'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?

Copyright © 2010 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

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.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

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)

Copyright © 2010 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.