Critical Context

Writing about music for young readers, many of whom will not know how to read music or be versed in its history and theory, is an extremely difficult task. Kupferberg must resort mainly to descriptive adjectives of how the music sounds, with such statements as “eternal youth and freshness” for the incidental music for A Midsummer Night’s Dream. He also balances his negative judgments: He comments that the final coda of the Scotch symphony “is regarded by some critics as somewhat trite and pompous, but other listeners find it stirring.” Kupferberg’s intention seems to be to persuade the young reader to want to hear the music under discussion.

Another strength of the book as a young adult biography is Kupferberg’s attempts to place the Mendelssohn family within their social and cultural context with analogies to modern living conditions. As an example, he describes Mendelssohn’s playing for the aged German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe with the comment of how difficult it is in the age of sound systems, radio, and recordings to “picture a past when the only way to hear music was to have it actually performed in one’s presence.” Whether describing the squalid conditions of the ghetto from which Moses Mendelssohn escaped or the difficulties of travel before steamships and railroads were widespread, Kupferberg brings the past alive for the young adult reader.

The literary style of the book is interesting without being patronizing; Kupferberg does not write down to his audience or adopt a didactic tone. The accounts are factual, with an air of objectivity. Although he does not provide a bibliography or suggestions for further reading, he includes a very extensive bibliography in the adult version, The Mendelssohns, which many young adults would also enjoy reading.