Edward Jacobson '13 | March 7, 2019
I’ve been taking Mendelssohn to the beach for many years now. There he waits for me, stored on an old iPod; I need only remember to charge it before I leave. I never forget.
Previous generations doubtless would have liked to enjoy Mendelssohn on the beach as well, and we can imagine with a smile what might have happened if they tried. Victorian women, fringed and bonneted, follow a procession of musicians who try in vain to shield their instruments from the slanting rain; a group of young men educated at Cambridge before the war wheel an old piano across the sands; a crofter, remembering a fragment of melody he heard on the radio, whistles while he scrambles over the rocks, only to have it lost in the wind.
The beach is indifferent to Mendelssohn — the waves will go on beating their hollow tune without him until, one day, no one remembers his music anymore, and the last grain of sand slips into the sea.
I have tried with varying success to carry Mendelssohn with me on many beaches: the pebbled shores of Lake Superior; the sunny cliffs of California; the long, sweeping dunes of Holland. But none can compete with the craggy west coast of Scotland. There and there alone is where Mendelssohn belongs.
Mendelssohn went to Scotland in 1829. The exact details of his journey escape me, but I am unwilling to turn to some reference book — even though one is glaring at me from my bookshelf — to assist my memory for fear of damaging the vision I’ve built in my mind. We are kindred spirits, I like to tell myself, and he sought on the barren outcrops of western Scotland, along with many of his brothers and sisters who were steeped in the writings of European Romanticism, what I seek there today: solitude, perhaps the sublime, the opportunity to wander across fog-mantled clifftops, to imagine old legends come to life, giants tossing rocks far out to sea, a corsair burying his plunder on the shore beneath, princes in rowboats escaping failed revolutions.
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