Because 2019 marks Mendelssohn (1809-1847)’s 210th anniversary, and tomorrow (Feburuary 3) is the day he was born.
Blessed with stylistic versatility at its height and unquestionable artistic talents, Mendelssohn was regarded one of the most loved, respected and admired musical figures, if not THE one, in the 19th century around Germany and throughout Europe.
We know Mendelssohn on present days thorugh works such as the Symphony in A “Italia”, Songs Without Words, Rondo Capriccioso and the Violin Concerto all of which reflect intellectual brilliance and characteristic expressivity at its highest form.
Robert Schumann (1810-1856) once described Mendelssohn as “Mozart of the 19th century”, and he enjoyed the lifetime of rich musical career in the centre of attention of all music amateurs as well as his contemporaries.
That said, the posthumous reception of Mendelssohn’s music has been hardly as favourable as it would be during his life, and it seems to be outshined by that of Wagner, Strauss and Brahms in various musical scenes of today’s world with the rise of nationalism and modernism.
The assumptions about Mendelssohn we often encounter are as follows:
・Mendelssohn lived wealthily his whole life
・Mendelssohn experienced no drama or hardship in his life
・Mendelssohn was traumatized with the fact that he was a Jew, and he was constantly at the risk of expulsion under the anti-Semitic movement
・Mendelssohn was never upset, furious or with vile temper
・Mendelssohn’s music has no philosophical or emotional depth as discerned in later Romantic music
As much as it is disappointing, these assumptions (or rather hypotheses) have been, at large, maintained in the post-war educational circumstances in many academic resources and elsewhere.
Nontheless, Mendelssohn’s life and music have only just begun to be re-evaluated amongst researchers and musicologists with recent discoveries of unknown documents and historical records (such as manuscripts, letters, pictures etc.).
For instance, the hypothesis that Mendelssohn’s early death was caused by “stress” and “fatigue” significantly contradicts to recent medical and anatomical findings which proves that his death owes to a brain tumor which he had from a young age.
The problem with the present evaluation of Mendelssohn lies in the limitation of reliable sources of information necessary to examine the validity of those assumptions. I’ve written a treatise on Mendelssohn myself before and I find it rather difficult to construct an overall view of this man in short words without referring to his family backgrounds, his creed in life and music, his likes and dislikes, his social contacts, reputations not only as composer but also as pianist, conductor and teacher.
On this blog in 2019, let us celebrate this exceptional artist and at the same time, let us, by all means, attempt to demystify the truth of the life and music of Mendelssohn with the help of a number of testimonials given by his friends and critics, in the hope of unravelling the reason why Mendelssohn’s music has been less often performed in modern concerts than that of his counterparts, how this tendency took shape and whether the allegations mentioned above could be verified.
Keep tuned for the upcoming posts.