MENDELSSOHN (FELIX BARTHOLDY) Autograph letter signed, in German, to [Edward] Buxton, his publisher, 1847
Lot 228
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Autograph letter signed ("Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy"), in German, to [Edward] Buxton, his publisher, telling him he needs to speak to him as soon as possible about tomorrow's performance, and asking if it would be possible for him to come to him during the morning; in which case he shall wait for him until four; adding "Please come, it's important" (translation), 1 page, trimmed in the margins, lightly discoloured and tipped onto an album leaf, 8vo, L[ondon], 15 April 1847


  • 'PLEASE COME, IT'S IMPORTANT' – AN ANXIOUS MENDELSSOHN WRITES TO HIS PUBLISHER ON THE EVE OF THE FIRST PERFORMANCE OF THE REVISED ELIJAH. The oratorio had first been performed to enormous acclaim at Birmingham the previous August; 'but it was only just ready in time thanks to the prompting of the translator William Bartholomew and his English publisher, Edward Buxton of Ewer & Co' (Peter Ward Jones, ODNB). Notwithstanding its success, Mendelssohn was dissatisfied and worked on it back at Leipzig worked over the following winter. The first performance of the revised version took place at the Exeter Hall, on the Strand, on 16 April, the day after our almost panic-stricken letter. It met with equal acclaim, the Spectator reviewer observing: 'Our readers may recollect that this oratorio was composed for and first performed at the Birmingham Festival in August last; when we gave a particular account of the subject and its musical treatment. Notwithstanding the unmingled delight and admiration with which it was listened to on that occasion, the composer appears to have been far from satisfied with his work. He so expressed himself to some of his friends at the time; and he has subsequently bestowed much time and labour in revising and improving it... there is hardly a movement that has not been retouched. This is perhaps a solitary instance of such extensive changes made in a great musical work after it had been not only completed but publicly performed. Its publication, so long retarded on this account, will now, we trust, immediately take place' (17 April 1847, p. 19). This was to be Mendelssohn's last visit to England. He died less than seven months later, on 4 November 1847.

    The letter's recipient, Edward Buxton, was owner of Ewer & Co and had taken over from Novello as Mendelssohn's English publisher: 'In revising Elijah [Mendelssohn] was motivated by two particular goals: to complete an improved version of the oratorio in time for the London premiere, in April 1847, and to prepare the work in as timely a manner as possible for simultaneous publication in Germany by Simrock and in England by Ewer and Co. The composer's correspondence with these two firms in the early months of 1847 reveals in detail just how laborious and tedious a process Mendelssohn's was. The publishers' interest in bringing out Elijah as quickly as possible was underscored as early as November 10, 1846, when Edward Buxton, the director of Ewer and Company, admonished Mendelssohn in these terms: "There is moreover some danger in keeping the work too long out of print, as there is the possibility of some of the single pieces being copied out and getting into the hands of any of the music sellers here, who would be unprincipled enough to publish them before I could enroll my copyright, which I can only do when it is all in print. I know there are several looking out for it and who have expressed their determination to print the songs if they could get hold of them"... But despite the composer's best efforts, the publication of the oratorio was delayed until June 1847, several weeks after he returned in May from England to Germany. Mendelssohn acknowledged receiving an exemplar of the piano-vocal score from Simrock in July 1847; not until October, only days before the composer's death, was Simrock ready to send copies of the full score. The English piano-vocal score appeared simultaneously with the Simrock prints' (R. Larry Todd, 'Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy: Overture to Elijah Arrangement for Piano Duet (1847)', Music History from Primary Sources: A Guide to the Moldenhauer Archives, edited by Jon Newsom and Alfred Mann, Library of Congress, 2000: 313-20).
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