A night in Naples, the moon is rising over the volcano Vesuvio, straight out of the crater, and Fanny Mendelssohn and her husband Wilhelm Hensel enjoy a romantic moment on the balcony of the house they occupy. Spring 1840: Fanny had rented a piano and her inspiration knew no limits. She composed as she had already done earlier when the Hensels had still been in Rome, an uninterrupted flow of beautiful melodies, set free by the liberty she enjoined far away from her home in Berlin. O fortuna velut luna…
Oben, wo die Sterne glühen,
Müssen uns die Freuden blühen,
Die uns unten sind versagt;
In des Todes kalten Armen
Kann das Leben erst erwarmen,
Und das Licht der Nacht enttagt.1
The longest night, that is winter solstice, has passed, and it’s time to look forward to spring. “This spring is extremely agreeable to me […] I feel like newly born and I enjoy the magnificence of our garden growing lovelier by the day, like an ephemeral piece of luck ,” writes Fanny Mendelssohn in her diary in May 1846 after a time marked by illness and living in a dark, confined and humid house. And the composer had reasons to rejoice. She was back at organizing Sunday concerts at the Mendelssohn’s house in Berlin and, more importantly, she had found the will and inspiration to compose again. By the end of the summer she would have two competing offers for a publication of her Op. 1, a set of six songs.
Drifting peacefully into the evening. Watching the sun. Observing the changing colours of the sky. Remaining in a suspended state of mind until darkness surrounds myself. Questions. What did cross Fanny Mendelssohn’s mind when she wrote the String Quartet in E flat major, H-U 277? It remains a mystery. I went through Fanny’s diary and the letters she wrote to her brother Felix during the first half of 1834 and found nothing. Fanny completed the quartet in August that year and she did not seem eager to share anything about it.