<< -- 3 -- Jennifer Paull THE BONSAI SEQUOIA
Perfection is a trifle dull. It is not the least of life's
ironies that this, which we all aim at, is better not quite achieved.
-- W Somerset Maugham (1874-1965) British author The Summing Up,
chapter 76 (1938)
Of course, not all germinated, but perhaps the Octet written by
a sixteen year old youth would have grown into a creative forest without
quite so much regimented spadework. It is true that Mendelssohn's choral
writing is second only to that of Bach and Handel in its skilled effectiveness.
Of course, he owed much to his teacher. Yet many of his chamber works show
their formalism too plainly. His passion (indoctrination?) for symmetry
was their undoing. Every melodic figure had its replica, every phrase, its
counterpoise in his music. Zelter the zealous' footprints?
Today's general opinion is that Mendelssohn never pushed far enough to
discover subtle deviations from his symmetric, landscape garden. Safe planting
doesn't always make for the most successful aestheticism. There was
a lack of will to transcend convention and to shoot forward exploratory
tendrils. This flaw appears again and again in his works. He can be obvious
in his tame, sentimental cadences and bouquet harmonisations.
Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Willing is not enough; we
must do -- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832), poet, dramatist,
novelist, and philosopher
Perhaps doing can equally imply undoing? Sometimes the
teacher makes his student into what he wishes he were himself, rather than
allowing the flower of talent to blossom creatively. Cloning doesn't
generate hybrid twigs and side shoots. They have to be allowed to grow from
within, nourished by the sap of originality through experimental divergence.
And the day came when the risk it took to remain tight inside the
bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom. -- Anais Nin,
Felix travelled again to Paris, but finally enrolled as a student at
the University of Berlin in 1826. It was here that he began to study Bach's
St Matthew Passion. Even as a teenager, Mendelssohn had fully understood
the genius of the neglected, great composer. Through his championship, the
movement that has raised Bach's music to world sovereignty snowballed.
Copyright © 4 November 2002
Jennifer Paull, Vouvry, Switzerland