Sunday, 22 July 2018

RARE GEMS: THE CHARMING PRIVATE LIED BY MENDELSSOHN THAT REMAINS SHROUDED IN MYSTERY (A BLAST FROM THE PAST)

Felix Mendelssohn. This likeness of the composer
was painted in 1847 by Wilhelm Hensel, brother -
in-law to Felix through Fanny, the latter's sister.
The famous Christie’s Auction House in London caused quite the stir among fans of 19th century Romantic composer Felix Mendelssohn back in 2014 when it announced it would be putting up for auction a recently re-discovered manuscript authored by the famous musician late in his career: that of a long lost short lied, comprised of 29 bars for an alto voice and Piano (in A flat major), which Mendelssohn titled "Das Menschen Herz ist ein Schacht" (The heart of man is like a mine), after the second stanza of a poem by famed German writer Friedrich Rückert, Das Unveränderliche.

The tender lied, penned by Mendelssohn in 1842 when the composer was 33, had previously been known to scholars for some time – it first surfaced at an auction in Leipzig in 1862, hailed as an entirely “unknown” song[1] written by the composer, only to resurface once more at auction in 1872.

The music, which prior to 2014 had never been published, is believed by scholars to have been a private commission for one “Hofrath (Councilor) Theichmann,”[2] former secretary to the Royal Theater in Berlin. Experts based their conclusions on a blurb from an accompanying catalogue handed out at the 1872 auction, which describes the lied as having been “Written down for Herr Privy Councillor Teichmann at his specific request.” [3] Das Menschen… appears to have received no further mention in surviving documents of either men, save for a letter of thanks from Teichmann to Mendelssohn dated 30 April 1842, in which the secretary thanks the composer for a[n] [unnamed] lied (and subsequently requests a copy for his sister in law).[4]

The manuscript remained largely forgotten until the 21st century, when it was brought to the attention of Christie’s in 2014. The only information released to the public at the time was that the manuscript - which also contained a handwritten letter in the hand of Mendelssohn instructing Herr Teichmann not to publish or otherwise circulate the lied – somehow came into the possession of a private collector in the United States, who, for reasons unspecified, wanted to sell the rare relic.

*CLICK TO ENLARGE*  Manuscript for Felix Mendelssohn's 1842
lied "
Das Menschen Herz ist ein Schacht," and accompanying letter,
instructing the recipient of the piece, Herr Teichmann, not to circulate
the work. The commission would be among Mendelssohn's last - he
would die some 5 years following the creation of Das Menschen, at age
38 in Leipzig. The document would first pop up at auction in the German
city in 1862, where it caused quite the spectacle as a hitherto unknown work.
The manuscript, and accompanying letter was sold by Christie’s Valuable Manuscripts and Printed Books department for a whopping £60,000 on May 21, 2014, some £35,000 over it’s top estimated selling price.

Das Menschen... is a charming piece indeed: it is a metaphorical ode to the human heart, which Rückert compares to a mine – capable of producing vast riches: the likes of gold, silver and ore, but which can only offer to the outside world the gems (or lack of) that are contained within.

The private lied received it’s world premiere on BBC Radio 4 on May 6, 2014. Listen below to a blast from the past with a fine rendition performed by Assistant Professor of Voice at The University of Minnesota School of Music, Adriana Zabala, accompanied by Timothy Lovelace (Asst. Prof. of Collaborative Piano) with narration provided by Peter Mercer-Taylor, Asst. Prof. of Musicology the University:



Footnotes:
[1,3,4]The Mendelssohns: Their Music in History, pp. 9, ed. John Michael Cooper, Julie D. Prandi, Oxford University Press, 2003

[2]Johann Valentin. Teichmann’s official title was “Secretary to the Intendant-general of Royal Theatres in Berlin,” a post first obtained in 1817 with the assistance of German literary icon Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.
External links:
- Rose.

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