Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy edited by Margaret Crum

(Bodleian Picture Books). Bodleian Library


Mendelssohn was a dab hand at painting and sketching. His pictorial talents look doubly remarkable; so very accomplished, yet so wholly unlike music (i.e. visual, spatial, social and contemplative, to use Langerian terms; as distinct from auditory, temporal, personal and lived). Eye and ear must surely have been linked by some process of Mendelssohnian inheritance. Of course no one could argue from a weakness in perspective and figure-drawing in the one art to any lack of depth or humanity in the other. Yet the music does often somehow seem to spring from scenery, whether natural (Hebrides) or theatrical (Midsummer Night’s Dream); and it might even gain in depth if viewed as a two-dimensional sounding surface of form and colour, texture and structure. On that showing, this catalogue could be enlightening. Of its 40 plates, 16 are drawings by Mendelssohn, many of them unfamiliar. Their typical background of buildings with a foreground of foliage -central solidity, peripheral decoration - is the very picture of the artist. But many of the other plates seem too marginal or too focal - either dubiously relevant or wearily familiar. The basic dilemma is neatly illustrated by the series title. “Bodleian Picture Book” suggests something designed to appeal to BAs and boys, Schools and schools - which rather falls between the two. But the necessary discount still leaves sterling value. The catalogue really is raisonné; the University-type letterpress borders on the non­pareil. The seven-page preface and the eleven-page description of plates are the lucid and informative outcome of painstaking and comprehensive yet unobtrusive scholarship. It could justly be called a model instructional booklet. 


The Musical Times, Nov. 1972 (p. 1089) © the estate of eric sams