Overwhelmed in London


Felix Mendelssohn’s trip to England inspired some of his finest music. But sometimes the 20-year-old composer was so overwhelmed by his surroundings that Mendelssohn the musician took a backseat to Mendelssohn the tourist. He wrote to his family on April 25th, 1829:

“I have taken leave of my senses. London is the grandest and most complex monstrosity on earth. Picture this. You step out of my lodging and turn right, down Regent Street. Look at that magnificent wide street lined with porticos–unfortunately behind a thick fog again today.

“See over there a horse rearing up because its rider has acquaintances in a nearby house. See men carrying around posters promoting graceful and artistic performances by trained cats. See the beggars and the Negroes and the fat John Bulls with a slender, pretty daughter on each arm. Oh, those daughters! But have no fear. I’m not in any danger in that department, either in Hyde Park with its crowds of young ladies or at the concert or at the Opera.

“The only danger is at street corners and crossings where I often murmur to myself, ‘Be careful not to fall under the wheels.’

“Here I am sitting near the divine grand piano that the Clementi firm has just sent over for the duration of my stay. Here I am beside a cheerful fire, within my own four walls. Under my window a beggar has just struck up a song and is almost drowned out by the cries of the hawkers. From here to London itself is a three-quarter hour drive, and all along the way, down every street you find a constant din. But that’s only about a quarter of the city. Imagine all that and you can imagine why I’m half out of my senses.”

Felix Mendelssohn, composer and tourist, writing to his family from London on April 25th, 1829.

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