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Mendelssohn discusses programme music

October 10, 2008

In this extract from one of his letters Mendelssohn discusses programme music. My addition is in square brackets.

To me it seems impossible to compose a descriptive poem:…. one composer in the Erlkönig [King of the Elves] imitates the rustlings of the willow trees, the wailing of the child, and the galloping of the horse. The other imagines a ballad-chanting minstrel, who recites the gruesome tale quietly, almost in a whisper, as if telling a ghost story, and this is the more accurate way; still, I do not like it……..I love my serious strands of sound too well to do anything of the sort. For this kind of thing always seems to me rather like a joke, somewhat like the paintings in juvenile spelling-books, where the roofs are coloured bright red to make the children aware they are indeed supposed to be roofs.

Letter to Baroness Pereira, July 1831. Quoted in Eric Werner, Mendelssohn, Collier-Macmillan,1963, pp. 103-104.

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