The Life Of Mendelssohn: Years Of Travel

The fizzing pace of Mendelssohn’s day- to-day life accelerated still further when his father suggested it was time for him to undertake the Grand Tour Of Europe, then considered mandatory for any aspiring young gentleman of fine breeding.

Just a month after premiering the St Matthew Passion, he set off for England, the first of several visits that would see him give the British premiere of Beethoven’s mighty "Emperor" Piano Concerto as part of a whirlwind series of engagements.

Shortly after arriving Felix wrote breathlessly to his father, "London is the grandest and most complicated monster on the earth. Things roll and whirl around me and carry me along as though in a vortex."

During July he travelled to Scotland and was immediately captivated by Edinburgh’s craggy scenery. In the ruined chapel of Mary Stuart he noted down the introduction that some twelve years later would inspire his "Scottish" Symphony, and then, while on a visit to the Hebrides Islands, he sketched the opening theme of his "Fingal’s Cave" Overture.

Moving on to Wales, Mendelssohn began work on his Op.12 String Quartet, although he was less taken with Welsh national music, which he described as "having given me a toothache!"

At the end of August Mendelssohn was due to return home in order to attend the wedding of his beloved sister Fanny, but a carriage accident inflicted a knee injury that made the journey impossible.

The unusual strength of their feelings for each other can be gauged from Felix’s letter about Fanny’s forthcoming marriage – "I feel as if I had lost the reins with which formerly I was able to guide my life, when I think of everything which is now going to change" – and a letter written by Fanny to Felix on her wedding day: "I have your portrait before me, ever repeating your dear name and thinking of you as if you stood at my side."

The following year the University of Berlin offered Mendelssohn a newly created professorship in music, but he was already hard at work on his "Reformation" Symphony and
 had pressing commitments abroad.

Accordingly he set off – via Austria and a final visit to Goethe – for Italy, taking in Venice, Florence, Rome, Naples and back to Rome, before moving northwards to Switzerland and France.