Spanning 58 pages, the entry for Felix Mendelssohn in the second volume of George Grove's A Dictionary of Music and Musicians is the longest entry on an individual composer in the first edition. Written by Grove himself, this article exhibits many of the tropes of the "Mendelssohn Mania" that dominated British musical discourse in the second half of the nineteenth century: detailed accounts of the German composer's ten visits to Britain, emphases on works based on British subjects, observations of the continued popularity of his music decades after his death, and admiration for his "general high and unselfish character, the things most essential to procure him both the esteem and affection of the English people." This enthusiasm for Mendelssohn spreads beyond his biographical entry; in total, 310 entries in the first edition of Grove's Dictionary mention Mendelssohn. Although Grove's article on Mendelssohn remains intact in the second edition (published nearly three decades later) references to the composer in other entries are reconsidered, revised, or removed entirely.
This paper reveals the effect of the late-nineteenth century "English Musical Renaissance" on Mendelssohn's British reception by comparing references to the composer in the first two editions of Grove's Dictionary while considering the potentially nationalistic motivations of the contributors and editors. The first edition, published from 1879-1889, contains articles by members of Grove's generation who tended to treat Mendelssohn with nostalgic reverence, as well as younger writers who were less swayed by aspects of his personality. The second edition of Grove's Dictionary, published from 1904-10, strongly reflects the opinions of the new editor, critic J.A. Fuller-Maitland, an active promoter of native composers. The more uniform presentation of Mendelssohn as a stifling influence on English musical culture reflects a narrative advanced by Fuller-Maitland after the purported renaissance was well underway. Scrutinizing references to Mendelssohn exposes striking differences of opinion between the various contributing authors both within and between editions as they balance the legacy of an influential foreign composer with the imperative of promoting an independent English musical identity.