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ART. II.-Letters from Italy and Switzerland. By FELIX MENDELSSOHN BARTHOLDY. Translated from the German by LADY WALLACE. Second Edition. London: Longman & Co.

SIX years ago we attempted in the BRITISH QUARTERLY REVIEW to estimate the character of Mendelssohn as a composer and a man. Of the quality of his genius in music there were then, of course, ample means of judging; but the printed records personal to himself were at that time of the very scantiest,might indeed be almost said not to exist. Yet it was without any misgiving that we closed our remarks with the following article of faith:

'We believe that when we are made to see the Mendelssohn of everyday word and act, and are enriched with his letters, we shall stand face to face with a manly, genial, and refined nature, having little of the eccentric and aggressive tendeucy which creates adventure, but animated with a healthy enthusiasm, and calmed with the consciousness of beneficent power. His life will be found true to the lofty spirit of his labours, ' and the man will appear as great as the artist.'

The recent issue of a portion of the composer's letters places us in a position to test the truth of this prophecy; and, after a careful perusal of them, we do not know that we could now select words that would more exactly describe the character which is so faithfully reflected in the volume before us.

The truth is, this little Credo of ours was set to the music of Mendelssohn. His character was written in his work. For he was the votary of an art which, whatever may be the immediate design in which it is engaged, never fails to tell us something of the artist's own inner nature. Of all the forms of expression, music most readily lends itself to, or rather can least exclude, such self-revelation. There may be poetry-as there certainly is painting-which is of imagination all compact;' but this can never be the case with music. Let the composer be ever so closely absorbed and taken out of himself by the 'business' matter of the work in hand, he can create no melody that something of his own heart and soul will not steal into, to be thenceforth always audible to the true-touched ear.' It may be, that as colours and metrical language lie so external to the mind, the warm personal element has space to cool and fall away in the interval between the conception and the product; while tones are so immediate to the affections of the soul that no artistic purism can keep them asunder. But however accounted for, the fact itself is undoubted; and while it confers

a distinctive charm upon musical art, it explains how, in a certain high sense, all the great musicians are mannerists, and can never quite escape from themselves, even when they are most faithful to the special truth of the occasion. From Haydn's nature-music we learn more 'what manner of man' he was, than we discern of Claude or Poussin from their landscapes; and the sacred drama of Handel was a less opaque disguise for his own large lineaments than was the many-tinted mask of secular life to the serene features of Shakspeare.

On the music of Mendelssohn the name Felix was as clearly written as it stands in his baptismal register. It is not merely that his thoughts were happy in the sense of fitness or truththough that is eminently the case-but there was largely mingled with them the sense of personal pleasure of the purest kind, and they nearly always convey an infection of happiness to the hearer. We derive this impression partly from the healthy readiness with which his faculty seized upon and reproduced the common occasions of happiness. Standing on the bank of a fair river, or floating on the bosom of a calm sea-threading the mazes of a wood at night, as the mystical moonlight flickers through the leaves, or walking at spring-time to meet the spirit which inspires blossom and song-it is the lot of most men to feel their vague, inexpressive pleasure gradually grow dull, and die, for want of the enhancement of a responsive creation from within. They are thrilled for the moment by the challenging voice of Nature, but having no pass-word to give, they cannot cross the threshold of her inner shrine. But the composer has the compelling secret, and by speaking in her own accents can give perpetuity to her fleeting joys. He commands an element as fluent as her own, and can reproduce her rivulets and calm seas, can scatter spring songs abroad with a profusion like her own, and can even translate into airy sounds that Dream of a Midsummer Night which she had but once before put into a favoured human brain. We take our vacation run to Scotland, pushing perhaps as far north as 'the stormy Hebrides;' or, turning towards the south, we do Italy under the guidance of our faithful Murray; and having had a real and great pleasure, we return with oxygen in the blood and sunny pictures in the memory. But does the memory keep its brightness any longer than the blood? For want of the stimulus of an active power organically akin to nature, we have no means of keeping our raptures from growing stale. But the composer, if he be a Mendelssohn, no sooner sees Italy, Scotland, or the Hebrides, than he hears them also, and forthwith embalms their meaning and character in transcriptions that may endure as long as themselves. These are

Personal qualities in Music.


indeed a grander order of 'songs without words; and the voice we hear in them seems to be Nature's own, chanting to an accompanist who shares her cheerful and generous freedom. It would be as impossible to associate with such a composer any low aims or petty passions as to charge Nature herself with the spleen. We have no desire to push reliance on this kind of indication beyond just limits; and with the facts of art-history before us, it would be mere fanatical folly to make artistic skill an unfailing criterion of moral qualities. But not the less is every beautiful creation a good in itself and a symptom of good; and when the element of beauty flows from any mind with that affluence and constant harmony with itself which are seen in the organic processes of nature, the judgment which we form of such a mind from the observed facts, is surely as scientific and reliable as any induction whatever by which a cause is defined. It is conceivable that a naturally morose man might, in a moment of exceptional gaiety, write a Scherzo as quaint and pungent as any of Mendelssohn's; we may even suppose that a man usually hard and unsympathetic may on some occasion approach the rare tenderness of his Nocturnes and instrumental Adagios; but the true quality of such persons would be sure to tell upon the general character of their work, and we should see, in some weaknesses or monstrosities, the symptoms of what naturalists would call arrested development. They could no more maintain by habitual care the high tone of their best results, than a tree whose roots have struck the clay can keep its dome of foliage full and round. But the genius of Mendelssohn, symmetrical and harmonious throughout, never shrinks from the proportions it has once attained. His inequalities are rather those of the occasion than of his gift: he can gossip as well as discourse, but he has no reserves, no strainings, and no affectations. Having once given his confidence, he tells all that Nature and the Muses have told him; and wherever he is travelling, bodily or mentally, he takes us with him. He is the most friendly of all the great composers, with the one exception of Haydn; but then he had a deeper matter to convey than the Viennese Maestro, and he clothed it with the 'large utterance which the elder Bach made native to North Germany. In this happy spirit of frankness he sets Italy to music for us, and Scotland, and the misty islands of the Northern Sea; and even as he toils over the snowy summits and through the glacial ravines of the Alps, he is gathering from avalanche and tempest the voices which shall startle us into some conception of the grandeur which he finds in his old Weimar friend's picture of the weird revels of the Brocken. The sacred works of Mendelssohn would,

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no doubt, more than confirm these personal inferences; but we decline to adulterate those great tributes of devotional art with even a merited homage to a mortal gift. Let the Lobgesang and the Psalms, the Paul and the Elijah, stand apart in their sublime impersonality, while we are recognising the human virtues of their author.

But however conclusive and satisfactory may be the impression derived of an artist from his works-and we cannot help forming some impression in all cases-we never fail to welcome any direct and authentic evidence of its truth. There is always pleasure in a coincidence of results from opposite methods; and when every link in the earlier chain of demonstration is bright with the remembrance of a refined enjoyment, the later evidence is sure to share their lustre. We should look for a certain dignity in the folds of Michael Angelo's robe; and when Sir Joshua Reynolds said it was enough for the ambition of any man to have kissed its hem, it was because in his eyes it would be rich with hues reflected from the walls of the Sistine chapel. And we sit down to read a volume of Mendelssohn's letters, feeling as if personal converse with him were to be idealized by the sound of some of his noblest strains wafted upon wandering winds of memory. It is by no means intended to imply that this book is of interest only to those whose tastes qualify them to read it under these luxurious conditions, or that the only key to its meaning is a key borrowed from song or symphony. The letters it contains are enjoyable by all classes of readers, being marked by that peculiar charm which we find in the letters of all men who combine high cultivation with a frank, unaffected, and vivacious temper; and they contain graphic pictures of travel and of social life, apart from any special musical associations. We do not know, indeed, whether the sister art of painting does not absorb as much of the composer's interest and letter-paper as music itself. Certainly his own sketch-book was as indispensable a companion of his movements as the scale-ruled sheet; and several cuts from his drawings of scenery adorn the volume. It is, however, no less true that it is the composer's hand that we here mainly recognise, and wish to recognise. Having known Mendelssohn's daring and happy genius in music, we turn with a mixture of curiosity and confidence to see what he has to say in his familiar epistles. Sufficient time has elapsed since their issue to allow of our observing the character of their reception; and the tone of the comments which they have everywhere elicited, together with the rapid sale of two editions of the book, have furnished the crowning proof that we have not mistaken the position of Mendelssohn in the affectionate reverence of the public.

Position of the Composer in 1830.


The period embraced within the dates of the letters now published, from the spring of 1830 to that of 1832, was one of critical importance to the young composer. In years he had just attained his majority, but he had yet to establish the manhood of his music. By a rapid series of compositions, chiefly instrumental, he had already made the ears of German and English connoisseurs tingle with sensations entirely new. This was at a time when the illustrious series of German composers seemed to have carried the art to the highest tide-mark of its possibilities. What could music do more than it had done? The supreme models were all duly installed in the academies, with not a single niche left vacant for wistful ambition to gaze at, and the canons were all fairly set forth with the apparently indelible imprint of finality. The grand succession did indeed seem closed; for since the deaths of Weber and Beethoven, did not all things remain as they were? But genius was always perversely blind to the word 'Finis,' and this intrepid young German-Hebrew had no scruple in proclaiming before astounded tradition that music was not yet beggared of all her resources; that, in fact, she had inexhaustible stores of metal of the true ring waiting for a fit master of the Mint, and that he had official aspirations in that direction! In other words, Mendelssohn in his own youth seemed to have renewed the youth of his art. By a delicious freshness and variety of phrase, no less than by the evidence of a large constructive imagination in the general design of his pieces, he produced the sensation of novelty, while he challenged the suffrage of the trained and jealous critical ear. In most of these compositions no doubt there were defects which years might or might not remedy, and which justified speculative doubts as to the composer's future. Even when about her best works, Nature is in no haste; she always leaves verge enough for growth and gradation. The Psyche of genius sometimes takes eager wing before entirely casting the larval husks of pupildom. In this case the husks were the dry remainders of old Zelter, which hung about his brilliant scholar to the present detriment of melodic flow and freedom. So that, with all the evidence that Mendelssohn gave of originality and resource during his first seasons in Berlin and London, he had gained, as yet, more of hopeful attention than of assured repute. He was now at home with his family, with the consciousness that everything depended on his next movements. This of course gave great importance to the influences under which his mind should be placed, and it was happily resolved that he should take a journey into Italy and Switzerland, to be followed by a visit to Paris and a second campaign in London. The affluent circumstances of his family'

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