MENDELSSOHN by Michael Hurd


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For Mr. Hurd, the ""ambiguous nature of all Mendelssohn's finest music"" is less a subject for criticism than a source of distinction: the (fully defined) ""balance between classical form and romantic suggestion is something unique to Mendelssohn. . . . Unfortunately, (his) refusal to countenance the extremes of nineteenth-century romantic passion has made (him) appear to some critics rather bloodless. . . . But the passion is there. It is practiced with restraint."" Hurd writes as an apologist, defensively but not argumentatively, knowledgeably but not abstrusely, decisively but not narrow-mindedly. He is right in asserting that ""there are few reliable modern accounts"" of the man and his works, and this first juvenile diagnoses the uncommon contemporary success of both and their subsequent vilification. Hurd is sympathetic to Felix's parents' accommodation to German anti-Semitism (""With financial success and public honor achieved, the Mendelssohn family had one remaining problem. . . . Should they continue to be faithful to the Jewish religion, or should they allow themselves to be converted to the Protestant Church?""); but he is increasingly critical of the hold they and their values maintained over Felix, who became a 'professional' ""at the expense of his creative gifts"" -- ""The idea that creative genius owes its first duty to itself, does not seem to have occurred to any of them."" Even as a conductor, however, Mendelssohn was influential, resurrecting the St. Matthew Passion when Bach was still best remembered as an organist, and establishing the orchestra leader as more of an interpreter than a 'time-beater.' ""Had he deliberately planned to work himself to death, he could scarcely have organized his last years more effectively,"" says Hurd reflecting on Mendelssohn's suicidal drive: six months after the passing of the sister to whom he was singularly close, Felix succumbed to a stroke at 38. The astoundingly precocious child (Cherubini's approbation and Goethe's admiration attested to his talent) grew into an unhappy adult whose position remains controversial, but whether he was a 'first-rate minor composer' or a 'second-rate major composer' is academic and beside the point here, where his music and method are analyzed respectfully on their own terms. Hurd's exigeses are sound and productive, keys to and mirrors of Mendelssohn's intellect and imagination; the book -- prodigiously illustrated with memorabilia and playable passages (sometimes out of order) -- projects not only a viable view of a curious composer, but also an independently interesting personal history.

Pub Date: June 21st, 1971
Publisher: T. Y. Crowell