Felix Mendelssohn

Felix Mendelssohn

1809 - 1847



Felix Mendelssohn was born in Hamburg, the son of a banker, Abraham, who was himself the son of the famous Jewish philosopher, Moses Mendelssohn. Felix's family, however, converted to Lutheranism, and moved to Berlin in 1812. His sister was Fanny Mendelssohn (later Fanny Hensel), who was a well known pianist and amateur composer herself.

Mendelssohn began taking piano lessons from his mother when he was six, and at seven was tutored by Marie Bigot in Paris. From 1817 he studied composition with Carl Friedrich Zelter in Berlin. He probably made his first public concert appearance at the age of nine, when he participated in a chamber music concert. He was also a prolific composer as a child, writing his first published work, a piano quartet, by the time he was thirteen. The elderly Goethe met the young Mendelssohn and took quite a shine to him, saying to him 'When I am sad, come and cheer me with your playing.'

As a teenager, his works were performed at home with a private orchestra for the elites and intellectuals of Berlin. Mendelssohn wrote his first twelve symphonies in his early teens (more specifically, from ages twelve to fourteen; these works were then lost for over a century, but are now played with regularity), growing with confidence until he wrote his first symphony for full orchestra (and first acknowledged), his opus 11 in C minor the year after; and at seventeen he wrote an overture to Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, which is probably the earliest well known work by him (he later wrote more incidental music for the play). In 1827 he saw the first production of one of his operas, Die Hochzeit des Camacho, having written several others before then.

Mendelssohn brought the music of Johann Sebastian Bach to the public's notice, from its position of relative obscurity at that time. In particular, a performance of Bach's St. Matthew Passion in 1829 under Mendelssohn's direction was a great success. This was the first performance of the work since Bach's death and earned Mendelssohn an international reputation at age twenty.

Mendelssohn knew Hector Berlioz from their stay at the French arts academy in Rome, Italy. They also met later in life in Germany. These meetings are described in Berlioz's memoirs. Mendelssohn's personal life was fairly conventional compared to many composers of note. He was happily married and had four children. He performed as a pianist, organist and conductor in Germany as well as in England where his music was especially popular.

In 1835, he was appointed as conductor of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra. In 1846, the oratorio Elijiah premiered in Birmingham. At age thirty-eight, he founded the Leipzig Conservatory.

Mendelssohn suffered from bad health in the final years of his life, and it is said he was greatly depressed by the death of his sister Fanny in May 1847. Felix Mendelssohn died later that same year after a series of strokes, on November 4, 1847, in Leipzig.

Source: 8 Notes

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