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Leipzig expands world’s only museum devoted to composer Mendelssohn

A bust of Felix Mendelssohn at his namesake house museum in Leipzig, Germany.
A bust of Felix Mendelssohn at his namesake house museum in Leipzig, Germany. Betsa Marsh

To celebrate the 205th birthday of Felix Mendelssohn, the Mendelssohn House has opened a new floor of exhibits. Leipzig has the world’s only Mendelssohn museum, located in the musician’s last private apartment.

Visitors can try their hands at conducting, standing at the new “Effektorium” digital conductor‘s podium to lead a virtual orchestra. A guest “conductor” can regulate speed and sound as well as individual instrument groups through the use of 13 loudspeakers.

Also in the new ground-floor exhibit space, previously undisplayed objects will rotate through a special cabinet. A new interactive audio-video library offers books and sheet music, as well as additional information on Mendelssohn. Six iPads provide access to the digital music library.

Children have their own dedicated section in the new area, and families can relax in the café, whose customized furniture is inspired by the 19th century.

Explore airy, cheerful rooms of the Mendelssohn home

Upstairs, the Mendelssohn family home remains authentically rooted in the 19th century. Mendelssohn moved into this expansive apartment in 1845, and died here in 1847 of a suspected brain aneurysm. He wrote symphonies, chamber music, theater music and the oratorio “Elijah” here.

You can still see the original pine floors and pastel walls, cheerful blues, greens and yellow. The “Swedish Songbird” Jenny Lind visited the Mendelssohns and their five children here, as did Hans Christian Andersen. Leipzig neighbors Robert and Clara Schumann popped in, too.

“Leipzig was always a city of books and trade, but especially a city of music,” said guide Anna-Sylvia Goldammer in the restored Mendelssohn home. “There was a concentration of composers and artists here.

“Mendelssohn Bartholdy was not only a composer, he didn’t sit in an attic and be romantic and write, but he was a very cultural person—he had ideas he wanted to convey.”

Americans rarely use Mendelssohn’s last name, but Germans do.

“Mendelssohn was born a Jew in Hamburg,” Goldammer said, “and his parents converted their children to Protestantism early in life. He took on ‘Bartholdy’ later as a sign ‘I’m really Christian,’ but that didn’t count with the Nazis. In 1936, the Nazis removed his monument from in front of the Gewandhaus. It took Mendelssohn’s music quite a while to come back into favor.

Mendelssohn revived interest in works of Johann Sebastian Bach

“Mendelssohn founded the first music conservatory in Germany. He reawakened the music of Johann Sebastian Bach—Mendelssohn was the first to put up a memorial stone for Bach.”

In his turn, Kurt Masur, conductor laureate of Leipzig’s Gewandhaus Orchestra, created the Mendelssohn foundation to restore the musician’s last home. The Gewandhaus Orchestra is Europe’s oldest civic orchestra, founded in 1743. It’s also the world’s largest orchestra, with 185 members.

The Mendelssohn House was opened in 1997. More than 40,000 guests from all over the world visit the museum every year.

There are Sunday concerts in the family’s music salon, with guests seated on replicas of the Mendelssohns’ chairs. On a recent visit, Judith Hering plays a selection from Mendelssohn’s “Midsummer Night’s Dream” in the composer’s own music room, a real dream in this City of Music.

When you go

Leipzig is the city of non-stop music, and pilgrims arrive from around the world to hear the classics in Bach’s St. Thomas’ Church, in the Gewandhaus and in Mendelssohn’s parlor.

Leipzig leads music pilgrims along the city’s pathways with a three-and-a half-mile Leipzig Music Trail. Stainless steel markers imbedded in the sidewalk connect 23 music sites, tracing the entwined influences of such geniuses as Bach, Mendelssohn and Schumann during their Leipzig years.

Mendelssohn House is at Goldschmidtstrasse 12, Leipzig.