Lost Song by Mendelssohn Rediscovered in America Goes to Auction

London—A lost song by Mendelssohn has come to light in America, having been re-discovered amongst the papers of the current owner’s grandfather, a musician. Entitled Das Menschen Herz ist ein Schacht or The heart of man is like a mine, the song is estimated to sell for £15,000-25,000 in a sale of Valuable Manuscripts and Printed Books at Christie’s in London on 21 May 2014.

The existence of the song, which comprises 29 bars for an alto voice and piano in A flat major, was known to scholars at it had been sold at auction in 1862 and again in 1872 but it was never published, and the whereabouts of the manuscript has since been something of a musical mystery. It is not known how it came to be in America.

The song is accompanied by an autograph letter by Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847) to the man who commissioned the song, theatre manager Johann Teichmann dated 3 May, 1842 asking Teichmann not to circulate the song which appears to have been written as a private commission. Johann Valentin Teichmann (1791-1860) was involved with the management of the royal theatre in Berlin for more than 40 years. The text of the song is drawn from the second stanza of Friedrich Rückert’s poem Das Unveränderliche and compares the human heart to a mine which can produce gold, silver or humbler ore, but only gives what it itself contains.

Thomas Venning, senior specialist in manuscripts from Christie’s, said: “This is a very exciting re-discovery: the song was only ever a private commission and we know that even in Mendelssohn’s lifetime he deliberately prevented its circulation. The manuscript has been lost for 140 years, so it seems likely that we have here music by one of the great composers that no living person has ever heard. It is quite a simple, short song with a catchy, lilting melody: I can’t wait to hear it played.”

Other sale highlights include:


Elsewhere in the sale are three volumes of great importance to the history of Aztec Mexico. Lost to Mesoamerican historians until their momentous rediscovery in 1983, they contain largely unpublished original indigenous accounts written in the hands of two of the great figures of the time - Chimalpahin Cuauhtlehuanitzin (also known as “runs Swiftly with a Shield /Rises Like an Eagle”) and Fernando de Alva Ixtlixochitl-concerning native life, society and politics in pre-Hispanic and 16th-century New Spain. Written in Nahuatl (Aztec) and Spanish, they were part of the famed library of Don Carlos Sigüenza y Góngora, historian, poet and cartographer and one of the first great intellectuals born in the Spanish viceroyalty of New Spain. With significant research value, they are estimated at £300,000-500,000.


Renaissance Constantinople is depicted in an extremely rare woodcut book by royal artist, Melchior Lorck. Lorck was part of the embassy of the Holy Roman Emperor in the 1570s and 1580s and created these remarkable scenes of the city and life, showing mosques, caravanserai and other civic buildings, camels, exotic costume, weaponry, and city panoramas. Its view of the monumental mosque of Sultan the Magnificent is one of the earliest of that great building. Lorck’s work provided western Europe with an inside glimpse on the Ottoman world and became a reference tool for other artists; Rembrandt owned a copy of this work. This fine copy of the first edition is extremely rare, with only 5 other complete copies recorded worldwide (none in America or in the Islamic world) and no copy has been offered at auction in almost a century (since 1917). It is estimate at £150,000-250,000.


One lot of great significance is a group of very rare manuscripts by Nikolai Gumilev (1886-1921), including two original manuscript poems. It is the first time that any Gumilev manuscript has been offered at auction outside Russia. Gumilev, one of Russia’s best-loved poets, was tried and executed on fabricated charges of counter-revolutionary activity. His works were banned and owning them became very dangerous; consequently any Gumilev manuscript is very rare (estimate £70,000-100,000). The auction also includes a rare first edition of Kamen by Osip Mandelshtam (1891-1938), inscribed by the author in 1914 to fellow poet Alexander Vir ‘in the year when stones and iron talk’ (estimate £50,000-80,000). The following lot is a rare manuscript in Mandelshtam’s hand entitled Conversation on Dante from 1933. The political persecution that Mandelshtam endured for much of his life has meant the near total destruction and exceptional rarity of this autograph manuscript (estimate £80,000-120,000).


A 15th-century southern German astrological and fortune-telling manuscript with diagrams and fold-out charts for dice allows the reader to predict courses of action for all aspects of life: from when to buy and sell commodities or when to arrange a party to the best time to get a haircut. The text also includes discussions on astrology and the zodiac - how the stars and the positions of the planets affect one’s chances in life - and soothsaying, with diagrams for predicting who will win a duel and which partner will survive the other. It is estimated at£30,000-50,000.

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