Sunday, June 01, 2008

Mendelssohn in Scotland

Flicking channels this afternoon, I came across an ancient documentary where a couple of likely lads (actually fairly middle-aged guys) traced the steps of Mendelssohn and his mate Klingemann when he travelled through Scotland in 1929. Boy, these two guys put themselves through the works.

Scenes in Edinburgh (Calton Hill and Arthur's seat) - and their warm clothes were hanging off them horizontally; gales or what? Was it really filmed in the summer (of 1983 or earlier?). They had a look round Holyrood Palace (which they called 'House'), and looked at the room where David Rizzio, one of Mary Queen of Scots' husbands/lovers was murdered. This, Mendelssohn opined, put into his mind the beginning of his Scottish symphony.

They went off to see Sir Walter Scott, only to find themselves pinned against his gates, as he shot off with his horse and cart to somewhere more important. Pleased they were not.

Then they started a treck into the highlands, with pony and trap. Took 10 days to get to Fort William, via incredibly inhospitable roads. Roads? Dirt tracks, more like. They noticed, in passing, the incredible poverty highlanders lived in; houses without windows, houses without roofs - (but the highlanders were not to suffer this for much longer, what with, in the Highland Clearances, being shipped off to Canada, Australia and New Zealand - without much consultation). There was a lovely scene where it was chucking it down, and the two gentlemen were found sheltering underneath their none too big trap.

Not quite sure what happened .. they went to Glencoe, and then to Fort William and got the Waverley (boat) to Oban. I thought if you go from Glencoe to Fort William, you pass through Oban? Never mind.

Then they went, on a boat in a very rough sea, to Staffa, the island of 'Fingals' Cave' fame. Actually, it seems that Mendelssohn had the idea for the theme of this overture before he ever got to the island... but certainly bits of the music reflect the (considerable) swell of the sea.

After that, on the way back to Glasgow, they passed a hostelry (oh, what a contrived scene - they went in to the very busy pub, order a couple of drams [of whisky], and the barmaid just turned around and picked up the glasses that were sitting there, waiting for them). As our visitors (in 'modern-day dress' - of the early 1980s) wandered round the pub they spotted a guy having a usual highland breakfast [and the pub was full???] - dipping his herring in his coffee.

And finally in Glasgow they went to George Square, looked at the statue of Sir Walter Scott, and visited a spinning works, like Mendelssohn had done.

Mendelssohn writes at the end that they had had incredible fun, but that they have also experienced weather like you would not believe. I believe it!