Donald Macleod explores Felix Mendelssohn's last seven years, starting with his appointment in 1841 to the post of Royal Prussian Kapellmeister in his home town of Berlin. For the previous six years Mendelssohn had been based in Leipzig, as director of the Gewandhaus Concerts. He had been spectacularly successful, turning the orchestra there into one of the finest in Europe - and thereby making himself an attractive prospect for neighbouring rulers to poach. The new king of Prussia, Friedrich Wilhelm IV, wanted to make Berlin a cultural centre to be reckoned with, and had decided that Mendelssohn was the man for the job. After six months of strenuous but largely unsuccessful attempts to hammer out the responsibilities of his post, Mendelssohn was offered a lucrative one-year contract on a pretty much take-it-or-leave-it basis; he took it, but the job remained ill-defined and he grew increasingly frustrated - not least with the lack of any progress whatsoever on the proposed new Berlin Conservatory, the creation of which had been a major carrot during the negotiations. Mendelssohn's incidental music to Sophocles' Antigone is one of the few fruits of this first Berlin post; but at least he had plenty of time to get to grips with the composition of his 'Scottish' Symphony, the seeds of which had been sown during his visit to the ruins of Queen Mary's palace of Holyrood in 1829. On hearing the symphony, one contemporary critic astutely commented, "we may prophesy that it will rouse pure feeling of pleasure everywhere".
Producer: Chris Barstow.