Donald Macleod continues his exploration of Mendelssohn's last seven years with a look at the year 1844.
Donald Macleod continues his exploration of Mendelssohn's last seven years with a look at the year 1844. Towards the end of the previous year the composer had finally, after months of wrangling, taken up his new appointment as Director of Sacred Music in Berlin. In the event, he found it impossible to work with the court chaplain, Friedrich Adolf Strauss, and ended up providing music for just four services - Christmas, New Year's Day, Passion Sunday and Good Friday. It doubtless came as a great relief to him to return, in the spring, to a city he had first visited in 1829 - London, or "that smoky nest", as he fondly called it. He had agreed to help out the Philharmonic Society, whose finances were in a bad way, by conducting a few concerts for them. The headache induced by a seven-hour rehearsal meant that he had to turn down an invitation to visit Charles Babbage of Difference Engine fame, but Mendelssohn did get to meet Charles Dickens and William Makepeace Thackeray, who pronounced his face: "the most beautiful ...I ever saw, like what I imagine our Saviour's to have been..." His stay was crowned by an audience with Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. It was also during this visit that he composed one of his best-known works - Hear My Prayer, whose second section opens with the line that has given the piece its popular name: 'O for the wings of a dove'. Another of Mendelssohn's most popular creations dates from autumn of the same year - the Violin Concerto, written for his old friend Ferdinand David. David played the première on his 1742 Guarneri del Gesu violin, which later passed to Jascha Heifetz, who plays it on the recording you'll hear in the programme.