„On Wings of Song“

Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy and the Singer Jenny Lind

 

Piano and Concept : Sebastian Knauer

Compilation of Text: Wolfgang Knauer

 

“He was the only person for whom I felt a deep affection; the only one who could calm my soul. No sooner had I found him than I lost him.“ These words were written to a trusted friend by the singer Jenny Lind in December 1847, one month after the sudden and untimely death of Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy.

 

The Swedish opera diva who had first met the successful composer and celebrated conductor three years previously was, according to biographers, in a state of shock. She had adored Mendelssohn, who was eleven years her senior (and married), not only as a musician but had also, on her own admission, been in love with him.

 

After a joint trip on the Rhine rumours that he reciprocated her feelings would not die down. However, there is no proof of a romance. Instead it can safely be assumed that the Gewandhauskapellmeister, who was at the height of his fame, remained as faithful to his maxim “Life and art are not two different things“ as he did to his wife Cécile.

 

The fact is, however, that Mendelssohn thought very highly of the young Swede and her singing voice and that he felt they were kindred spirits. He never denied the friendship he felt for her, even though it did arouse suspicions in his wife. Mendelssohn so admired the singer, who was celebrated all over Europe, that he wrote the soprano part of his oratorio “Elijah“ for her.

 

In the programme of words and music entitled “On Wings of Song“ the association between Mendelssohn and Jenny Lind is retold from letters and contemporary documents. It also traces Mendelssohn’s last years that were marked by restless and energy-sapping activity in his work as composer and conductor and ended in his sudden death from two strokes.

 

The text, which is presented in the form of memories by Jenny Lind, is framed by some of Mendelssohn’s piano works, amongst them the popular “Songs without Words“ and the “Variations sérieuses“, which is one of the most important works of the romantic piano repertoire.