Everything You Never Knew You Wanted to Know About Berlin

HERR MENDELSSOHN IN LONDON: Spring in Camberwell Green

Did you know that an exquisite piece of music by one of Berlin´s most famous artists, Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy – a grandson of the heavyweight of German history, philosopher Moses Mendelssohn – was originally named after a place in London?

Portrait of Felix Mendelssohn painted by James Warren Childe in 1830.

In 1841 Mendelssohn paid his seventh visit to the UK´s capital. He had visited the city before and his fame as a composer and performer grew with each stay. This time he was travelling with his wife, Cécilie, whose relatives, the Benneckes, owned an elegant house near Ruskin Park which you will find in the district of Brixton. Their lodgings, Dane House, at 168 Denmark Hill, was one of eight residential buildings standing in the then peripheral London street along today´s Ruskin Park.

Alexander Nasmyth´s “Panoramic View of London from Denmark Hill (image through Hackney Museum, Chalmers Bequest).

The composer was very taken with the neighbourhood: a spreading green, tranquil and inviting to take long, refreshing walks. Eventually he did what every delighted artist would do: he created a piece of art praising the place which enchanted him so much. He called it “Camberwell Green”, after the name the area had at the time. Ruskin Park, named after a great British author, intellectual and social reformer, John Ruskin who lived at No. 163 Denmark Hill, had not been established until early in the twentieth century.

Later that beautiful, compact piece of music – whose graceful passages and cheerful note are known to most (whether they are aware of the author or not) – was included by Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy in a collection of his lyrical piano pieces Lieder Ohne Worte (“Songs without Words”). It is possible that the change of name was meant to improve the piece´s reception.

Today it features under the title “Frühlingslied” (Spring Song) or “No. 6 Allegretto grazioso in A major” in Book 5, Opus 62 of Mendelssohn´s short piano works.

Enjoy this lovely rendition of Mendelssohn´s piece played in 1946 by Vladimir Horowitz. If you are in Berlin, you might want to pay a visit to Felix Mendelssohn´s grave: the composer is buried along many illustrious members of his family at the  Dreifaltigkeits-Kirchhof I in Berlin-Kreuzberg.

Schönes Wochenede!



2 comments on “HERR MENDELSSOHN IN LONDON: Spring in Camberwell Green

  1. Gary Costello
    July 7, 2017

    Thank you for another great piece of work. May your weekend be sunny and fair!


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