The large apartment on the first floor of the Mendelssohn-Haus, at what is now Goldschmidtstrasse 12, is where Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847) lived for the last two years of his life. He and his family moved here, a new building, in 1845, and the music salon in their flat soon became a favourite meeting-place for friends such as Clara Schumann, Liszt, Berlioz, Niels Gade, Joseph Joachim and – in particular – Mendelssohn's lifelong friend, the composer and piano virtuoso Ignaz Moscheles; they walked, in fact, on the inlaid wooden floors that remain in the flat today.
The building is now owned by the International Mendelssohn Foundation, which was founded in 1991 by the conductor and Mendelssohn champion Kurt Masur. The flat has been beautifully recreated and restored, with some of his original furniture, and much care taken to add appropriate things. The plain pastel walls have the simplest of added decoration. His grand piano is there, as is a copy which is used for recitals in the salon. His study has been recreated as it was, based on a contemporary watercolour, and some of his own very good watercolours hang in another room.
The museum provided an excellent continuous audio guide in English, on an iPod Shuffle, which was very informative (I wish I could remember everything that audio guides tell me, but I suppose some of it must go in!). Mendelssohn was very much a caring person, and a bridge builder – it was part of the family philosophy – but he was hounded by Wagner, and long after his death his music was discredited by the Nazis because of his Jewish origins, despite his being baptised as a Protestant (at which time he added 'Bartholdy' to his surname). He became a good friend of Goethe, whom he met in his teens when Goethe was 72 – Goethe obviously recognised a fellow creative genius.
He had come to Leipzig in 1835, at the age of 26, to be conductor of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, a post he held until a few months before his death on 4 November 1847, following a severe stroke, coupled perhaps with the shock of the sudden death of his sister Fanny in May. He had conducted his last concert in the Gewandhaus on 18 March that year, retiring as the orchestra's conductor the next day having turned it into one of Europe's premiere ensembles during his 12 years in charge.
As well as his own musical achievements, Mendelssohn was largely responsible for the revival of interest in Bach's music, 80 years after his death. Today it's incredible to think that Bach was hardly published in his lifetime. Mendelssohn conducted Bach's St Matthew Passion in Berlin in 1829, its first performance since Bach's death in 1750, and from 1838 set up a series of concerts in Leipzig aimed at bringing Bach (and Handel) into the regular repertoire.
The weather was unseasonally cold for my visit, but there was some intermittent and pleasantly warm sun as I came out of the museum at 11:30; it lasted all of an hour, but allowed me to get a few photos in the garden.