Mendelssohn: A Life in Music by R Larry Todd - review by Rupert Christiansen

Rupert Christiansen

The Last of the Great Unromantics

Mendelssohn: A Life in Music


Oxford University Press 683pp £25 order from our bookshop

IN A SENSE, the most complex and fascinating part of Felix Mendelssohn's life began when he died in 1847, at the age of thirty-eight. His reputation was at a peak - he had recently conducted the premiere of his oratorio Elijah to tumultuous acclaim - and his personal life unblemished. Even the faint embarrassment attendant on his Jewish ancestry could be dossed over - he had converted as a child to Lutheranism and much of his music was an expression of a mainstream Protestant faith.

Throughout Europe, there was widespread grief at his early demise: he was immediately consecrated and romanticised as the greatest of modern composers and an exemplary gentleman. Then in 1850 came a shockingly violent attack from the vitriolic pen of Richard Wagner. On one level, his essay 'Judaism in Music' is

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