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Mendelssohn Scandal?

by sarah - January 15th, 2009.
Filed under: academia, news. Tagged as: , .

Numerous concerts have been planned to honor Felix Mendelssohn on the occasion of his 200th birthday. Though some bemoan the lack of enthusiasm for this momentous remembrance in the history of Western music, no one can deny that the recognition that Felix is receiving is a great deal better than the honorary concerts (or lack thereof) that memorialized his sister’s life and works. (Remember the deluge of performances when Fanny had her 200th birthday in 2005? Yeah, me neither.)

And just because nothing helps to memorialize a life (or death) better than a scandal, new evidence suggests that Felix’s music was quite possibly inspired by another star in the history of women in music: Jenny Lind.

The Independent recently reported that new evidence uncovered in the archives of the Royal Academy of Music indicates that Mendelssohn was so overcome with the soprano that he threatened suicide if she did not agree to elope with him to America. Lind’s husband, Otto Goldschmidt, a former student of Mendelssohn’s, destroyed the original document. However, Goldschmidt later signed an affidavit as to the contents of the letter and the actions he took to prevent the truth from being revealed. Mendelssohn’s connection to Lind is very evident in their shared history. Jessica Duchen reports that:

The composer, possibly infatuated, planned an opera for Lind on the Lorelei, the Rhine siren who lures men to their death. It was never completed, but Mendelssohn did write the soprano solo of Elijah for Lind. Friends, including Andersen and the pianist Clara Schumann, remarked on their attachment.

Mendelssohn died only months after the letter was written, reportedly from a series of strokes (which was the same demise that Fanny met six months prior to Felix’s death). Evidence of a romantic connection between Lind and Mendelssohn, which could very well fall into the “who cares?” category, may lead to a deeper understanding of Mendelssohn’s creative output. Professor Curtis Price of the Royal Academy of Music, who has seen the affidavit signed by Goldschmidt, is calling for “a fully scholarly investigation” into the matter. The document is kept in the Mendelssohn Foundation Archives, which is keeping it hidden away from public eye. Perhaps they are concerned as to the ways in which such evidence might reflect on the life of who is generally remembered as the “happiest” of composers – as well as suggest the power that The Swedish Nightingale had in the history of music written by dead white men.

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