And do you agree with me, that the first condition of an artist should be to bear respect towards what is great, and to bow to it and acknowledge it, and not attempt to extinguish great flames for the sake of making his own rushlight burn more brightly?
– Letter to Wilhelm Taubert, August 27, 1831.
The poetic landscape of Mendelssohn’s music is one which imbues the mind with images of nature and idyllic vogayes (Hebrides, Calm and Prosperous Sea being prime examples). His image and music, however, was tarnished and accused of being too formalist, and lacking progress and new ideas, as it seemed his work became stagnated in time, prompting Berlioz to say he was “too fond of the music of the dead”. It was Mendelssohn who championed Bach, and revived a relatively forgotten master to a new century.
Though many argue his placidity and orderliness of composition is of a superficial nature (a musical Tennyson, in the words of Bernard Shaw) there is also the undeniabilty of his genius. Goethe had the highest regards about his talents, and even Wagner, in his famous anti-semitic essay, admitted he was “the greatest genius since Mozart”. The works he produced, particularly in his early years, are proof of his greatness, though his later years were not empty of worthy production, Elijah and Italian symphony being examples of his unwavering talent. Perhaps, if not for his early death, he could’ve reached more mature heights, is a question nobody can answer.
What is even more outstanding is that his great talent wasn’t only as a composer and pianist, but also as a painter and poet, which he developed as secondary pursuits, and which are a wonderful companion to his musical output. His drawings and watercolors provide insights on his aesthetic, which was of a picturesque, nuanced and scenic character.
For the occasion, I indulged in a cheesecake with a phyllo dough pastry base, accompanied by pomegranate sauce and pistachios, alongside good, strong coffee (I didn’t forget that the people of Leipzig, where he lived, were famous for their reputation as Kaffeesachsen).
Though everything else may appear shallow and repulsive, even the smallest task in music is so absorbing, and carries us so far away from town, country, earth, and all worldly things, that it is truly a blessed gift of God.