The Life Of Mendelssohn: Youthful Works And Development

Yet whatever Mendelssohn’s skills as an executant prodigy, it was his creative ability that inspired the greatest astonishment amongst his growing band of admirers, which included the 70-year-old German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.

Under the strict supervision of pedagogue-composer Carl Friedrich Zelter (1758–1832), the 10-year-old prodigy received a thorough grounding in basic compositional techniques. Like a musical sponge, he absorbed the best the Renaissance, Baroque and Classical masters had to offer constantly refuelling his own insatiable creative energies.

Within five years Mendelssohn had a bulging portfolio of pieces to his name, including four light operas, twelve symphonies for string orchestra, concertos for violin, piano and two pianos, two piano quartets, a string quartet, piano trio,piano sextet, several piano sonatas and - most astonishingly - a first symphony for full orchestra in C minor that for a young teenager is almost impossibly accomplished.

No wonder some of the most celebrated musicians of the age were held mesmerised by his fantastical ability. In 1821 Beethoven entered prophetically in a notebook "Mendelssohn – 12 years old – promises much", while Hummel became the boy’s friend and mentor after seeing him direct one of his latest operas from the keyboard.

Carl Maria von Weber, Clara Wieck (Schumann’s future wife) and the celebrated piano virtuoso Ignaz Moscheles, who memorably described the boy genius as a "mature master, with nothing left to learn except inexperience", were also devoted admirers. Aged just 15, Felix was on the verge of true greatness.