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Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Felix Mendelssohn


Jakob Ludwig Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy was born in Hamburg, Germany, on February 3, 1809. He came from a Jewish family and was a grandson of the philosopher Moses Mendelssohn.

On March 21, 1816, at the age of seven years, Felix was baptized with his brother and sisters in a home ceremony by Johann Jakob Stegemann, minister of the Evangelical congregation of Berlin's Jerusalem Church and New Church.

Young Felix studied piano and composition in Berlin, making his first public appearance at the age of nine.

Mendelssohn aged 12 (1821) by Carl Joseph Begas

During his boyhood young Mendelssohn wrote many compositions. Among his early successes was the Midsummer Night's Dream Overture (1826). when he was just seventeen.


Mendelssohn conducted Johann Sebastian Bach's St. Matthew Passion in Berlin in 1829, an event that marked a revival in the performance of Bach's vocal music.

In London in 1829 Mendelssohn conducted his C minor symphony. This was the first of ten trips he made to Great Britain, where he established his main reputation and became a favorite of Queen Victoria.

A tour of Scotland in 1829 inspired Mendelssohn to compose The Hebrides Overture and the Scottish Symphony. Mendelssohn was enchanted by the country and the scenery in Staffa, an island in the Hebrides archipelago located off the Scottish coast in particular. However, the journey to the tiny Hebridian island was not so enjoyable. Mendelssohn wrote from the comfort of dry land some days later, "How much has happened since my last letter and this! The most fearful sickness, Staffa, scenery, travels and people."

The Hebrides Overture also known as "Fingal's Cave" was written by Mendelssohn in 1830. Fingal's Cave itself is a cavern on Staffa and the opening bars of the famous theme were actually written the day before the composer visited the cave.

Fingal's Cave

The music, though labelled as an overture, is intended to stand as a complete work. The Hebrides Overture was completed on December 16, 1830 and was originally entitled "The Lonely Island." However, Mendelssohn later revised the score completing it in 1832 and re-titling the music "The Hebrides." The overture was premiered on May 14, 1832 in London.

In 1833 Mendelssohn became music director in Dusseldorf, Germany, where he introduced the masses of Beethoven and Cherubini and the cantatas of Bach.

Portrait of Mendelssohn by the English miniaturist James Warren Childe (1778–1862), 1839

He was appointed conductor of the Gewandhaus Orchestra in Leipzig in 1835, soon making it the most prestigious symphonic organization in Germany.

Mendellsohn founded an Academy of Arts at Berlin in 1841, and the Leipzig Conservatory, two years later where he and Robert Schumann taught composition.

Felix Mendelssohn wrote The Wedding March in 1843 as part of his suite of incidental music for a production of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. The play had always been a favorite of the composer and when he received a commission from King Frederick William IV of Prussia to write some music for a Potsdam production of the play, he produced one of his best known works, incorporating the already existing Midsummer Night's Dream Overture. It was one of several commissions for theatrical music Mendelssohn received while in the post of music director of the King's Academy of the Arts and of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra. The "Wedding March" is the backdrop for the climactic wedding scene in the play.

The Wedding March was played at the marriage of Queen Victoria's daughter, Victoria, and Friedrich of Prussia on January 25, 1858, after which it became a popular wedding processional.

Felix Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto, one of the most popular violin concertos of all time, received its world première in Leipzig on March 13, 1845.

Other major works by Mendelssohn include his 1846 oratorio Elijah. With the death of Bach and Handel in the 1750s, the oratorio ceased to be a vital, creative tradition with the notable exception of Franz Joseph Haydn's The Creation (1798)  Not until Felix Mendelssohn's Elijah did another oratorio of long-lasting endurance appear.


Mendelssohn married Cécile Charlotte Sophie Jeanrenaud, the daughter of a French Reformed Church clergyman, on March 28, 1837. The couple had five children: Carl, Marie, Paul, Lili and Felix.

Mendelssohn's wife Cécile (1846) by Eduard Magnus

Although Mendelssohn was a conforming Christian as a member of the Reformed Church, he was both conscious and proud of his Jewish ancestry and notably of his connection with his grandfather Moses Mendelssohn.

Mendelssohn was a fine and enthusiastic artist in pencil and watercolor, a skill which he used throughout his life for his own amusement and that of his friends.

View of Lucerne – watercolour by Mendelssohn, 1847


After the sudden death of his sister Fanny in May 1847, Mendelssohn's health rapidly deteriorated, and he died in Leipzig on November 4, 1847 after a series of strokes.

Mendelssohn's funeral was held at the Paulinerkirche, Leipzig, and he was buried at the Dreifaltigkeitsfriedhof I in Berlin-Kreuzberg. The pallbearers included Moscheles, Schumann and Niels Gade.

Hitler banned music by Mendelssohn as the composer was Jewish.

Richard Wagner conducted the music of the Jewish Mendelssohn wearing gloves and then at the end of the performance he removed the garments and threw them to the floor to be removed by the cleaners.

Sources Europress Family Encyclopedia 1999, Comptons Encyclopedia, (written by myself)

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