Following in the Footsteps of Mendelssohn

By Barry Kempton

Today’s post is written by Paul Olson, Director of Development at the Schubert Club. 

In the summer of 1829, the 20-year-old composer Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy made a three-week visit to London and Scotland which resulted in the writing of two of his best-loved works: the Overture – The Hebrides, and the Symphony No 3 in A minor (Scottish).

In May 2016, a group of 28 Schubert Club patrons traveled together to the UK to trace Mendelssohn’s trip in order to experience the sights, sounds and culture that influenced him to write these two iconic works. Most people don’t realize that Mendelssohn was also a painter and sketch artist, and we visited these locations and compared his sketches to the scenes – they are virtually unchanged for the past 187 years.

img_9178We had the privilege of being led on this tour by Mendelssohn scholar, UK musician and orchestra administrator, Stephen Carpenter. Our tour began in London, just as Mendelssohn started his trip before embarking on his Scottish journey. Highlights included a champagne toast atop the Shard (London’s tallest building) while enjoying the vistas of London, a private luncheon and tour at Houses of Parliament, a recital by violinist Augustin Hadelich at the iconic Wigmore Hall (Hadelich will be performing for the Schubert Club International Artist Series concerts on November 29 and December 1), a tour and private recital at Handel and Hendrix House, and some in the group imbibed each evening at area pubs. 

img_2235A lovely train trip to Scotland began our tour to Edinburgh. We boarded a coach and went down to Melrose and Abbotsford (the home of Sir Walter Scott), around the Highlands and over to the western Isles of Mull, Iona and Staffa (with Fingal’s Cave which influenced the Hebrides Overture) and Loch Lomond. Along the way, we experienced quintessential Scottish traditions: Eating Haggis (grain, spices and sheep organ meat baked in the sheep’s stomach, which was surprisingly delicious), having a private Scotch whiskey distillery tour and tasting, walking the Royal Mile in Edinburgh in pouring rain, enjoying a private evening in the Queen’s dining room on the Royal Yacht Britannia, and hearing the haunting sounds of bagpipers in traditional kilts. 

img_0257As I now reflect back on the amazing experiences from this tour, I never imagined that a group of Schubert Club patrons, traveling together to Scotland to trace the travels of a German composer, would result in friendships that will last a lifetime. I believe that is the most important thing that came out of the trip. And for that, I sincerely thank you,  Felix Mendelssohn!