Most people know Mendelssohn as a composer of genius, but he was also a virtuoso pianist, a conductor, and a linguist. He could read, write and speak ancient Greek at the age of 12, and his collection of books shows that he read the novels of Walter Scott in English, The Decameron in Italian and Don Quixote in Spanish.
He was a writer (as well as several articles on music, he was a habitual letter writer, with over 7,000 letters to his name during his lifetime, although he only wrote a handful during his Scottish trip); he was also a chess player, a gymnast, a swimmer, an equestrian, and a consummate administrator. In fact, he is as near to being a “Renaissance Man” as any figure from history, musical or otherwise.
And he possessed another talent which is important in throwing light on his journey through Scotland: he was an accomplished artist. He sketched avidly many of the scenes that he saw, and we are fortunate in having available today the series of over 30 sketches that Mendelssohn made as he travelled northwards through England and around Scotland. From these sketches we can know almost to the hour where Mendelssohn and Klingemann went in Scotland and even the weather that they experienced. Where possible (and in virtually every case it is possible), a still photo or a short video of the same views that we can see today has been placed alongside the original Mendelssohn sketches on this website.
The sketches come from three sources. I am grateful to the Bodleian Library in Oxford for their permission to reproduce the sketches from the first two sources, which both come from the Library’s Margaret Deneke collection.
The first source is a small pocket notebook, about 10cm by 6cm, which Mendelssohn carried with him wherever he went during his visit to England and Scotland in 1829. This notebook had been given to Mendelssohn as a Christmas present from Wilhelm Hensel (his future brother-in-law) in December 1828; it is handsomely bound in black Moroccan leather with all-over gilt tooling. It served as a kind of diary and, as well as several sketches, includes jottings and notes in tiny handwriting. A couple of entries that shine a light on the sort of thing that Mendelssohn got up to in London in 1829 are (17 June 1829): “Diner. [Thomas] Attwood, Biggin Hill, Norwood, Surrey”; and (2 July 1829) “Hampton Court mit Klingemann”! I refer to this source as the “Bodliean notebook”.