Felix Mendelssohn

Jakob Ludwig Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy, born in Hamburg 1809, became one of the most influential composers and conductors of the early Romantic period. A talented pianist and organist he is also regarded by some as one of the most brilliant and skilled composers of classical music. Some critics go so far as to name him the 19th century equivalent of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

Mendelssohn appeared destined for a fascinating career from an extremely early age, being recognised by tutors and parents alike as a musical prodigy. His composing and pianist skills quickly grew and he began to achieve great acclaim across Germany. This in turn ignited a spark and revived the work of other composers such as Johann Sebastian Bach.

Portrait of Mendelssohn by the English miniaturist James Warren Childe (1778–1862), 1839.

Portrait of Mendelssohn by the English miniaturist James Warren Childe (1778–1862), 1839.

Mendelssohn’s fame was not however confined to the people of Germany, as many of his major works such as the Scottish Symphony and the overture The Hebrides debuted in Britain, which he visited ten times during his life. The 1830s and early 1840s heralded years of increasing popularity for Mendelssohn. In 1842 he even performed private concerts for Prince Albert and Queen Victoria, who both greatly admired his work. The following year he founded one of the most prestigious music institutions in Germany – the Leipzig Conservatoire (now the University of Music and Theatre Leipzig). His work included numerous symphonies, concerti, oratorios, piano and chamber music, most notably of which, his Overture for A Midsummer Night’s Dream. His Songs Without Words are regarded as his most famous solo piano compositions.

Mendelssohn’s final years of life were sadly ones of great tragedy. Between 1835 and 1847 the loss of his father, mother and sister generated a tremendously depressive state of mind which saw his health deteriorate rapidly. He passed away later in 1847. It is widely believed that the height of his success had yet to be achieved, with events of his later life labelling him ‘the tortured artist’.

 His Letters

Through the generosity and kind donations of Sir Hugh Owen and George Powell, Aberystwyth University now owns a selection of letters and scores, composed by Mendelssohn himself. The letters span from 1832 – 1847, covering a large portion of his life, and have given birth to new and previously unknown information concerning several features of his activities and career.

Mendelssohn letter No. 1 - entailing social engagements in Paris (1832).

Mendelssohn letter No. 1 – entailing social engagements in Paris (1832).

The university holds seventeen letters in total, which had been written to a variety of correspondents. Social engagements, concert life, his own creative work, as well as requests and recommendations, are but some of the areas discussed. In 2014 the letters underwent a restoration thanks to a generous grant from the National Manuscripts Conservation Trust and CyMAL. This in turn has enabled accessibility for future generations to study and research.



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