chapter  XV
12 Pages


IT is related of Weber that" as he sat in his travelling carriage the scenery through which he passed would present itself to his inner ear as a piece of music . with him any external impression at once clothed itself in musical form ", and Felix Mendelssohn would seem to have possessed a similar faculty of transmuting visual into aural sensations. All his best music, in fact, is the outcome of some pictorial stimulus or other, and, it is not altogether irrelevant to observe, he was an amateur painter of considerable ability. He remarks somewhere in his correspondence that he took particular pleasure "in composing the memory of things seen ", and that "in front of the pictures of the great Venetian masters, and Titian in particular, I feel music rising up inside me. It is in pictures, ruins, and in natural surroundings, that I find the most music". Both the Italian and Scotch symphonies are pictures in sound, and the main themes of each sprang spontaneously from direct visual impressions. The beginning of the latter work, for example, was actually sketched from nature, as he sat among the ruins of the chapel at Holyrood in Edinburgh, and the fantasies or caprices of Op. 16 are avowedly depictions in sound of flowers-still-life compositions of carnations and roses. The music of the Midsummer Night's Dream, Hebrides,·M elusine, and Calm SPA, and Prosperous Voyage Overtures, is all suggested by, and in its tum suggests to the listener, pictorial impressions. His dependence on such sources of inspiration may be gauged by the fact that all his best work is based upon them, and that his progressive emancipation from them in his later work coincided with a definite decline in the quality of his art. As a landscape painter in sounds, as Wagner said, Mendelssohn was a composer of the first rank; as a musician pure and simple, however he is comparatively undistinguished, derivative, and even second-rate, with the exception, perhaps, of his admirable violin concerto.