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Felix Mendelssohn

1809-1847

Mendelssohn PortraitJakob Ludwig Felix Mendelssohn Barthody was born in Hamburg, Germany on February 3, 1809. He studied violin and piano at a very young age and made his first public debut as a pianist in 1818. Two years later, he entered the Singakademie in Berlin. By the age of 18, he had written music still familiar today, including the Rondo capriccioso for piano and the overture to Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream. In 1826, he entered the University of Berlin, where he studied for three years. In 1829, he made his first appearance in London, conducting his Symphony No. 1 in C Minor with the London Philharmonic Society. In this same year, he also revived Johann Sebastian Bach's St. Matthew Passion. he modernized the score to make it more palatable for his audiences.

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On March 28, 1837, he wed Cecile Jeanrenaud, daughter of the pastor of the Walloon French Reformed Church in Frankfort am Main. They had three sons and two daughters.

On June 13, 1842, he was invited to Buckingham Palace and showered with royal favors by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. When he returned to Germany, he was named Kappelmeister to Friedrich August II of Saxony, but he resigned to go to Leipzig to collaborate with Schumann and others in founding a music conservatory. He managed to fill many guest-conducting engagements. Mendelssohn's popularity, which was well known in the German states, England, and Austria during his lifetime, continued to expand for decades after his death. He was the most popular composer of the day.

His health began to deteriorate in December 1844  and soon he retired from all official duties. But in September 1845, he had recuperated and returned to Leipzig as conductor at the Gewandhaus and professor of both piano and composition at the conservatory.

Mendelssohn worked himself to death. He was getting old, but he still composed, taught, conducted, edited, played the piano and organ, and ran the Leipzig Conservatory. When his sister, Fanny, died on May 14, 1847, Mendelssohn suffered from heartbroken grief which resulted in physical collapse. He went to Switzerland in hopes of revitalizing his health, but ended up going back to Leipzig, where he died on November 4, 1847.

Mendelssohn's work is representative of Early Romanticism. He continues to use the musical forms developed by Haydn and Mozart in the Classical Period, but he incorporates more complex harmonies, more variety of melodic styles and uses a wider variety of instruments in his orchestra. His music has the emotion and lyricism one often associates with Romantic music, but it is much more restrained, more tempered than that of Berlioz or Liszt.

Some of his works:

Midsummer Night's Dream "Wedding March"
Rondo capriccioso (1827)
Die Hochzeit des Camacho (Camacho's Wedding) (1825)
Octet for Strings in E-Flat Major (1825)
A Calm Sea and a Prosperous Voyage (1828)
Symphony No. 1 in C Minor (1829)
The Hebrides Overture (Fingal's Cave), Op 26 (1830)
Reformation Symphony No. 5 in D Major (1830-1832)
Piano Concerto No. 1 in G Minor (1831)
Symphony No. 4 in A Major, Op 90 "Italian" (1833)
Das Marchen von der Schonen Melusine (1833)
Rondo Brilliant (1834)
Violin Concerto in E Minor, Op 64 (1838)
Ruy Blas (1839)
Schubert C Major Symphony (1839)
Symphony No. 3 in A Minor, Op 56 "Scottish" (1842)
Die Rest Walpurgisnacht (1843)

 

Sources:

Campbell, David. (30 December 1998). Felix Mendelssohn (-Barthody). [Online] Available http://www.musicblvd.com/cgi-bin/tw/1806445915053651_105_2392^S&TEMPLATE_PATH=/mb2/live/main

Felix Mendelssohn. (30 December 1998). [Online Image] Available http://www.classical.net/music/comp.lst/mendlson.html

Jakob Ludwig Felix Mendelssohn Barthody. (1995). Encyclopedia Americana. International Edition.

Schonberg, Harold C.  The Great Conductors.  New York: Simon & Schuster, 1967.


Edited by: Tammy Quach
Researched by: Alexander Pawlukowsky
Written by: Asha Spencer
January 04, 1999

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