Mendelssohn Song Recovered After 140 Years
172 years ago, German composer Felix Mendelssohn wrote a privately commissioned piece of music for theatre manager Johann Valentin Teichmann of the Court Theatre in Berlin, but asked that it was never published or circulated via a letter attached to the music.
Thirty years later, after being auctioned off at least twice, the music went missing and wasn’t seen again… Until now, that is, complete with letter attached. And now, in what could be the first time ever, the music has had a public hearing – performed by the Royal College of Music’s Christopher Glynn and Amy Williamson exclusively for BBC Radio 4.
Mendelssohn was born in 1809 in Hamburg, Germany, and is considered one of the most famous composers, pianists, organists and conductors of the early Romantic period. Some of Mendelssohn’s best known works include his overture for A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the Scottish Symphony and Italian Symphony, and the Hebrides Overture/Fingal’s Cave (the piece is known by both names).
Although the piece was never published, the original manuscript somehow made its way into a private collection in the US. Knowledge of its existence and whereabouts were known up until 1872, when it was auctioned for, presumably, the second time. It recently emerged amongst the papers of the current owner’s grandfather, who was himself a musician and Mendelssohn enthusiast, though how and why he had it in his possession is still a mystery.
The piece, entitled The Heart of Man is Like a Mine, was written in 1842 and comprises of 29 bars for an alto voice accompanied by piano in A flat major. The words of the song apparently come from the second verse of a poem by Friedrich Rückert, called Das Unveränderliche. The poem compares the heart to a gold or silver mine, of which can only give out what it has inside, and nothing more.
“It’s lovely to hear it,” said renowned Mendelssohn scholar, Peter Ward Jones. “All composers have their better days and their off days. This is certainly not one of Mendelssohn’s off days.” He added that the proof that the piece is genuine is in Mendelssohn’s “work of art” signature at the bottom of the song sheet.
The music is to be sold at auction at Christie’s at the end of this month and is expected to fetch between £15,000 and £25,000. Thomas Venning, the auction house’s manuscripts senior specialist, said that the rediscovery of the music is very exciting, especially given that Mendelssohn himself deliberately tried to prevent its circulation.
“It seems likely that we have here music by one of the great composers that no living person has ever heard,” Venning explained. “It is a quite simple, short song, with a catchy, lilting melody.”
If you’re a Mendelssohn fan, or you simply just want to listen to The Heart of Man is Like a Mine, you can do so here.