The Life Of Mendelssohn: His Final Year

Although Mendelssohn’s health had never been particularly robust, all seemed well enough (despite certain signs of fatigue) when in April the following year he made what would turn out to be his last trip to England.

Living life in the fast lane as usual, he made several concert appearances, which included a legendary performance of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No.4 and six performances of Elijah that inspired Prince Albert to inscribe in Mendelssohn’s personal score, "To the great master whom, by the tranquil current of his thoughts, reveals to us the gentle whisperings, as well as the mighty strife of the elements, to him is this written in grateful remembrance by ALBERT."

Just as Mendelssohn was riding a wave of unprecedented popular acclaim and success, tragedy struck.

On May 14, 1847 his beloved sister Fanny died of a stroke, aged just 41. When the news was broken to him he collapsed unconscious and took several minutes to come round. A trip to Switzerland was quickly organised to help take his mind off things.

Outwardly he seemed much improved and even managed to sketch a series of fine watercolours, but his churning emotions were exposed in an F minor String Quartet (Op.80), whose inconsolable anguish and despair climaxes in a devastating finale unlike anything he had composed before.

During October of 1847 Mendelssohn’s health deteriorated, although towards the end of the month he felt well enough to take a final walk with Cécile. On November 4 he passed away following a series of mild strokes.

On hearing the news, Queen Victoria could barely take it in: "We were horrified, astounded and distressed to read in the papers of the death of Mendelssohn, the greatest musical genius since Mozart and the most amiable man."

Cécile, whose grief at her loss remained inconsolable, died just six years later, aged only 36.