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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    


All this and Heaven Too

A Mendelssohnís Link to Murder, Suicide and the Downfall of a French King

This month Marco Polo releases a new recording of Max Steinerís superior score for the classic Warner Bros. "womanís film" of 1940, All This And Heaven Too, based on the best-selling novel by Rachel Field. The film, based on a true story, cast Bette Davis, somewhat against type as the caring, passive Henriette Deluzy-Desportes governess to the many children of the French Duc de Praslin. There is a link between the Mendelssohn family and this story.

The Ďfounderí of the Mendelssohn dynasty, Moses Mendelssohn was born in poverty in 1729, in the Jewish ghetto of Dessau. Small and humpbacked, he walked, at the age of 14, the eighty miles to Berlin where by dint of hard work in the silk business and diligent study he rose to become the most celebrated Jew in 500 years. He found fame as a leading philosopher and litterateur. He wrote Phaedon a philosophical tract after Socrates, but with Mosesís own thoughts in favour of immortality. It became the best-selling book of its day. Moses also set forces in motion which, although he did not intend them that way, led to a modernisation of Jewish religious practises.

Mosesí son Joseph later aided by Abraham, the composer Felix Mendelssohnís father, were to found the prosperous Mendelssohn and Company bank that remained in existence until Hitler extinguished it in the late 1930s. Mosesí daughters were in the forefront of the womenís liberation movement of their day. One daughter, Dorothea Mendelssohn whose Berlin salons were a magnet for artists, scandalised Europe with her writings and amours. She left her dull businessman husband, Simon Veit, for the more intellectually stimulating and passionate Frederick Schlegel.

Another daughter, Henrietta, was equally independent-minded and adventurous. She shied away from men all her life. Her only interest in them was intellectual. She was no beauty. She settled in Paris and opened a school for the daughters of the wealthy but was ultimately persuaded to devote herself to becoming the governess of Fanny, the young daughter of one of Napoleonís generals, Sebastiani, an extremely wealthy man. Sebastiani installed Henrietta in his household - a lavish house abutting the Élysée Palace. Henrietta converted to Catholicism and brought Fanny up strictly. Fanny, was lovely but empty-headed. Her marriage to the Duc de Choiseul-Praslin was disastrous. The relationship between Henrietta and her young ward was raised in the horrendous fate that overtook the Fanny. Fanny grew fat and flabby and madly jealous - especially when her husband began to seek solace with the young governess of their numerous children. In a rage he battered Fanny to death with a heavy brass candlestick. Two days later he swallowed arsenic. The murder-suicide caused a sensation. It contributed to the fall in 1848 of King Louis-Philippe whose government was accused of having permitted Praslin, a member of the peerage, to commit suicide to escape trial and punishment. In one article that followed Henrietta Mendelssohn was practically accused of being a lesbian whose influence helped make Fanny Sebastiani incapable of having an emotionally stable marriage.

Ian Lace

 



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