Fanny Mendelssohn-Hensel

(1805-1847)

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(music: Sonata Movement in E Major, Allegro Assai Moderato. Fanny Mendelssohn-Hensel, Kavierwerke Vol. 2, Liana Serbescu, klavier. CPO Records (www.cpo.de) iTunes-Music-Classical-Liana Serbescu)

Known for her large, dark eyes and expressive face, Fanny Cäcilia Mendelssohn was born in Hamburg, Germany in 1805. The daughter of a prosperous Berlin banker, Abraham Mendelssohn, and his wife, Lea, and granddaughter of the renowned philosopher, Moses Mendelssohn, Fanny received a thorough musical education alongside her younger brother, Felix. Both children were considered equally gifted, with Fanny composing works for the piano from an early age. At the age of 13, as an exercise, Fanny scored a Handel oratorio for full orchestra, and memorized 24 Bach preludes as a birthday present for her father. Three years later, she composed this Sonata Movement in E Major, a highly sophisticated short work, perhaps a study, or a movement of an unfinished sonata.

However, with the approach of adulthood, Fanny’s path became severely restricted to, as her father wrote her, “the only calling which befits a woman: that of a housewife.” He further admonished her sternly, telling her “Music should be an accomplishment, an adornment, and never a career for women.” Nevertheless, Fanny was encouraged to participate in the Sunday “Musicales” at the Mendelssohn home where her piano skills easily matched those of her brother, Felix. Brother and sister had only the deepest devotion and respect for each other, even as his musical career soared with public concert appearances and published works. And even as a few of those published works were actually composed by Fanny, but published under Felix’s name.

(music: Italien. Fanny Mendelssohn: Lieder, Julianne Baird, soprano, Keith Weber, fortepiano. Newport Classic Records (www.newportclassic.com/). ITunes: Music-Classical-Julianne Baird & Keith Weber)

In spite of this confining social yoke, Fanny Mendelssohn produced an impressive body of music –

(music: Lieder ohne Worte, Op. 8, No. 1 in B minor. Fanny Mendelssohn: Lieder, Julianne Baird, soprano, Keith Weber, fortepiano. Newport Classic Records (www.newportclassic.com/). ITunes: Music-Classical-Julianne Baird & Keith Weber)

- over 400 works: songs, duets and quartets for voices and piano, cantatas and an oratorio, works for organ, string quartets, a trio for piano, violin and cello and works for solo piano. These included songs without words, preludes, sonatas and other works.

As Felix’s musical career continued to flourish, Fanny married the Prussian Court Painter, Wilhelm Hensel, in 1829, and settled into a traditional Berlin social life of salon concerts or “Sonntagsmusiken”, and the Berlin Singakademie. Over time, her salons became widely known and well attended. Franz Liszt, Clara Wieck-Schumann, Heinrich Heine and other notable musical figures of the day found their way to the Hensel home, eager to hear Fanny’s latest compositions for piano as well as her lieder, duets and choral songs.

(music: Lied Op. 6/4 II Salterello Romano. Fanny Mendelssohn-Hensel, Kavierwerke Vol. 2, Liana Serbescu, klavier. CPO Records (www.cpo.de) iTunes-Music-Classical-Liana Serbescu)

Fanny continued to compose throughout her life, and, with encouragement from her husband, finally published a song in her own name in 1837. Nine years later, several books of her songs and piano pieces appeared.

(music: Trio for Piano, Violin & Cello in D Minor, Op. 11, II Andante Esperessivo. Chamber Works by Women Composers, Macalester Trio. Vox Records (www.voxcd.com/) iTunes: Music-Classical-Macalester Trio)

In 1847, while rehearsing for one of her Berlin Sonntagsmusiken, Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel collapsed and died of a stroke at the age of 42. Overcome with grief and depression, her brother Felix died six months later.



References:

Karen Pendle, Editor, Women & Music A History, Indiana University Press, 1991

Music:

Liana Serbescu recordings courtesy of CPO Records (www.cpo.de)
Fanny Mendelssohn-Hensel, Klavierwerke Vol. 2, Liana Serbescu, klavier. CPO Records, 1987
Sonata Movement in E major (2:14min)
Lied op. 6/4 Il Salterello Romano (22 sec)

Julianne Baird & Keith Weber recording courtesty NewPort Classic Records (www.newportclassic.com/)
Fanny Mendelssohn: Lieder, Julianne Baird, soprano, Keith Weber, fortepiano. Newport Classic Records, 1998.
Italien (25 secs)
Lieder ohne Worte, op. 8, No. 1 in B minor (65 secs)

Macalester Trio Recording courtesy of Vox Records (www.voxcd.com/
Chamber Works by Women Composers, Macalester Trio, Vox Records, 1991
Trio for Piano, Violin & Cello in D Minor, op. 11 II Andante Espressivo (46 secs)