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Letter to the Mayor of Aachen, Privy Counselor Emundts

February 5, 1846

Horowitz Fund, Miscellaneous Letters Collection, Irving S. Gilmore Music Library

letter to the mayor of Aachen

letter to the mayor of Aachen

letter to the mayor of Aachen

In this letter, Mendelssohn strongly urges the mayor of Aachen (a city in western Germany) to hire the Swedish soprano Jenny Lind to sing at the Lower Rhine Music Festival in May, 1846. (Mendelssohn was the conductor, but apparently the mayor had final authority over personnel decisions.) Mendelssohn explains that Lind will be singing in nearby Cologne, which would make it easier for her to fit Aachen into her busy schedule. He adds that if the Festival did not include Lind, the audience was bound to be disappointed. Whether or not Mendelssohn’s advice proved to be the decisive factor, Lind did in fact sing in Haydn’s The Creation and Handel’s Alexander’s Feast at the Festival that May.

Jenny Lind (1820–1887) was among the greatest singers of the 19th century, and she was especially renowned for her performances of oratorios, including Mendelssohn’s Elijah. During this period, near the end of Mendelssohn’s life, he and Lind were close friends and frequent collaborators, which gave rise to gossip about the precise nature of their relationship, even though both parties had always been considered paragons of moral rectitude. To this day, scholars have not definitively determined whether the gossip had any basis in fact.

In 1850, P.T. Barnum brought Lind to the United States, where she performed in no fewer than 93 cities. The combination of Lind’s celestial singing and Barnum’s crass but ingenious hype made this concert tour one of the most notable musical events in 19th-century America. The Gilmore Music Library has a Jenny Lind Collection that consists of programs, scores, and other materials from Lind’s famous tour. The letter on display is not from the Lind Collection, though; the Library purchased it at a Sotheby’s auction in May 2008.