Observations: Mendelssohn encore

Jessica Duchen
Friday 30 January 2009 01:00

The story that Felix Mendelssohn threatened suicide over a love affair with the Swedish soprano Jenny Lind has been stirring up a storm in the classical music world since The Independent told the tale on 12 January. This astonishing history is apparently contained in an affidavit from Jenny Lind's husband and fellow composer, Otto Goldschmidt, long concealed in the archive of the Mendelssohn Scholarship Foundation.

Classical aficionados have found their imaginations quickly captured by the notion that Mendelssohn may have "died of love". But, far from "shattering Mendelssohn's reputation", the story seems to have given the unfortunate composer, who died aged only 38 in 1847, a certain amount of street-cred. As ever, the audience adores a suffering genius.

Reports have spread like wildfire across the globe, from a national newspaper in Brazil to arts journalists and bloggers in the US, Portugal, Sweden and Italy as well as the UK – among them, Anne Midgette of The Washington Post, Tom Service of The Guardian and the popular Milan-based Opera Chic. Several important academics have sent appreciative messages and we hear that today's pre-eminent Mendelssohn scholar and biographer, R Larry Todd, is writing to the foundation requesting access to the documents. It looks as if the article has set in motion a major reassessment of Mendelssohn's personality and fate.

In a further twist to the tale, a team in the Netherlands, Jens and Cecilia Jorgensen, working under the title Icons of Europe, claim to have detected a secret love affair after Mendelssohn's demise between Lind and the dying Chopin.

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