Mendelssohn - A Brief Outline
Each month I will feature a composer who’s birthday is celebrated in that month. This month’s composer is Felix Mendelssohn.
Born - 3 February, 1809 - Hamburg
Died - 4 November, 1847 - Leipzig
Siblings - 3
Occupation - Composer, pianist, organist, and conductor
Debut performance - Aged 9
Notable works - A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Fingal’s Cave,
(Jakob Ludwig) Felix Mendelssohn was the second of four children. His oldest sister, Fanny, was nearly as good a pianist as him. He first learn piano with his mother and when in Berlin, was taught harmony by Karl Zelter (a composer, conductor and teacher).
At around the age of 10, his setting of Psalm 19 was sung in Berlin. In 1821 Zelter took him to meet Goethe (German playwright and novelist). The 12 year old composer and 72 year old writer formed a warm friendship.
Aged 17, he composed the overture to “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, adding the rest of the music some 16 years later. He attended Berlin University from 1026 - 1829 and decided upon a career in music.
Aged 20, he conducted Bach’s “St. Matthew Passion” at the Singakademie (a musical society founded in Berlin in 1791). It was the first performance of this Passion since Bach’s death some 79 years earlier. Mendelssohn was a huge contributor to the Bach revival.
Also in this year he visited England and gave one of the first performances of Beethoven’s “Emperor” Concerto. Before leaving England he visited Scotland and was hugely inspired by the scenery he wrote the “Hebrides Overture”.
The following two years saw him tour Austria, Germany, and Italy. He composed two symphonies and his first book of “Songs Without Words”. 1832 and 1833 saw him revisit London where he conducted the first performance of his Italian Symphony.
In 1837 he married and in the next few years wrote some of his best works. These included his 11 movement “Symphony-Cantata on Words Of The Holy Bible” - or Lobgesang. After his death it was published as his Symphony No.2 in B-flat major (naming and numbering not his).
His last visit to England (which was his tenth in total) was in 1847 when he conducted his oratorio “Elijah” in London, Manchester, and Birmingham. He also played for Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.
His older sister, Fanny, passed away suddenly in 1847. Due to shock and sever overwork, he passed away in November of that year. He left behind his wife Cécile and five children: Carl, Marie, Paul, Lili and Felix August.
In addition to being a musical prodigy Mendelssohn was also a gifted painter. He had a wide literary knowledge and wrote brilliantly. He also played violin well and was an exceptional organist.
His musical memory was amazing and he was generous to other musicians. He worked hard to raise standards of popular taste. One described him as “…the most complete master of form after Mozart.”
Many people, especially his nephew Sebastian Hensel, said that Mendelssohn was equable, happy, and placid. However, he was given to fits of temper…but I don’t know many artistic types who aren’t!