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A Portrait of Mendelssohn$

Clive Brown

Print publication date: 2003

Print ISBN-13: 9780300095395

Published to Yale Scholarship Online: October 2013

DOI: 10.12987/yale/9780300095395.001.0001

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• Social and Intellectual Environment

• Social and Intellectual Environment

10 • Social and Intellectual Environment
A Portrait of Mendelssohn

Clive Brown

Yale University Press

Abstract and Keywords

Several first-hand accounts offer a glimpse into Felix Mendelssohn's environment and activities, as well as the people who belonged to his close circle during his teenage years in Berlin. Eduard Philipp Devrient noted how the regular intellectual and musical gatherings that took place in the Mendelssohn household contributed to Felix's development. Foreign musicians provided endless entertainment and suggestions to Felix and his sister Fanny. There was also provision for physical education. According to Devrient, Karl Klingemann (later regarded by Mendelssohn as his closest friend) aroused Felix and Fanny Mendelssohn's sympathy in Jean Paul Richter. Another important account comes from Julius Schubring, who describes Mendelssohn's social and intellectual environment during the years immediately before he traveled to Britain and Italy.

Keywords:   social environment, intellectual environment, Berlin, Eduard Philipp Devrient, physical education, Karl Klingemann, Jean Paul Richter, Julius Schubring, Fanny Mendelssohn

The picture of Mendelssohn's environment and activities, and the people who belonged to his close circle during his teenage years in Berlin, is amplified by a number of first-hand accounts. Devrient emphasised the beneficial effect on Mendelssohn's development imparted by the regular intellectual and musical gatherings that “prevailed to perfection in the Mendelssohns' house, and gave rise to the most unconstrained and suggestive intellectual intercourse…. Felix heard much that awoke and stimulated thought. Foreign musicians mostly brought introductions to the house, and afforded endless entertainment and suggestions to Felix and Fanny…. It would not be but that Felix should receive the most varied and stirring impressions from coming in contact with so many different types of power and character.” Devrient also described how provision was made for physical education, especially after the family moved to their extensive house and grounds at 3 Leipziger Straße in 1825:

In the new house Felix entered upon his young manhood, with freshly awakened powers and inclinations. With his usual energy and ardour he now devoted himself to gymnastic exercises. The father had a small gymnasium fitted up for his sons in the large and beautiful garden of the house. Felix attained the greatest perfection in these exercises, and was able to keep them up for a long time. He took great pleasure, too, in his riding-lessons, and used to have much to tell about the horses, and of the jokes of the old royal riding-master, which I already knew. Swimming was practised during the ensuing summer with intense enjoyment. A small swimming (p.74) society had been formed; Klingemann, who lived at the Hanoverian Embassy, which was in an upper story of the Mendelssohns' house, belonged to this society; he wrote the words of swimming-songs, to which Felix composed the music, and these the members tried to sing as they were swimming about; endless merriment grew out of this, and at the supper-table there was enough to recount of youthful pranks and freaks.

And Devrient remarked how Klingemann (later regarded by Mendelssohn as his closest friend) “aroused his and Fanny's sympathy in Jean Paul, whose infinite tenderness and profound sense of humour exercised great influence on Felix.”36

Julius Schubring, who studied in Berlin between 1825 and 1830, left an informative account of Mendelssohn's social and intellectual environment during the years immediately before his travels to Britain and Italy. Schubring recalled how “the parents and their four children … were harmoniously united to each other by unusual warmth of affection and congeniality of character, and produced a most pleasing impression upon every one who entered their house,” and how they were “most partial, after the labours of the day, to spending the evening in familiar intercourse with one another.” He added, however, that they were seldom alone, for the Mendelssohns kept open house, and “whoever felt so inclined went, and whoever took a pleasure in going was welcome. Science, Art, and Literature were equally represented.” He mentioned that the scientist Alexander von Humboldt and the philosopher Georg W. F. Hegel were among the regular guests. Schubring's account also confirms that Mendelssohn was “a vigorous and skilful gymnast,” “a very good swimmer,” “a good horseman,” “played chess admirably”; but he noted that “anything connected with mathematics … appeared to be less in his way.”37


(36.) Devrient, Recollections, 16, 19, 20–21

(37.) Schubring, “Reminiscences,” 373ff.