The song, "Das Menschen Herz ist ein Schact," or "The heart of man is like a mine" was privately commissioned in 1842 for an acquaintance who worked at the Court Theater in Berlin. It was never published but was known to musical scholars and had been sold at auction in 1862, then again in 1872.
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Since then its whereabouts remained a mystery and scholars aren't sure how the work ended up in the United States.
The manuscript will be sold at Christie's in London later this month, where it is expected to fetch £15,000 – £25,000 ($25,000-$42,000). The manuscript has the composer's signature at the bottom, which proves the piece is genuine.
According to a Christie's London news release, the text of the song is drawn from the second stanza of Friedrich Ruckert's poem Das Unveranderliche and compares the human heart to a mine which can produce gold, silver or humbler ore, but only gives what contains within itself. It is made up of 29 bars for an alto voice and piano in A flat major.
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The song is accompanied by a letter from Mendelssohn to theater manager Johann Valentin Teichmann – who commissioned the song – asking him not to make the work public. Considering the composer's instructions, he may not have been pleased that the BBC's Radio 4's Today program broadcast a performance of the song (watch below). The song is simple and plaintive — a work, it seems, that the composer should be proud to finally share.
His most famous works include the Hebrides Overture, his Italian and Scottish Symphonies, and his Overture to Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream.