Tuesday, April 17, 2007


It was a happy life the children led, amid ideal surroundings. Felix
very early showed a great fondness for music, and everything was done
to foster his budding talent. With his sister Fanny, to whom he was
devotedly attached, he began to have short music lessons from
his mother when he was only four years old. Their progress was so
satisfactory, that after a while, professional musicians were engaged
to teach them piano, violin and composition, as a regular part of
their education. Besides these, they must study Greek, Latin, drawing
and school subjects. With so much study to be done each day, it was
necessary to begin work at five o'clock in the morning. But in spite
of hard work all were happy, and as for Felix nothing could dampen the
flow of his high spirits; he enjoyed equally work and play, giving the
same earnest attention to each. Both he and Fanny were beginning
to compose, and Felix's attempts at improvising upon some comical
incident in their play time would call forth peals of laughter from
the inseparable children.
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The boy picked out the strange manuscript bit by bit; when he came to
the end he cried, "Now I will play it through for you," which he did
without a mistake. Goethe was well pleased and begged Felix to come
every day and play, while he was in the city. The two became fast
friends; the poet treated him as a son, and at parting begged he would
soon return to Wiemar, that they might again be together. During the
following summer the whole family made a tour through Switzerland,
much to the delight of Felix, who enjoyed every moment. There was
little time for real work in composition, but a couple of songs and
the beginning of a piano quartet were inspired by the view of Lake
Geneva and its exquisite surroundings.

When Felix returned to Berlin, he had grown much, physically as well
as mentally. He was now tall and strong, his curling locks had been
clipped, and he seemed at a single bound to have become almost a man.
His happy, boyish spirits, however, had not changed in the least.
About this time the family removed from their home on the Neue
Promenade, to a larger and more stately mansion, No. 3 Leipsiger
Strasse, then situated on the outskirts of the town, near the Potsdam
Gate. As those who know the modern city realize, this house, now no
longer a private residence, stands in the very heart of traffic and
business. The rooms of the new home were large and elegant, with
a spacious salon suitable for musicals and large functions. A fine
garden or park belonged to the house, where were lawns shaded by
forest trees, winding paths, flowering shrubs and arbors in shady
nooks, offering quiet retreats. Best of all there was a garden house,
with a central hall, which would hold several hundred people, having
long windows and glass doors looking out upon the trees and flowers.
Sunday concerts were soon resumed and given in the garden house,
where, on week days the young people met, with friends and elders, to
play, and act and enjoy the social life of the home. The mansion and
its hospitality became famous, and every great musician, at one time
or another, came to pay his respects and become acquainted with this
art-loving family.

At a family party in honor of Felix's fifteenth birthday, his teacher
Zelter saluted him as no longer an apprentice, but as an "assistant"
and member of the Brotherhood of Art. Very soon after this the young
composer completed two important works. The first was an Octet for
strings. He was not yet seventeen when the Octet was finished,
which was pronounced the most fresh and original work he had yet
accomplished. It marked a distinct stage in the gifted youth's
development. The composition which followed was the beautiful
"Midsummer Night's Dream" music. He and his sister Fanny had lately
made the acquaintance of Shakespeare through a German translation, and
had been fascinated by this fairy play. The young people spent much of
their time in the lovely garden that summer, and amid these delightful
surroundings the music was conceived.

The Overture was first to spring into being. When it was written
out, Felix and Fanny often played it as a duet. In this form the
composer-pianist Moscheles heard it and was impressed by its beauty.
The fascinating Scherzo and dreamy Nocturne followed. When all were
elaborated and perfected, the complete work was performed by the
garden house orchestra for a crowded audience, who abundantly
expressed their delight. Sir G. Macfarren has said of it: "No one
musical work contains so many points of harmony and orchestration that
are novel yet none of them have the air of experiment, but all seem to
have been written with a certainty of their success."