Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Lives in Letters

From Pied Beauty:
I first ventured into this world by way of Felix Mendelssohn's Reisebriefe. One of the first was a letter in which Mendelssohn described to his family his visit with Goethe at Goethe's home in Weimar. It is the closest we can come to actually being in Goethe's parlour with Mendelssohn playing the piano. After playing the old poet many pieces pieces by Bach (Goethe loved the music of Bach) and Mozart, Felix (it is almost impossible to read his letters without coming to be on a first name basis with him) said to his elderly friend, "Now I will play you some Beethoven," but Goethe said that he did not wish to hear any Beethoven. "I'm sorry," replied the young composer, "but I can't help it!" and then he launched into a piano reduction of Beethoven's fifth symphony. Goethe listened to the music, and then said, "That was splendid, but if all the musicians were here playing it together, wouldn't the house fall in?"

Throughout the course of Felix's letters, his recipients become as interesting as himself. His father, Abraham Mendelssohn, who did not know the strength of his own personality, and who constantly underestimated his own intellectual abilities; his mother Lea Mendelssohn, the great lover of literature and languages, whose favorite play was Der Sturm, that is Shakespeare's The Tempest, and who had been the primary teacher of Felix and his siblings; his younger, fun-loving, Greek reading sister Rebecka; his shy, cello-playing younger brother Paul; and most of all, his beloved sister Fanny, the queen of German chamber music. (Read more.)

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