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Letter to Carl Klingemann

June 23, 1834

Opochinsky Collection of Music Manuscripts, Irving S. Gilmore Music Library
  Letter to Carl Klingemann Letter to Carl Klingemann

Mendelssohn spent much of his adult life thinking about writing an opera, but for a variety of reasons, these plans never came to fruition. In 1834 he devoted considerable energy to plans for a comic opera called Pervonte, based on a play by Kotzebue. His best friend, Carl Klingemann (1798–1862), was to write the libretto. A diplomat who spent much of his career representing the Kingdom of Hanover in London, Klingemann was also a poet and musician. Because he and Mendelssohn lived in different countries, they communicated mainly in writing, and their correspondence is an important source for Mendelssohn’s biographers. Much of this long, chatty letter is devoted to various aspects of the opera, as Mendelssohn prods Klingemann to send him the text as it is written, and vows, “If you give me the libretto this year, I will bring the score to you in England early next year.” Alas, it was not to be; Mendelssohn never completed Pervonte. He also mentions that he will be composing an overture for the Philharmonic in London, perhaps based on Macbeth or another play by Shakespeare, but this too came to naught.

In addition to his musical talents, Mendelssohn was also a capable artist. In his youth he was trained in painting and drawing, and as an adult he continued to pursue both of these arts, especially when he was traveling. He did everything from formal paintings on canvas to casual illustrations in his correspondence. The trumpets and drums at the top of his letter to Klingemann are a charming example of the latter; Mendelssohn explains that they are a fanfare for the opera that they’ve begun. (The Frederick Koch Collection at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library includes a whole album of Mendelssohn’s drawings from his trip to Scotland with Klingemann in 1829.)

We are grateful to Christa Sammons (Curator of German Literature at the Beinecke Library) and Jeffrey Sammons (Professor Emeritus of German) for deciphering Mendelssohn’s handwriting in this letter, and also in the letter to Eduard Lannoy.

The Klingemann letter comes from the Gilmore Music Library’s Opochinsky Collection, which contains about 300 musical manuscripts, letters, and other documents written by prominent musicians. They were assembled by David Opochinsky, an engineer whose company, Titra-Film, provides subtitles and dubbing for the movie industry. Opochinsky, who was born in the Polish city of Lódz in 1900, was trained as a violinist at the Moscow Conservatory. (His success in business eventually enabled him to purchase violins by Stradivari and Guarneri.) He also played the piano; in fact, he got his start in the movie business as a pianist for silent films. Opochinsky moved to the United States in 1942, and he began collecting rare music documents in 1950. He died in 1974, and in 1986 his heirs generously donated his collection to Yale University. It includes Mendelssohn’s duet “Ich wollt’ meine Lieb’” (also on display) as well as compositions, letters, or autographs by C.P.E. Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Schubert, Liszt, Schumann, Tchaikovsky, Dvorák, Grieg, Scriabin, Rachmaninoff, Kreisler, Casals, Bartók, Stokowski, Stravinsky, Berg, Prokofiev, Copland, and many other eminent composers and performers.