Fanny & Felix Mendelssohn
Fanny Mendelssohn and Felix Mendelssohn were both great composers, and they were brother and sister!
Fanny Mendelssohn was born in Hamburg (modern-day Germany) in 1805. Her brother, Felix, was born in 1809. Both Felix and Fanny learned to play piano at an early age. Both Fanny and Felix started to compose music when they were very young, too! Unfortunately for Fanny, they lived in a time when a lot of people thought it was "improper" for women to perform in public or be composers. Even though they both continued to play instruments and compose, it was Felix who got to continue his musical studies and become a professional musician.
Let's start the month with one of Felix's most famous compositions: the Violin Concerto in E minor. Can you follow along with the music as Hillary Hahn performs the third movement of this concerto?
As a child, the Mendelssohn family thought that Fanny was the child with the greatest musical abilities. She took piano lessons when she was young, and even took some composition lessons alongside her brother. In the previous section you heard one of Felix's most famous compositions for the violin. Now let's listen to something that Fanny wrote that features the violin.
This is the final movement of a string quartet by Fanny. Notice how she composed this movement to have constant energy, with fast notes being passed from instrument to instrument throughout the piece.
Do you remember the names of the three different instruments that are part of a string quartet?
Fanny Mendelssohn eventually published some of her compositions, though some of her music was published with her brother's name listed as the author! (In the 1800s many people thought it would reflect poorly on a woman to have her listed as the author; what a silly idea!) When her own name was listed as the author, she used her married name: Fanny Hensel.
This piece for piano is inspired by an Italian style of dance music called a "Saltarello." The name of this dance comes from the Italian word "Saltare," which means "to jump." While you listen to this music can you imagine an acrobatic dance in which the dancers jump around merrily?
Even though Fanny and Felix were German, they were inspired by the music, culture, and landscapes of other countries. We've already heard Fanny's music inspired by the Italian "Saltarello;" let's listen to a "Saltarello" that Felix composed!
Felix's "Saltarello" is the last movement of his "Italian Symphony." Felix composed this symphony after a tour of Italy, where he was inspired by the scenery and people of this Mediterranean country.
An important part of the music that both Fanny and Felix composed were their "Songs Without Words." A "song" is technically something that is sung by the human voice, but the "Songs Without Words" are composed for solo piano (so there is no need for words!).
Let's listen to one of Felix's "Songs Without Words." Listen for the melody of this "song;" can you imagine composing words for this music?
Felix Mendelssohn is famous for his 48 published "Songs Without Words," and Fanny wrote many "Songs Without Words," too! (The "Saltarello" we heard before is one of her "Songs Without Words.") Fanny is also well known for composing songs with words!
This is a song composed by Fanny. It is song is in German, and the words are about the joy of being in the forests and the mountains. How does the music reflect the feeling of joy? Can you tell this is a "happy" song by the way that the performers are acting?
When Fanny got married in 1829, Felix was supposed to compose the music for her wedding ceremony. But, just a few days before the wedding, Felix fell out of a carriage and hurt his leg, making it impossible for him to travel to the wedding!
Fanny needed music for her wedding, though, so she decided to write the music herself! In the week leading up to her wedding she composed several pieces for organ, despite never having composed organ music before! Here is one of these pieces.
This video gives us a good view of what an organist does while playing. If you think playing piano is challenging sometimes, imagine how hard it is to keep track of four keyboards (one of them played by the feet!) and all of those stops! (The buttons on the sides of the instrument are stops, they change which pipes are active on the instrument. This is how the organ is able to produce so many different sounds!)
One of Felix Mendelssohn's most famous compositions is his "Wedding March." This music is part of the incidental music he wrote for a production of Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream." (Incidental music is music that is meant to be "background" music or meant to be played between scenes of a play.)
Along with the famous "Bridal Chorus" from Richard Wagner's opera Lohengrin (this is the famous "Here comes the bride" music), this piece of music is heard at many weddings throughout the world.
Have you heard Felix's "Wedding March" at a wedding before?
This performance features the "over-the-top" violinist Andre Rieu!
Thanks for learning about Felix and Fanny Mendelssohn!
(The two portraits below were both made by Wilhelm Hensel, Fanny's husband!)