An occurrence at the Birmingham festival throws a clear light on Mendelssohn’s presence of mind, and on his faculty of instant concentration. On the last day, among other things, one of Handel’s anthems was given. The concert was already going on, when it was discovered that the short recitative which precedes the “Coronation Hymn,” and which the public had in the printed text, was lacking in the voice parts. The directors were perplexed. Mendelssohn, who was sitting in an ante-room of the hall, heard of it, and said, “Wait, I will help you.” He sat down directly at a table, and composed the music for the recitative and the orchestral accompaniment in about half an hour. It was at once transcribed, and given without any rehearsal, and went very finely.
On returning to Leipsic he determined to pass the summer in Vevay, Switzerland, on account of his failing health, which had begun to alarm himself and his friends. His letters from Switzerland at this period show how the shadow of rapidly approaching death already threw a deep gloom over his habitually cheerful nature. He returned to Leipsic, and resumed hard work. His operetta entitled “Return from among Strangers” was his last production, with the exception of some lively songs and a few piano pieces of the “Lieder ohne Worte,” or “Songs without Words,” series. Mendelssohn was seized with an apoplectic attack on October 9,1847. Second and third seizures quickly followed, and he died November 4th, aged thirty-eight years.
All Germany and Europe sorrowed over the loss of this great musician, and his funeral was attended by many of the most distinguished persons from all parts of the land, for the loss was felt to be something like a national calamity.
Mendelssohn was one of the most intelligent and scholarly composers of the century. Learned in various branches of knowledge, and personally a man of unusual accomplishments, his career was full of manly energy, enlightened enthusiasm, and severe devotion to the highest forms of the art of music. Not only his great oratorios, “St. Paul” and “Elijah,” but his music for the piano, including the “Songs without Words,” sonatas, and many occasional pieces, have won him a high place among his musical brethren. As an orchestral composer, his overtures are filled with strikingly original thoughts and elevated conceptions, expressed with much delicacy of instrumental coloring. He was brought but little in contact with the French and Italian schools, and there is found in his works a severity of art-form which shows how closely he sympathized with Bach and Handel in his musical tendencies. He died while at the very zenith of his powers, and we may well believe that a longer life would have developed much richer beauty in his compositions. Short as his career was, however, he left a great number of magnificent works, which entitle him to a place among the Titans of music.