On the Wings of Song

The building now known as the Old Kurhaus was built in 1782 as a casino, since Aachen was a fashionable spa at that time and gambling was a major pastime for the rich but bored people who came here to take the waters.

The ballroom is now often used for recitals and readings. When I arrived in Aachen in the pouring rain in 2009, I bought a local newspaper and found an announcement of a recital and reading that was being held that same evening.

Poster announcing the reading and recital

Under the title “On the Wings of Song”, actress Daniela Ziegler read texts by or about the Swedish opera singer Jenny Lind (1820-1887) and particularly about her deep emotional relationship with the German composer Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy (1809-1847). Between sections of the reading, pianist Sebastian Knauer played some of Mendelssohn’s compositions for the piano.

Jenny Lind and Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy certainly had a close professional and personal relationship, but it seems to have been purely platonic. The composer was already married to someone else, with whom he had five children, and according to the program notes he did not do anything with Jenny Lind that might have jeopardized his marriage. Not that there is really any evidence one way or another.

Members of the audience in the Old Kurhaus, 2009

The last public concert that Lind and Mendelssohn gave together — with Mendelssohn at the piano — was here in Aachen at a music festival in 1846.

Like some of the other famous female opera singers of the nineteenth century, such as Maria Malibran (1808-1836) and Verdi’s second wife Giuseppina Strepponi (1815-1897), Jenny Lind had a huge and very lucrative international singing career when she was in her twenties, but quickly wrecked her voice by singing too much too often — like some singers today who have trouble saying no to enticing offers. (Though a lot of singers today are more careful and can go on singing professionally for many years.)

There are or course no recordings of Jenny Lind, since she stopped singing before the first recording apparatus was invented. (And the same goes for Malibran and Strepponi.)

Inscription in the ballroom

The inscription in the historic ballroom of the old Kurhaus reads: “Built by Jakob Couven 1782, destroyed 1943, rebuilt 1967.”

The old Kurhaus from the outside

The old Kurhaus is at Komphausbadstraße 19 in Aachen.

GPS 50°46’36.61″ North;  6° 5’19.56″ East

My photos in this post are from 2009. I revised the text in 2019.

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