Composers Datebook®

Mendelssohn gets wet and wild

Composer's Datebook - 20220807


On today’s date in 1829, the German composer Felix Mendelssohn and his friend, Karl Klingemann, were on the North Sea bound for Glasgow.

Klingemann was not impressed with Scotland and wrote home that the rough North Sea passage had made most of the passengers sick – with one remarkable exception. “An 82-year old woman,” he wrote, “sat calmly by the smoke stack, warming herself in the cold wind. She was determined to see Staffa before she died. Staffa, with its silly basalt columns and caves, is in all the picture books. So, we were put into boats and clambered past the hissing sea on stumps of columns up to the odiously celebrated Fingal’s Cave. I must say, never did such green and roaring waves pound in a stranger cave. The many pillars make the inside resemble a monstrous organ. Black, resounding, and utterly without any purpose at all…”

Well, perhaps not utterly without purpose, since Felix Mendelssohn sent a letter home to HIS family on August 7 which included a scrap of musical notation. “To give you an idea of how strange I felt,” wrote Mendelssohn, “this music occurred to me.” It was the opening theme of what would become his concert overture titled “The Hebrides, or Fingal’s Cave.”

Music Played in Today's Program

Felix Mendelssohn (1809 - 1847) –The Hebrides (Fingal's Cave) (Overture BBC Symphony; Sir Colin Davis, cond.) Philips 426 978

On This Day


  • 1818 - English-born French composer, pianist and music publisher Charles Henry Litolff, in London;

  • 1868 - British composer Sir Granville Bantock, in London;

  • 1896 - Cuban composer Ernesto Lecuona, in Havana; He composed a number of popular Latin pop melodies, including his famous "Malagueña";

  • 1921 - Czech-born, American composer and conductor Karel Husa, in Prague; He became an American citizen in 1959; In 1969 he won the Pulitzer Prize for Music for his String Quartet No. 3;

  • 1925 - Spanish-born American composer Julián Orbón, in Aviles;


  • 1893 - Italian opera composer Alfred Caatalani, age 39, in Milan;

  • 1913 - Czech composer and cellist David Popper, age 69, in Baden (near Vienna);

  • 1970 - German-born American composer Ingolf Dahl, age 58, in Bernem Switzerland;


  • 1912 - Prokofiev: Piano Concerto No. 1, in Moscow, with the composer (age 21) as soloist (Julian date: July 26);

  • 1977 - Hanson: Symphony No. 7 ("A Sea Symphony") at the National Music Camp in Interlochen, Michigan;

  • 1981 - Cerha: opera "Baal," at the Salzburg Festival in Austria;

  • 1981 - John Harbison: Piano Quintet, at the Sante Fe Chamber Music Festival in New Mexico, with Edward Auer (piano), Ani Kavafian (violin), Walter Trampler (viola), Timothy Eddy (cello);

  • 1991 - David Del Tredici: "An Alice Symphony" (first complete performance), during the Tanglewood Music Festival in Lenox, Mass.;

  • 2001 - Augusta Read Thomas: "Murmurs in the Mist of Memory," at the Aspen Music Festival in Colorado, by the International Sejong Soloists;


  • 1829 - Mendelssohn visits Fingal's Cave in the Hebrides Islands west of Scotland coast and starts composing the 'Hebrides' Overture.

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About Composers Datebook®

Host John Birge presents a daily snapshot of composers past and present, with timely information, intriguing musical events and appropriate, accessible music related to each.

He has been hosting, producing and performing classical music for more than 25 years. Since 1997, he has been hosting on Minnesota Public Radio's Classical Music Service. He played French horn for the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestra and performed with them on their centennial tour of Europe in 1995. He was trained at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Eastman School of Music and Interlochen Arts Academy.

About Composers Datebook®