Letter: A tale ahead of its time

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The Independent Online
Sir: Mark Lawson's article on Middlemarch - a novel set some time before the first Reform Bill of 1832 - reminded me of an anachronism: Rosamond playing the first of Mendelssohn's Songs Without Words. Mendelssohn composed the first book in 1828, but the first record of its publication is by Novello in 1832. If it had been published earlier on the Continent, would it have come to the notice of a young lady in the Midlands before its London publication?

Anachronism or not, this led to my taking out my copy of all seven books and reminding myself how much beautiful music is held in them, and what a pity it is that they are now so little heard. Rosamond's competent playing of one probably fostered the legend that they are just pieces for Victorian young ladies (including, of course, Queen Victoria, a Mendelssohn devotee).

Victorian young ladies must often have been most capable pianists, with all day to practise, as shown by the difficulties not just of some of the Songs Without Words but the transcriptions of chamber music for two hands I have from that era, to say nothing of Liszt's two-hand versions of Beethoven symphonies.

Yours sincerely,

ALFRED BROWNE

East Molesey, Surrey

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