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Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847)

Op.30, No.6 - Songs without words No.12 

in F# Minor, "Venetian Gondola Song”

Emir Gamsız, piano


This piece is in the album:

"A Piano in Manhattan"

Read about the album: Click here.

Read about the composer: Click here.

Read about the pianist: Click here.


Not until more than four years after writing the first Venetianisches Gondellied Op.19, No.6 did Mendelssohn compose another piece of this type. The Venetianisches Gondellied Op.19, No.6 is the only one to have been actually written in Venice. Mendelssohn probably composed it immediately after his arrival (the surviving autograph, headed “Auf einer Gondel” (In a gondola), carries the date 16 October 1830), and it would probably not be going too far to interpret the piece as a musical picture postcard. The addressee was Delphine von Schauroth, who was four years younger than Mendelssohn. He had got to know her in Paris back in 1825, and had met her again in Munich in summer 1830. Schauroth was an outstanding pianist, and also composed (Mendelssohn wrote his Rondo capriccioso Op.14 and his First Piano Concerto Op.25 for her). She had written her own Lied ohne Worte into an album for Mendelssohn, and the Op.19 No.6 Gondellied was his way of reciprocating as he had promised her. He sent it to Munich on 17 October, though it got lost in the post. There is a trace of (tragic) irony in this, for it became a sad portent for their whole relationship. Mendelssohn fell in love with Delphine von Schauroth without any hope of being able to build a relationship with her (the main opposition came from his parents’ side). While the copy mailed to Schauroth remains lost, the first autograph does survive. Mendelssohn later wrote out the piece at least once more, and used it as an album leaf.

This new Gondellied was also an album leaf, this time for Henriette Voigt, whom Mendelssohn knew from his youth in Berlin when they had both received instruction in piano from Ludwig Berger. Voigt, a splendid pianist who had been married to the businessman Carl Voigt since 1830, ran a musical salon in Leipzig and urged many musicians and composers attending it to leave behind a short musical entry in her album. After Mendelssohn had already written a little fugue into it in autumn 1833, he was once again asked for a small offering in March 1835. When sending the Gondellied on 15 March, Mendelssohn – who in the intervening period had become active in Düsseldorf – also sent the following lines: “But now the white album leaf still lies before me, and looks up at me menacingly! Yesterday evening I played a small piece in F Sharp Minor on the piano, and I want to write it onto that leaf; if however I have to delete it, then give me credit for it; and likewise if it is no good. For in the first days all my pieces please me very much, and I certainly wanted to send you something completely new and not previously written down. So be very patient”. That such forbearance was not required is revealed by an entry by Voigt into her weekly calendar, where under 19 March she has written “letter from Mendelssohn in Duesseldorf, who has sent me a little ‘Gondolière’ – emanating fresh and new from his mind. Deep joy.”

Also in March 1835, Mendelssohn made a selection of six piano pieces – including the new Gondellied – that was published that spring as the second book of Sechs Lieder ohne Worte (Bonn: Simrock; London: Mori & Lavenu; Paris: Schlesinger). The composer valued specifically this Gondellied highly, as emerges from a letter to his friend from youth, Carl Klingemann: “But I also like the Venetian Gondola Song. However, you must use a lot of pedal in it, and it should not swim along too slowly” (letter of 17 April 1835).