. His counte-
nance produced an agreeable, kindly impression ; it was
without regular beauty, and not particularly intellectual.
The fine-cut mouth, usually puckered as if to whistle, was,
next to the eyes, the most attractive feature of his round,
full, ruddy face. Above the heavy nose rose a high, bold,
arched brow, which broadened visibly at the temples. His
head, covered with long, thick, dark-brown hair, was firm,
and intensely powerful one might say square.

This is not very flattering, to say the least. Sir Stern-
dale Bennett, who had met him in Leipzig, was more
amusing, if less particular as to detail, when he wrote :

Herr Schumann is a first-rate man,
He smokes as ne'er another can ;
A man of thirty, I suppose,
Short is his hair, and short his nose.

As a man, Schumann was kind-hearted and gener-
ous and devoid of all professional jealousy. It was
only his fits of excessive depression and gloomy fore-
boding, his reserve and his extreme irritability all
born of the brain trouble that prevented him from
making friends more readily than he did. He once
wrote to Clara Wieck : " I am often very leathery, dry,
and disagreeable, and laugh much inwardly." And


again : " Inwardly I acknowledge the most trifling
favour, understand every hint, every subtle trait in
another's heart, and yet I so often blunder in what I
say and do." One of the best features in his character
was his fondness for young people, as indeed his
famous Album for the Young would suggest. There is a
pretty story of a little piece of funning he practised on
his own children when, meeting them one day on the
street, he pretended not to know who they were.
Whatever his outward manner, his heart was in the
right place.

It is only within comparatively recent years that
Schumann has attained anything like world -wide
recognition. He said of his own time that if he had
not made himself feared as an editor he would never
have got his works published. They were considered
" dry, eccentric, heavy, out of rule." We look upon
them rather differently now. Schumann's music, to use
a common phrase, is of the kind that grows upon one.
From its sheer originality, it is mostly difficult, some-
times even impossible, to grasp its full meaning at
first. Not only are the passages so novel and unusual
as to render the task of sight-playing more than
ordinarily hard ; but even when the notes are mastered,
the whole beauty of the thought does not always strike
the player. The music must be studied carefully and
heard repeatedly to be fully appreciated. Wagner
sneeringly said that " Schumann has a tendency to-
wards greatness." But in his own line Schumann is just
as great as Wagner is in his line. Liszt may have


exaggerated when he called him " the greatest music-
thinker since Beethoven " ; but we can all agree with
Liszt when he says : " The more closely we examine
Schumann's ideas, the more power and life do we dis-
cover in them ; and the more we study them, the more
we are amazed at the wealth and fertility which had
before escaped us." Schumann has now gained a secure
hold among music-lovers, and it is probable that he
will live when some of his contemporaries who passed
him on the road to popular favour have been all but


Few instances can be found in history of a man so amply gifted
with every good quality of mind and heart ; so carefully brought
up amongst good influences ; endowed with every circumstance
that would make him happy ; and so thoroughly fulfilling his
mission. Never perhaps could any man be found in whose life
there were so few things to conceal and to regret. SIR GEORGE

IT is a proverb that names go by contraries. But
proverbs are not always true. Mendelssohn's Christian
name was Felix, and what Berlioz said of Mendelssohn's
godson, Felix Moscheles, might truly be said of Men-
delssohn himself : " So long as thou art Felix, that is,
happy, thou shalt reckon on many friends." Mendels-
sohn stands as the type of the fortunate composer :
" rich, talented, courted, petted, loved, even adored."
His path was practically " roses, roses all the way."
He never knew the cares that beset the lives of
Beethoven, Mozart, Schubert, Wagner, and Schumann.
The fires of adversity never touched him.

Whom the gods love, die young, it is said. That
distinction Mendelssohn also enjoyed, and it gives an
additional glamour to his personality. He was one of
the most blameless characters in the whole history of

145 L


music. His aunt declared that during his whole careei
she failed to recall a word or deed that could be
criticised. Lampadius, one of his biographers, em-
phasises this. He says : " Living in loose capitals and
surrounded by unprincipled people, he was true to all
moral obligations, and perfect in all the relations of
son, brother, lover, husband, and father. Surrounded
by intriguers, he stood above them all, and was frank,
transparent, honourable, noble ; tempted by his sunny,
enthusiastic, alert nature to do simply bright and
genial things in music, he was thorough, studious,
earnest, religious, and steadfastly consecrated to the
highest and the best." Such was Felix Mendelssohn,
the composer of Elijah^ the man who conceived the
" Songs without Words."

Mendelssohn's father used to say : " Formerly 1
was the son of my father : now I am the father of my
son." This meant that he was himself of no account,
whereas his father and his son were famous. And that
was true. For Mendelssohn's grandfather was the
once distinguished scholar and philosopher, Moses
Mendelssohn. Moses was a Jew, and suffered all the
disabilities which the Jews suffered at that time. He was
small and hump-backed, too. And he was very poor ;
so poor that at one time his sole food was a weekly
loaf, on which he carefully marked off his day's allow-
ance, in case he should be tempted to forestall to-
morrow's meal. But he had pluck and perseverance,
and he rose to a high position. Here is a story of him.
He had applied for the post of Court chaplain, and


the Emperor told him that his success would depend
upon the extempore sermon he should preach from a
text given him when he was in the pulpit. At the
critical moment Moses found that he had got a blank
sheet of paper, but he did not lose his presence of mind,
and very soon warmed up to an eloquent discourse on
the creation of the world from nothing !

This, then, was the composer's grandfather. His
father, Abraham Mendelssohn, was a banker who had
improved his already good position in Hamburg by
marrying a lady of property. The first fruit of the
union was a daughter named Fanny ; the second was
the future musician, Jakob Ludwig Felix, born at
Hamburg on the 3rd of February 1809. Shortly after
his birth, Hamburg fell into the hands of the French,
and the family fled to Berlin, where the banking busi-
ness was continued. By this date Abraham Mendels-
sohn had realised the practical inconveniences of
being a Jew ; so he decided to bring up his family as
Protestant Christians. At the same time he added
the name of his wife's family, Bartholdy, to his own,
desiring to be known by that rather than by so obvi-
ously Jewish a name as Mendelssohn. He tried to get
his son to call himself Felix M. Bartholdy, that is, to
drop the Mendelssohn altogether. The son declined,
but he compromised by writing the full name, Felix
Mendelssohn-Bartholdy. To-day no one thinks of
using the double-barrelled name. Mendelssohn does
not belong to Judaism, but to the world.

Felix and Fanny, most loving of brothers and sisters,


were both musical. They remind one of Mozart and
his sister. The mother was their first instructor, and it
is delightful to read of her sitting beside them while
they practised, and wondering at what she called their
" Bach-fugue fingers." Fanny at first showed gifts equal
to her brother, and Mendelssohn used to say that she
played better than himself. But, like most girls, she
" wentand got married,"and music lost what might have
been a modestly rich inheritance. When the mother's
teaching limits were reached, a couple of masters were
called in, one for piano, another for theory. The theory
master was Zelter, who had been a pupil of Bach. But
so far, Mendelssohn, like his sister, was simply taking
music as one of the adjuncts of a liberal education.
There was as yet no idea of his making a profession
of it. Abraham Mendelssohn only wanted to clothe
his children with the essentials of general culture, and
music had to be included.

In course of time, however, the boy declared em-
phatically for music as a profession. The father hesi-
tated, though he had really been encouraging Felix
all along, especially with music-makings in the home,
when the boy would conduct the improvised orchestra.
He would not rely on his own judgment, anyway. He
would take the boy to Paris, and consult Cherubini
about him. This was in 1825. "The lad is rich," said
Cherubini ; " he will do well in music. I myself will
talk to him, and then he will do well." The " and then "
is delectable, and just expresses the character of Cheru-
bini, whom Mendelssohn compared with an extinct vol-


cano covered with ashes and occasionally belching forth
flames. However, it settled the matter for Mendelssohn.
Very soon the stream of composition was running freely,
and the young artist was working away at the pro-
fession of his life. The first really notable work that
came from his pen was the overture to the Midsummer
Nighfs Dream, written when he was only seventeen.
For neatness of expression, freshness of invention,
management of form, and delicacy and finish of orches-
tration, Mendelssohn never surpassed this early work.
It took him the best part of a year to write it, but
surely it was a year well spent.

His life went on somewhat uneventfully for years
after this ; and when 1829 came his parents sent him
off to England on the beginning of a "grand tour,"
which was to extend through most of the countries of
Europe. Landing in London, he had his Midsummer
Night's Dream overture performed, and the effect was
electrical. All at once, and when least expected, the
great gap left by the death of Beethoven seemed likely
to be filled up. The story is told that after the per-
formance the full score of the overture was left in a
cab and entirely disappeared ; but Mendelssohn wrote
it all out again from memory, and it was found to
be almost perfectly exact when compared with the
separate orchestral parts.

Mendelssohn had a great affection for London. He
called it "the grandest and the most complicated
monster on the face of the earth." He came to it again
and again, and was never tired of praising the " smoky


nest." Amid the glories of a Naples spring he could write
that " My heart swells when I even think of London.'
On this first visit he lodged with a Mr. Heinke, a German
ironmonger, at 103 (now 79) Great Portland Street. Mrs.
Heinke made capital bread-and-butter puddings, and
Mendelssohn was so fond of them that he asked her
to keep a reserve in the cupboard of his sitting-room,
so that he might help himself when he came in late at
night. The cup supporting a pie-crust was a novelty
to him, and he was always much amused when it was
lifted and the juice bubbled out. He had the simple
enjoyments of an overgrown boy. An incident of this
same visit may be told in his own words. He says :
" The other day we three walked home from a highly
diplomatic party, having had our fill of fashionable
dishes, sayings, and doings. We passed a very enticing
sausage shop, in which ' German Sausages, twopence
each, 1 were laid out for show. Patriotism overcame
us ; each bought a long sausage. We turned into where
it was quieter, Portland Street, and there consumed our
purchases, Rosen and I being hardly able, for laughing,
to join in the three-part songs of which Miihlenfelds
would sing the bass." Mendelssohn had a rich apprecia-
tion of a joke. One English story vastly amused him.
It was this : At a country funeral the parish clerk, or
sexton, appeared in a red waistcoat. When the clergy-
man remonstrated with him upon the unseemly colour,
the clerk replied : " Well, what does it matter, youi
reverence, so long as the heart is black ? "

Mendelssohn had two grand pianos in his rooms at


the Heinkes', and he was constantly practising. More-
over, he practised on a dumb keyboard while sitting
up in bed. His public appearances were greeted with
wild enthusiasm. The best account of them is in his
own letters, for he was a charming letter-writter. " Old
John Cramer led me to the piano like a young lady,"
he says, " and I was received with immense applause."
At a morning concert he played Weber's Concertstuck,
when he was dressed in "very long white trousers, brown
silk waistcoat, black necktie, and blue dress coat." Of
another concert he tells, with consummate amusement,
how a lady accidentally sat on a kettledrum.

The season closed, and at the end of July he set off
for Edinburgh. He wanted to see Scotland, he said,
because of the Waverley Novels t a\\ of which he had read.
For companion he took with him his friend Carl Klinge-
mann, then secretary to the Hanoverian Embassy in
London. He was enraptured with Edinburgh, and the
Highland soldiers marching from the church to the
Castle specially took his attention. He even got a
Scots piper to play to him at his hotel. He was in a
mood to be pleased with everything and everybody.
" How kind the people are in Edinburgh, and how
generous is the good God ! " he wrote home. " The
Scotch ladies," he naively observes, " deserve notice."
The last evening of the visit was devoted to Holyrood,
"where Queen Mary lived and loved." The chapel,
he writes, " is now roofless ; grass and ivy grow there " ;
and he adds : " I believe I found to-day, in that old
chapel, the beginning of my Scotch Symphony" The


Scotch Symphony was indeed a direct result of this visit,
as was also the Hebrides overture.

For Mendelssohn was not satisfied with seeing Edin-
burgh. By way of Stirling and Perth, he and Klinge-
mann proceeded to the Highlands, with Highland
weather accompanying them till they reached Glasgow.
Earth and sky, in Mendelssohn's phrase, were " wet
through." At Bridge of Tummel they were housed in
an inn where they had " Scotch wooden shoes " for
slippers, " tea with honey and potato cakes," and
whisky. The little boys, "with their kilts and bare knees
and gay-coloured bonnets, the waiter in his tartan, old
people with pigtails, all talk helter-skelter in their un-
intelligible Gaelic." No wonder the travellers thought
they had " stumbled on a bit of culture " when they
struck Fort-William ! Later on, at Tobermory, they
found everything " perfectly charming." Klingemann
had somehow confounded the Hebrides with the Hes-
perides, and was disappointed (so he says) to find the
oranges in the toddy instead of on the trees ! But both
Germans were getting used to "good Scots drink."
A visit to Staffa and lona proved that they were not
getting used to Atlantic weather. Mendelssohn was a
bad sailor, and was most unromantically sea-sick. To
make matters worse, it rained all the time, until he
exclaimed in despair that the Highlands appeared to
brew nothing but whisky and bad weather. It was a
constant matter of dispute between him and Klinge-
mann whether the wet should be called rain or mist.
There were no beds on the boat, and the passengers lay




about like herrings. Klingemann tells that when half
asleep he tried to drive away the flies from his face and
found that he was tearing at the grizzly locks of an old
Highlander. Discomforts of various kinds attended
them till they got to Glasgow, but in spite of it all,
Mendelssohn hugely enjoyed himself. In one of his
Glasgow letters he says : " It is no wonder that the
Highlands have been called melancholy. But two
fellows have wandered merrily about them, laughed
at every opportunity, rhymed and sketched together,
growled at one another and at the world when they
happened to be vexed or did not find anything to eat ;
devoured everything eatable when they did find it, and
slept twelve hours every night. These two were we,
who will not forget it as long as we live." Nor has the
musical world forgotten it, for if it had not been for that
tour of 1829, we should not, as already indicated, have
had the Scotch Symphony and the Hebrides overture.

The Scottish tour was almost immediately followed
by a tour in Italy. There were other wanderings, in-
cluding a visit to Paris, where, to use his own expres-
sion, Mendelssohn " cast himself thoroughly into the
vortex." He was never in love with Paris and its musical
ways, any more than Mozart. Parisians, he complained,
were ignorant of Beethoven, and " believed Bach to be
a mere old-fashioned wig stuffed with learning." When
he met Chopin in 1834 his criticism was that Chopin
"laboured a little under the Parisian love for effect
and strong contrasts, and often lost sight of time, and
calmness, and real musical feeling." It was, however,


in Paris that Chopin, Berlioz, Hiller, and Mendelssohn
all of similar age, might have been seen arm-in-arm,
promenading, and enjoying life to the full.

This period of Mendelssohn's career produced the
Walpurgis Night, the great Symphony in A major, the
Melusine overture, and the first of those famous " Songs
without Words" which have been the companions
of all lovers of classical piano music since they were
first published. Piano music, when Mendelssohn began
writing them, was mostly given over to mechanical
dexterity. Musical claptraps, skips from one end of
the keyboard to the other, endless shakes and arpeggios
that was the kind of thing in vogue. Mendelssohn's
aim in these Lieder ohm Worte was to restore the ill-
treated piano to its dignity and rank ; and with what
success he carried out his purpose, every pianist knows.
The name, Lieder ohne Worte, was Mendelssohn's own.
The English equivalent was not settled without diffi-
culty. The first book was published in 1832, with the
title of Original Melodies for the Pianoforte. It is
astonishing to recall the fact that this first book took
four years to reach a sale of 1 14 copies. It was Mos-
cheles who found a publisher for it, and, foreseeing
its value, arranged for a royalty for the composer.
Mendelssohn, a year later, feared that his share would
not amount to sixpence, but the publisher's books a
few weeks after this time show that he received 4 : i6s.
as royalty on forty-eight copies sold.

In 1833 Mendelssohn was appointed "Municipal
Music Director" at Dusseldorf, and it was there that


he began his oratorio St. Paul, a work which has been
quite eclipsed in popularity by the companion Elijah.
The Diisseldorf engagement formed really the starting-
point in his professional career. Hitherto home influ-
ences had prevailed ; now he was to be dependent on
himself. Unfortunately he did not find the Diisseldorf
duties agreeable. He complained that by four in the
afternoon half the town was drunk, so that he had to
do all his business in the morning. And the band was
far from being to his mind. " I assure you," he wrote
to Hiller, " that, at the beat, they all come in separ-
ately, not one with any decision, and in the piano the
flute is always too loud ; and not a single Diisseldorfer
can play a triplet clearly, but all play a quaver and two
semiquavers, and every allegro leaves off twice as fast
as it began, and they carry their fiddles under their
coats when it rains, and when it is fine they don't
cover them at all. If you once heard me conduct this
orchestra, not even four horses could bring you there
a second time." This takes a very humorous view of
the situation, but Mendelssohn found it anything but
humorous ; and it was a great relief to him when he
was appointed conductor of the famous Gewandhaus
concerts at Leipzig. Here the conditions were entirely
congenial, and he went on with his work in the best
of spirits, the musical idol of the town.

Still, there was something wanting to complete
his happiness. He wanted a wife. In 1836 he went
to Frankfort on a professional engagement, and an
engagement of another kind soon followed. It was by


the merest chance that he met Ccile Jeanrenaud, who
was the daughter of a clergyman of the French Re-
formed Church ; and the fact that he had fallen in love
at first sight suggested caution to his prudent mind.
He would test his feelings by going away for a month.
If he were then still in love, he would propose. The
result of the test we can gather from the following
letter of September 1836, addressed to his mother : " I
have only this moment returned to my home, but I can
settle to nothing till I have written to tell you that I
have just been accepted by Ccile. My head is quite
giddy ; it is already late at night, and I have nothing
else to say ; but I must write to you, I feel so rich and
happy. To-morrow I will, if I can, write a long letter,
and so, if possible, will my dear betrothed."

Mendelssohn nearly lost his head with blissful ex-
citement. The marriage took place in March 1837, and
during the honeymoon Mendelssohn expressed himself
as more ecstatic than ever. As bad luck would have it,
he had to tear himself away from his wife and start for
England to conduct his St. Paul at the Birmingham
Festival. And this is how he growls, writing to Hiller
from London : " Here I sit in the fog, very cross, with-
out my wife, writing you because your letter of the day
before yesterday requires it, otherwise I should hardly
do so, for I am much too cross and melancholy to-day.
I must be a little fond of my wife, because I find that
England and the fog, and beef and porter, have such
a horribly bitter taste this time, and I used to like them
so much."


Mendelssohn's married life was supremely happy.
His beautiful, gentle, sensible wife spread a charm over
the whole household, which enabled him to throw off
such professional outside worries as beset him during
his short, strenuous career. Everybody who met her
praised Frau Mendelssohn. When Moscheles paid his
first visit to the pair, he wrote : " Mendelssohn's wife
is very charming, very unassuming and child-like, but
not in my judgment a perfect beauty, because she is
a blonde." So many men, so many ideas of female
beauty ! The Leipzig home looked out upon the St.
Thomas school and church, once the scene of Bach's
labours. This was probably no accident, for Mendels-
sohn's reverence for Bach was profound. He revived
the Matthew Passion at Berlin when he was only
twenty. During his visits to London, he was con-
stantly preaching, playing, or talking about Bach. His
performances of the organ preludes andfugues at various
London churches, and at the Birmingham Festival,
aroused great interest. It was he, too, who was chiefly
instrumental in raising the Leipzig monument to the
memory of Bach. Mendelssohn, in fact, "restored
Bach to a world that had forgotten him for a hundred
years," and this service alone was an immortality.

Leipzig remained Mendelssohn's home until 1841,
when, at the instance of the recently -crowned Frederick
William IV., he went to Berlin as prospective musical
director of an Academy of Arts. Prospective, for the
thing was still in the air ; where, so far as Mendelssohn
was concerned, it remained. He had never liked Berlin ;


and as the Academy arrangements were still in a state
of chaos, he returned to Leipzig after a year's waiting.
About this time the King bestowed on him the Order

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Online LibraryJ. Cuthbert (James Cuthbert) HaddenMaster musicians; a book for players, singers and listeners → online text (page 10 of 17)