'The Heart Of Man Is Like A Mine': A Mendelssohn Mystery

A lost song that German composer Felix Mendelssohn wrote in 1842 has been found, but its sudden emergence is clouded in mystery. Why was it found in the U.S., and why was it never published?

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Twenty-nine bars of music are making classical fans giddy today. Those bars make up a song called "The Heart of Man is Like a Mine."

AMY WILLIAMSON: (Singing in foreign language)

SIEGEL: It was written by composer Felix Mendelssohn.


Mendelssohn wrote the song in 1842, when he was 33 years old. It was a commission for an acquaintance.

ANASTASIA TSIOULCAS, BYLINE: He'd had no intention of publishing this or making it go public in any way.

BLOCK: That's Anastasia Tsioulcas with NPR Music. She says the song was performed privately and the manuscript was sold at auction twice, the last time in 1872.

TSIOULCAS: And then after that, it vanished. So scholars knew about it and some musicians knew about it but they assumed that the manuscript was lost.

SIEGEL: And now that original manuscript has been rediscovered.

WILLIAMSON: (Singing in foreign language)

SIEGEL: So where has this manuscript been for more than a century? Well, Tsioulcas only knew it was found somewhere in the U.S. among papers belonging to the current owner's grandfather, a musician and a Mendelssohn fan.

BLOCK: Christie's will put the original manuscript on the auction block later this month. The single page of music, which includes Mendelssohn's signature, is expected to sell for up to $42,000.

TSIOULCAS: So we're not sure why it's come to market now or why the family has decided to sell right now. But it's an enchanting discovery nonetheless.

WILLIAMSON: (Singing in foreign language)

SIEGEL: By the way, the version that we've been hearing was performed today on BBC Radio. That's alto Amy Williamson and pianist Christopher Glynn.

BLOCK: And you can hear the complete song - only a minute and a half long - at NPR.org.

WILLIAMSON: (Singing in foreign language)

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