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.
Is it a personal tragedy when the pupil outdoes the teacher? Or does it fill him with pride? Carl Reinecke (1824-1910) is an unknown unknown. His students however are well-known or at least known unknown composers i.e. unknown by the general public, but a reference for experts like the readers of this blog: Max Bruch, Leos Janacek, Edvard Grieg and Julius Röntgen. I think it is safe to say that Reinecke’s four students outdid their teacher in terms of celebrity. But they rival him in terms of excellence in composition remains to be seen.
Four voices. Nature as the inspiring element. Silence and peace as one of the central themes. Purity. Beauty. Harmony. “Unfortunately I have nothing for you except my part-songs and I would appreciate if you could play them for Cécile, always a well-meaning audience for me […] I associate a very pleasant time with these songs and I prefer them over my other songs”, writes the composer on February 1, 1847. Fanny Mendelssohn is the author, and in 1847 she sent a copy of the Gartenlieder, Op. 3 (Garden Songs) to her brother Felix. Cécile of course was Felix’ wife and the two women kept in touch regularly through letters. Fanny stayed in Berlin, Felix and Cécile in Leipzig where Felix led the Gewandhausorchester.
The summer hasn’t begun yet, and already I feel nostalgic like I would at the end of it. But that is entirely Felix Mendelssohn’s fault. So many of his pieces evoke in my mind the end of summer – is that the Romantic disease? Probably. His violin concerto in E minor is a case in point, however today Felix’ chamber music is on my mind: the String Quartet No. 1 in E flat major, Op. 12. It is a very early piece, written in 1829, when Mendelssohn was 20 years old. It has to do with a girl that he hallen fallen in love with, a passion alas that wasn’t reciprocated.