Johann Straus II - Vergnügungszug (Pleasure Train), op. 281

Johann Strauss II , known for his waltzes and lively compositions, had a unique approach to his creative process. He consistently sought contemporary and relevant themes to serve as the driving force behind his new musical compositions. This approach ensured that his work remained fresh and connected with the audiences of his time.  One notable instance of this creative approach was the composition of this polka, composed in 1864. This piece of music was specifically crafted for a summer concert held in the picturesque Russian town of Pavlovsk. It's fascinating to note that Strauss drew inspiration for this composition from the world around him. In this case, he found it in the emerging technology of the time, namely, the steam locomotive. The composition itself is a testament to Strauss's ability to capture the essence and energy of the subject matter. The rhythm of this dance piece mirrors the rhythmic chugging and movements of the old-fashioned steam trains that were prevale

Mendelssohn - the landscapist

Felix Mendelssohn was born with all the privileges and without any of the adversity usually associated with the inpomplete genius who fights for recognition. His grandfather, Moses, was a self-made man of letters and a defender of the rights of the Jews. His father Abraham was a banker and got rich by breaking the embargo imposed by Napoleon on England in 1810. Shortly after Felix was born in 1809, the family left Hamburg and settled in Berlin.

A family of talents

One of the family's four children, Felix, showed off his talent at an early age, as did his older sister Fanny, who in more liberal times would have become a composer. It was she who exerted a great influence on Mendelssohn, who took his first piano lessons from his mother Lea, who was an accomplished pianist. But he soon got the teachers who would develop his great talent. Legendary teacher Carl Friedrich Zelter, aformer stonemason, introduced the nine-year old Mendelssohn to the Berlin society.
Portrait of Mendelssohn
when he was 12 years old.

The German author Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, 72 years old at the time, met Felix when he was 12. This was the beginning of a warm friendship. During their meetings at Goethe's house, Felix loved classical literature. But he also strengthened the old man's love for the music, even though he never managed to convince Goethe to love Beethoven.

Felix wasn't a workaholic strapped to the piano and to the composer's chair. Although he wrote one score after another from his childhood, he found time to play in his friend's vast gardens.

In 1822, the family set off for a tour in Switzerland, which was crucial to Felix's life and had a big impact on his music.

The beauty and the greatness of the Alps moved him so deeply that he awakened in him the passion for travel, to wich he has since surrendered in his life at every opportunity.

A fertile composer

Felix was a tireless music worker. As his ambition grew, the music pages came out of his pen inceasely one after the other. The String Octet in E flat Major of 1825, established him as a true genius. He was only 16 years old and even his idol, Mozart or the prolific Schubert, had not composed such a mature work at such a young age.

In 1827, at the age of 18, Mendelssohn earned a place at the University of Berlin to study Aesthetics - the valuation of all artistic forms - but his interest focused on music. In 1829, he revived Bach's forgotten St.Matthew Passion, creating a great sensation to the world's music community. Tickets sold out in just a few minutes and the audience wept unrestrained by the emotion.

When he was 20 years old, Mendelssohn began to establish himself as a genius throughout Europe. A series of concerts in England was a huge success, while his first visit to Scotland in 1829 laid the seed for his famous "Scottish Symphony" and the "Hebrides Overture", also know as "Fingal's Cave". He then traveled to Italy, where the vitality and depth of the historical color inspired him for his "Italian Sympony".

London's favourite

Young Mendelssohn love England and especially the glittering social life of London. Society there abounded with optimism in contrast to the typical gloom of Berlin. When his business allowed, he would go to Hyde Park and enjoy the outdoor concerts.

He attended the dances almost every night, accompanied by charming young ladies, who were attracted to the tall, handsome German. England fell in love with him. He was honored wherever he was, not only for his talent but also for his imeccable manners.

Letters to Fanny 

Felix Mendelssohn's sister Fanny.
On his trips abroad, he wrote passionate letters to Fanny's sister confinding in his deepest thoughts. Her marragie to the painter Wilhelm Hensel in 1829 did not diminish the intensity of their relationship. His marriage to Cecile Charlotte Sophie Jeanrenaud in March 1837 proved to be happy and brought five children.

His life, however, had also grief and disappontment. He mourned the death of his two mentors, Goethe and Zelter in 1832. His failure to succeed his old teacher as director of the Berlin Singing Academy did not particularly stress him. But organising a music festival in Dusseldorf in 1833 did not have the success he expected.

In 1834, he took over the Leipzig Orchestra and spent ten happy years there making the city a cultural centre of Europe. There, in 1839, he conducted the first public interpretation of Schubert's "Unfinished" Symphony.


Mendelssohn was offered the position of music director in Berlin in 1840. But when he was confronted with the monstrous bureaucracy, he left this position. He returned to Leipzig to establish his famous school there. He also traveled abroad several times.

All this frenzied activity had a detrimental effect on Mendelssohn's health, but the worst blow came in May 1847, when Fanny died suddenly of a stroke. Felix was shaken and his already fragile health began to deteriorate rapidly. He himself suffered a stroke in October and died on November 4th at the age of just 38 years old.

Mendelssohn was unique. His privileged upbringing could limit his talent to the living rooms of the rich and famous. On the contrary, however, he chose to set up music training centers, to compose colorful and imaginative music that was loved and still is being loved everywhere in the world.