by Gabriel Prynn
Was Robert himself antisemitic? Not a confirmed one, and at least not openly, but remarks shared in private in his diaries do suggest he held attitudes in line with the insidious antisemitism of his time. This text, which Robert wrote in his joint marriage diary with Clara in 1840, is often highlighted:
“Clara told me that I seemed to have changed toward Mendelssohn; surely not toward him as an artist, as you know—for years I have contributed so much to promoting him, more than almost anyone else. In the meantime—let us not neglect ourselves too much. Jews remain Jews; first they take a seat ten times for themselves, then come the Christians. The stones we have helped gather for their Temple of Glory they occasionally throw at us … We must also work for ourselves.”
As is so often the case with prejudice, jealousy may have fed Robert’s sentiments. His claim to have promoted Felix “more than anyone else” is certainly a staggering one given the well-documented facts to the contrary. In any case, Robert was apparently unaware of Felix’s anger towards him after the ugly episode surrounding the premiere in Leipzig in 1846, and would have been too naïve to pick up on the antisemitic implications. He wrote to Felix, which led to them reuniting once again on February 10th 1847. Robert’s diary describes a ‘cordial welcome from everyone there’. We know that there was also a second meeting in March that year, although no detailed record of that exists. We can be fairly sure that Felix did not raise the episode of the previous year with Robert directly during those meetings however – perhaps through pride, or maybe his irrational feelings had faded. In any event, they were not to meet again.
In November 1847 Felix died unexpectedly of a stroke aged 38. This was only six months after the sudden death of his beloved sister Fanny.
Upon returning from the funeral, Robert sat down to write honestly about his memories of Felix Mendelssohn. He mentions the ‘highest artistic and moral maxims’, reports that he was sometimes ‘ruthless’, ‘harsh’ and even ‘inhuman”. But Robert also speaks of his friend’s ‘true generosity and delicacy’. He was ‘the fiercest, most conscientious critic of his own work I have ever met’, ‘his mission was fulfilled, he knew that better than anyone’. It was in September 1848 that Robert brought together in a single collection various miniature pieces written over several years for the seventh birthday of his daughter Marie: his Album for the Young, Opus 68. Robert Schumann’s lasting musical tribute to Felix Mendelssohn, touching through its simplicity and innocence, appears here as Erinnerung. 4. November 1847 (‘Souvenir’, with the date of Felix’s death)
For Schumann to include this tribute in the Album for the Young is indeed appropriate, since Mendelssohn’s music will be forever youthful.
Tickets can be bought online, by phone (514-285-2000, option 1), or in person at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts ticket office (1380 Sherbrooke West)
Webcast concert also available starting Saturday, May 22.