Fragments Of An Autobiography Part 7

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Klingemann is, and will ever be, a Knight of the Order of Bachelors, and so shall I. Who knows but we may both wish to marry thirty years hence!

But then, no girl will care to have us. Pray, cut this prophecy out of the letter before you burn it, and keep it carefully; in thirty years we shall know whether it proves correct or not."

Klingemann married in 1845, and Mendelssohn became engaged to Cecile Jeanrenaud in September 1836, just four years after his prophecy.

He writes in a very different strain shortly after his marriage:--

"All that is good," he says, "has become doubly dear to me; all that is bad, easier to put up with. Your wife must not visit my sins on Cecile; on the contrary she must be ready to like her, and to love her a little when she becomes acquainted with her. And truly my dear Cecile deserves it, and I think I need not make any appeal to your wife, but simply introduce her and say, 'This is Cecile'--the rest will follow naturally." He was right; they met the same year and became friends.



Cecile was in many respects a contrast to her husband; she was calm and reserved, where he was lively and excitable. Hers was a deeply emotional nature, but she rarely showed outwardly what moved or impressed her, whereas his emotions would ever rise to the surface, generally to overflow and find expression in words.

My father, after first meeting her in Berlin, says: "Felix's wife is very charming, very una.s.suming and childlike. Her mouth and nose are like Sontag's. Her way of speaking is pleasing and simple; her German is quite that of the Frankforter. She said navely at dinner, 'I speak too slowly for my Felix, and he so quickly that I don't always understand him.'"

I remember thinking her exceedingly beautiful. Her appearance reminded me of a certain picture of Germania by Kaulbach; but she was not the typical fair-haired German; she was dark, and wore her hair not in cla.s.sical waves, but according to the fas.h.i.+on of the day, in many ringlets.

The daily intercourse between the Mendelssohns and the Moscheles was a source of real happiness to both. They were constantly meeting to make or to discuss music, to take long walks together, or short ones along the Grimmaische Stra.s.se to the Conservatorio. The work there was particularly congenial to my father's taste; after the many years of feverish activity he had spent in London, Leipsic was truly a haven of rest to him, and he could well say, "I am beginning to realise my dream of emanc.i.p.ation from professional slavery."

Following the example of the parents, the children of the two families soon fraternised too. I recollect a very lively children's party at our house. Mendelssohn came in and joined in the games; then he went to the piano and set us all a dancing as only the rhythm of his improvisation could. When he ended, we clamoured for more. Give any child a Mendelssohn finger and no wonder it wants the ten. We got another splendid waltz that glided into a gallop, but when that too came to an end, we insatiable little tyrants would not let him get up from the piano.

"Well," he said, "if all the little girls will go down on their knees and beg and pray of me, I may be induced to give you one more dance." A circle was soon formed around him, and they had to beg hard, harder, and hardest, before he allowed himself to be softened.

David, the violinist, also belonged to the intimate circle of our friends. He had come to London in 1839 with a warm introduction from Mendelssohn, and had soon endeared himself to all of us. He was a musician of the good old kind, practising and loving music for its own sake; he was a man of high culture, ever entertaining and genial, and took special delight in smoking innumerable cigars with his friends. In one respect he was much like my father and Mendelssohn. He could not understand how anybody could get through twenty-four hours without playing some Sonata or Trio. I recollect he was quite indignant on one occasion when he was in London and was staying with Sterndale Bennett.

"Would you believe it?" he said. "I have been in the house now for more than a week, and we have not once sat down to make music." Poor Sterndale Bennett, who had probably been giving his eight or ten lessons a day in London or Brighton!

Rietz, too, the conductor of the Gewandhaus Concerts, was a friend and a _music-maker_ in the German sense--a musician of the highest order, and a brilliant virtuoso on the violoncello.

For Mendelssohn's birthday, the 3rd of February, we had been getting up theatricals, and great excitement prevailed amongst old and young, for all were to take part in them. I feel pretty sure that my mother had planned it all, for, amongst a good many other things, she was the family poet and playwright. The performance began with a scene acted in the Frankfort dialect by Madame Mendelssohn and her sister, Madame Schunck; then followed a charade in four parts--"Gewandhaus," the name of the famous concert hall, was the word to be ill.u.s.trated.

For the first syllable, "Ge," Joachim, then sixteen years old, appeared in an eccentric wig, and played a wild Fantasia _a la_ Paganini on the Ge-Saite, the G string. Then the stirring scene from "A Midsummer-Night's Dream," when Pyramus and Thisbe make love through the c.h.i.n.k in the wall, stood for "Wand," the German for wall. The lion, I need not say, roared well.

To ill.u.s.trate the third syllable "Haus," my mother had written a little domestic scene, to be acted by herself and her husband. When the curtain rose, she was discovered knitting a blue stocking, and soliloquising on the foibles of female auth.o.r.esses; whereupon enter the cook. The cook was my father, and his bearing on this his first appearance in the part, his female attire, as well as his realistic get-up, so tickled Mendelssohn's fancy, that he broke into a fit of Homeric laughter; Homeric, with this reserve, that that historical outburst was not produced in a wickerwork chair, and therefore cannot have been as effective as Mendelssohn's. Under his weight the chair rocked to and fro, and creaked till one thought it must break its bonds. But it held out, and gradually found its balance; it was not till then that the cook was allowed to proceed with her part.

Finally "Gewandhaus," the complete word, was represented by all the juvenile members of the company; each of us had to blow or play some instrument of a primitive character. Joachim led with a toy violin, and I wielded the baton, and did my best to take off the characteristic ways of my ill.u.s.trious G.o.dfather. Some of my imitative faculty must have survived the dead-man period of my early days, for the wickerwork once more shook with the sympathetic laughter of its occupant, and it reached a climax when Joachim made some pointed remarks in imitation of the master.

After the performance actors and public gathered round a festive board.

In the centre of the supper-table stood the birthday cake, around which burned thirty-seven candles, one for each year, according to the good old German fas.h.i.+on. My mother had written a few words descriptive of the year each represented--from the cradle to the piano and the conductor's desk--from his first attempt at composition, to "St. Paul," "Elijah,"

and the opera to come. In the centre stood the Light of Life, that, alas! was so soon to fail. We little dreamt that it was his last birthday we were celebrating.

The sounds of mirth, as the chords of harmony, were ere long to be silenced. A few months later Mendelssohn's dearly beloved sister, f.a.n.n.y Hensel, suddenly died. It was a heavy blow from which he never quite recovered, for the brother and sister were bound together by the closest ties of affection, and the most striking artistic affinities. He spent the summer in Switzerland, but returned enfeebled in health and depressed in spirits. "His step is less elastic than before," says my father, "but to see him at the piano, or to hear him talk about art and artists, he is all life and fire."

The evening of the 8th of October was the last I was to spend at Mendelssohn's house. He, my father, Rietz, and David had been playing much cla.s.sical music. In the course of an animated conversation which followed, some knotty art question arose and led to a lively discussion.

Each of the authorities present was warmly defending his own opinion, and there seemed little prospect of an immediate agreement, when Mendelssohn, suddenly interrupting himself in the middle of a sentence, turned on his heel and startled me with the unexpected question--

"What is the Aoristus primus of t?pt?, Felix?" I was at that time a schoolboy in my fifteenth year, and so, quickly recovering from my surprise, I gave the correct answer.

"Good," said he, and off we went to supper, the knotty point being thus promptly settled.

I well remember the 9th of October of that year. From our windows we saw Mendelssohn walking slowly and languidly through the garden towards our house. As he came in, my mother inquired after his health, and he answered, "_Grau in grau_" (Grey on grey). My father suggested a walk in the Rosenthal, that beautiful park, in those days scarcely touched by the hand of the landscape gardener. Mendelssohn acquiesced listlessly.

"Will you take me too?" asked my mother. "What do you say? shall we take her?" broke in Mendelssohn in his old genial manner. Well, she was taken, and so was I, or, at any rate, I went. The walk seemed to do him good; he brightened up, and was soon engaged in lively conversation. My mother said, "You have not told us enough about your last stay in London," and that started him talking of our mutual friends there. Then he gave us a graphic account of his visit to the Queen.

It will be remembered how, on a previous occasion, he had spent a delightful hour in Buckingham Palace, and was charmed with the Queen's singing of some of his songs, and struck with Prince Albert's musical talents. How, between them, the three had set to work to pick up the sheets of music which the wind had blown all over the room, before they settled down to the organ and the piano, and how Mendelssohn carried out the parrot in his cage, to the amazement of the royal servants. The pleasant incident of his last visit, which he related to us as we walked along the Rosenthal, was this. He had been once more making music with the Queen, and had been genuinely delighted with her rendering of his songs. As he was about to leave, she said--

"Now, Dr. Mendelssohn, you have given me so much pleasure; is there nothing I can do to give you pleasure?" To be sure, he answered, that he was more than amply rewarded by her Majesty's gracious reception, and by what would be a lasting remembrance of the interest she had shown in his music; but when she insisted, he said--

"Well, to speak the truth, I have a wish, and one that only your Majesty can grant."

"It is granted," she interposed.

And then he told her that nothing could give him greater pleasure than to see the nurseries and all the domestic arrangements connected with the royal children. The most consummate courtier could not have expressed a wish better calculated to please the Queen. She most cordially responded, and herself conducted him through the nurseries.

Nor was the matter treated lightly; she had to show him the contents of the wardrobes and give him particulars of the service, and for the time being the two were not in the relative position of gracious sovereign and obedient servant, but rather of an experienced materfamilias and an enlightened paterfamilias, comparing notes, and giving one another points on the management of their respective children.

Mendelssohn left us about one o'clock in the most cheerful mood. The same afternoon he was taken ill in Madame Frege's house. He had gone there to persuade her to sing in his "Elijah," which had as yet only been performed in England, and was now to be heard in Leipsic; he also wanted her advice and help in putting together a new book of his songs.

I pa.s.s over the anxiety of the next weeks, the partial recovery, to be followed only by relapse and aggravated symptoms.

From the 1st of November we knew that the worst was to be feared. My parents were not often away from the house of sickness. In the morning of the fatal day, at four o'clock, I went to the Konigstra.s.se to get the latest news; I had to return hopeless through the dark and foggy night.

Later in the day I was again for some hours in the house, but was not allowed to see the dying man. From two o'clock in the afternoon, the hour when another paralytic stroke was dreaded, he gradually began to sink. Cecile, his brother Paul, David, Schleinitz, and my father were present, when at twenty-four minutes past nine he expired with a deep sigh.

The next day Cecile wrote to my mother asking her to order the mourning for the children; she would let her know when she could see her. Some days elapsed, the funeral service had been held and the remains had been transferred to Berlin, when she wrote again asking my mother to come and to bring me. We went. Outwardly we found her calm and resigned, but one could read in her countenance that she was mortally wounded. She talked of him she had lost and showed us a deathbed drawing that his brother-in-law Hensel had made. For a time his ma.n.u.scripts remained untouched; the door of his study she kept locked.

"Not a pin, not a paper," she wrote, "could I bring myself to move from its place. That room must remain for a short time my sanctuary; those things, that music, my secret treasure."

It was with feelings of deep emotion that I entered the room when, shortly afterwards, she opened its door for me. I had asked and obtained permission to make a water-colour drawing of that study, whilst all yet stood as the master had left it. On the right was the little old-fas.h.i.+oned piano on which he composed so many of his great works; near the window the writing-desk he used to stand at. On the walls water-colours by his own hand--Swiss landscapes and others. On the left the busts of Goethe and Bach, placed on the bookcases which contained his valuable musical library.

Whilst I was painting, Cecile came and went. Not a sigh, not a murmur escaped her lips.

She died just four years after her husband.

[Ill.u.s.tration]

CHAPTER IV

MY FIRST COMMISSION

I well remember how I got my first commission and earned the first money in the exercise of my profession. It came about in this way.

I was down by the Quais of old Paris, close to the Pont des Aveugles, drawing the Parisian workman as he took his midday rest. The Quais had not yet got as strait-laced as they are now, and the river flowed its pleasant course without much police supervision. There was the loveliest of buildings, the Louvre, but it had not made more than a start towards the Tuileries, with which it was in but a few years to join stones.

I was often down there sketching, and I always found willing models amongst the friendly natives in blouses. The Parisian has an ever-varying way of asking you to take his likeness. "Tirez ma binette,"

"Fixez moi cette frimousse," or, "Relevez moi le plan de mon image," are amongst those I recollect. "Draw my mug," we might say, although translation does not go far to render that sort of colloquialism.--"Fix my phiz," and "Just you give me the map of my image."

I never accepted coppers on the occasions when I presented my models with a sketch, but such ready-money payment was often proffered. It was not till a man had insisted on my accompanying him to his home with a view to artistic business, that I was led to accept my first commission.

He lived near the Temple, quite a little distance from the Quai Voltaire, and as we went along, my companion became very communicative.

He began about himself, then gave me a bird's-eye view of the family history, and soon came to "Ma mere," a theme he stuck to as only a Frenchman can. "She was," he said, "une maitresse femme," and he would just like to see the man "qui pourrait lui tirer une carotte" (who could extract a carrot from her). This was not an allusion to the fruit and vegetable shop she kept, but meant that she was not an easy one to get over in money matters. I found the old lady as my friend had described her. She was stout and determined, and she kept her money jingling in the two or three capacious pockets of her ap.r.o.n. She could see I was an artist; why, _she_ could recognise one within a radius of a league; and if I would draw her the portraits of her two granddaughters for five francs, I might set to work at once; they both had the eyes of _her_ family, the Roufflards,--not a trace of the Tusserand look--an advantage I was not to overlook. The girls were about fourteen or fifteen, and I thought I could make rather a telling picture of the two heads together in medallion shape. But the old lady was after me at once. She didn't believe in pinching and cheeseparing, and didn't want the thing rounded off in any of those circular frames. "No," she said. "_Allez-y franchement_; you just draw them as they are, hands and feet and all, _comme qui dirait_: there they are, those two girls, _les fillettes a la mere Tusserand_."

Fragments Of An Autobiography Part 7

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