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Mendelssohn's travels around Scotland inspired some of his best compositions: the Hebrides Overture and the Scottish Symphony. But that didn't mean he liked the 'vulgar' local music he heard...
In 1829, after a stunningly successful season of concerts in London, a 20-year-old Felix Mendelssohn needed a break. He set off with his best friend, the diplomat Karl Klingemann, on a walking tour of Scotland. Photo: Getty
Mendelssohn and Klingemann arrived in Edinburgh on 28 July. "Everything here looks so stern and robust," the composer wrote, "half enveloped in a haze of smoke or fog." Photo: Getty
"Many Highlanders came in costume from church," Mendelssohn reported, "victoriously leading their sweethearts in their Sunday attire and casting magnificent and important looks over the world; with long, red beards, tartan plaids, bonnets and feathers and naked knees and their bagpipes in their hands…" Photo: Getty
Mendelssohn was not a fan of the traditional Scottish music he heard. "Infamous, vulgar, out-of-tune trash…" he called it. "It is distracting and has given me a toothache already… altogether their music is beyond conception." Photo: Getty
On his visit to Holyrood palace - the castle where Mary, Queen of Scots had lived - Mendelssohn visited the room where courtier David Rizzio was murdered. Rumours were rife that she had been having an adulterous affair with Rizzio. He was stabbed 56 times by Mary's husband Darnley and his accomplices.
Mendelssohn was particularly inspired by the ruins at Holyrood. "Everything around is broken and moldering and the bright sky shines in. I believe I have found today in that old chapel the beginning of my Scottish symphony." He jotted down 10 bars that were to become the introductory theme of the symphony. Photo: Getty
The two friends ventured further afield, stopping often at a beautiful scene so that Mendelssohn could make a quick pencil sketch. "It is in pictures, ruins and natural surroundings that I find the most music," he wrote. This is Mendelssohn’s sketch of Ben More, on the Isle of Mull.
Mendelssohn was particularly dazzled by the Isle of Staffa off the western coast of Scotland, an experience that gave rise to his 'Hebrides Overture' - also known as 'Fingal's Cave'. He began composing the piece straight away and finished it the following year. Photo: Getty
Mendelssohn carried out more work on his Scottish Symphony while in Italy in 1830-1831, but he said he found it hard to conjure up the "misty mood" of Scotland and put the work on hold. It was not finished until January 1842. Photo: Getty
The great popularity already enjoyed by Mendelssohn in Britain was enhanced even further when Queen Victoria granted Mendelssohn royal approval to dedicate the Scottish Symphony to her. She is seen here at Balmoral with her Scottish attendant John Brown. Photo: Getty
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