The Life Of Mendelssohn: Düsseldorf, Leipzig And Berlin

Further visits to Britain during the early 1830s cemented Mendelssohn’s relationship with the country which he now considered his second home, but with the European tour now effectively at an end he was under increasing pressure from his father to return to Germany and take up a full-time appointment.

Things began less than auspiciously when he failed to win the directorship of the Berlin Sing-Akademie (a job for which his talents were tailor-made), but having been appointed director of the Lower Rhine Festival, he accepted a post as municipal music director in Düsseldorf.

Having conducted there before, Mendelssohn was well aware of Düsseldorf’s decidedly provincial outlook and playing standards, but he hadn’t reckoned on the constant verbal heckling from opposing factions that at one point brought a performance of Don Giovanni almost to a standstill.

Exhausted by the constant bickering and in-fighting between singers and players, on one occasion the normally mild-mannered Mendelssohn tore up the score of Beethoven’s Egmont
in mid-rehearsal and stormed out. Just as it felt as though he might be losing his professional sanity, an offer arrived from Leipzig to take over the directorship of the Leipzig Gewandhaus. He eagerly accepted and never looked back.

Mendelssohn’s seven years at the helm of the Gewandhaus set the standard for modern orchestral training and repertoire. Under his enlightened direction (he was still only 25 at the time) the Leipzigers became a truly unified, virtuoso body of players, fanned out around him in the modern fashion, meticulously balanced and fine-tuned.

Mendelssohn vastly expanded the orchestra’s repertoire to include not only the latest masterpieces hot off the press (some of them his own), but the great works of yesteryear from Bach onwards. He directed Mozart concertos from the keyboard, gave the world premiere of Schubert’s "Great" Symphony No.9 (recently discovered in Vienna by Schumann), revolutionised concert programming and conducted performances of Beethoven’s symphonies that redefined the art of orchestral interpretation.

Mendelssohn had truly come of age, and his resulting contentedness was reflected in his marriage in 1837 to Cécile Jeanrenaud, an enchanting, pretty girl, memorably described by one of Mendelssohn’s closest friends as possessing "one of those sweet, womanly natures, whose gentle simplicity, whose mere presence, soothed and pleased."

It was a happy marriage, one which to Felix’s great relief won the approval of Fanny and produced no less than five children. His creative response was a glorious set of three string quartets (Op.44) and a Second Piano Concerto of radiant expressive poignancy.

In 1841 Mendelssohn made an ill-advised move to Berlin, where the culture of political squabbling quickly reduced him to a state of nervous exhaustion, but within a year Fanny could happily report that "Felix has once again become loveable" following an idyllic Swiss holiday with family and friends.