Composers Datebook®

with host John Birge

Wednesday, August 7

Mendelssohn gets wet and wild

Synopsis

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

Additional Information

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