Felix Mendelssohn was born in Hamburg, Germany on February 3, 1809. He was one of four children, Fanny, Rebekah, and Paul were his siblings. He showed off his talent at a young age by playing the piano, violin, painting and gifted in many languages. When he moved to Berlin, Felix studied piano and composition under Ludwig Berger and Karl F. Zelter. Zelter took his 12 year old student to visit Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, a German poet. Goethe was very fascinated by the young man and later heard his B minor pianoforte quartet and showed such appreciation that Mendelssohn dedicated the piece to Goethe. Not only did Mendelssohn find inspiration in the works of Goethe, but he also was inspired byt the works of William Shakespeare. At the age of 17, he composed the overture to “A Midsummer Night’s Dream Opus 21”. Mendelssohn then went on to study at Berlin University where he decided that music was his passion and chosen profession. After his college years, Mendelssohn traveled and performed all around Europe. In 1812 he visited London, a city where he quite enjoyed performing, and he performed his “Hebrides Overture”. “In 1833, he took on the post of conductor at Düsseldorf, giving concert performances of Handel’s “Messiah” among others. That same year, he composed many of his own vocal works, including “Lord, Have Mercy Upon Us,”, and the Opera, “Trala. A frischer Bua bin i”, as well as the “Italian Symphony”” (Todd). At the age of 26, Mendelssohn moved to Leipzig and became conductor of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra. He performed works by Bach and Beethoven but at the time was not really interested in Bach’s music. Early in 1829, Mendelssohn had made his debut as a Maestro. He was the first to conduct Bach’s “St. Matthew Passion” since the composer’s death in 1750. In 1832, Mendelssohn married Cécile Jeanrenaud, the daughter of a Protestant clergyman. They had five children, Carl, Marie, Paul, Felix and Lilli. Over the years that followed, he gave many successful performances of his work, and those of other great composers as well. Mendelssohn composed numerous works for the piano, which was pretty popular at the time.
In 1843, Mendelssohn founded and directed the Leipzig Conservatory, where he also taught if his busy schedule allowed it. “In addition to his post at the Conservatory, Mendelssohn was named director of the Music Section of the Academy of Arts in Berlin by King Frederick of Prussia, but this appointment wasn’t entirely pleasing for Mendelssohn, who was often asked to compose on demand. He was left with little time for his own work, but he still managed to compose such masterpieces as the Ruy Blas overture, stage music for Shakespeare’s ” A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, of which the now world-famous “Wedding March” was a part of, and “The Scottish Symphony”, the third of the five symphonies he composed during his lifetime” (Lewis). Felix Mendelssohn was very close to his family. From his sister Fanny to his father, to his own wife and children, and he cherished the moments spent with them. When his father died in 1835, Mendelssohn felt like he had lost his best friend. Seven years later, his mother died, adding to the tragedy. His sister Fanny suffered a stroke while rehearsing for a Sunday concert. She died on May 14th, 1847. He himself suffered two strokes, the last of which killed him on November 4th, 1847. He was 38 years old. He was buried alongside his sister in the cemetery of Holy Cross Church in Berlin. Some critics may argue that he would have been another Bach or Mozart if he had suffered more in life, as the “tortured artist” cliché dictates. Schuman agreed with Mendelssohn on one thing: criticism. “To a certain extent the German nation has recovered from one mistake in judgment; the tendency to evaluate Schuman above Mendelssohn was a very long time mistakable” (Grove). “Nearly a hundred years after his death, the Nazis tried to discredit him, taking down his statue in Leipzig, and even going as far as forbidding the study and performance of his music” (Lewis). Of course, none of their efforts to silence the voice of genius had any success, and Mendelssohn is now considered the 19th century equivalent of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Mendelssohn will remain the most successful composer of his time, surely deserving a place alongside greats such as Mozart, Bach, and Beethoven. He was most known for Violin Concerto in E Minor, incidental music for A Midsummer Night’s Dream, five symphonies, including no. 3 “Italian” and no. 4 “Scottish” and the oratorios Elijah and St. Paul.
Grove, George, and Stanley Sadie. Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians. London: MacMillan Publishers, 1980. Print. Lewis, Ronald. “Felix Mendelssohn Biography.” Felix Mendelsohn.com. 2002. Web. 15 March 2012. http://www.felixmendelssohn.com/felix_mendelssohn_bio_001.htm Todd, R. Larry. Mendelssohn: A Life in Music. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003. Print.
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