Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy is one of the foremost composers in the Romantic period. He is said to have done with notes what Wordsworth did with words. His compositions were like a poem that communicated to the listener. He began as a child prodigy, and throughout his short life, he made many incredible contributions to the music world. Another thing that he is noted for is his revival of Bach’s music. He brought to popularity a composer who had been dead for over fifty years, and helped him receive the glory he had deserved from the start. Mendelssohn was a great composer and conductor, yes, but unlike many other composers, he also was a very enjoyable person. He was kind and friendly, and somewhat humble. His life, though short, made a lasting impact on the world.
Mendelssohn’s Family & Background
Mendelssohn was born in Hamburg, Germany to a family with Jewish origins. His life was different from many other composers in that he lived in a very comfortable financial situation from the time he was born, for his family was fairly wealthy. His father was a banker, and his mother was also very intelligent and skilled. Many of his family members were not proud of their Jewish heritage, however, and Mendelssohn’s father decided to sever all ties, and join a protestant church. When he did this, he took on the additional name of “Bartholdy” as was traditional in Germany at the time. Mendelssohn used the name on certain legal documents and such to please his father, but he mainly used the name “Mendelssohn.” He married Cecile Jeanrenaud in 1837, and he had five children. He seems to have been happily married, but he did struggle a great deal with stress in his career, and also with grief over the death of his sister Fanny. His nervous problems are what led to a fatal series of strokes in 1847.
Mendelssohn’s training began when he was very young. He took lessons from his mother, and completed everything that she could teach him before he reached the age of ten years old. He then was taught by Carl Friedrich Zelter for theory and harmony, and he quickly picked up on it all. He quickly became known as a child prodigy, and surpassed even Mozart in his quality of composition at the tender age of fifteen. In spite of his desire to conduct the Berlin Singakademie, he never received that particular position. Some speculate that the reason was because he was Jewish, others think it was his youth at the time of the job’s availability. He eventually did become conductor of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orhestra, however, and he also conducted many other orchestras throughout his career.
Mendelssohn’s music had a unique sound to it. He was one of the few composers who did not have to live a life of suffering before and after he became famous. Because of his situation, he was a very cheerful man to be around. His music reflects some of that mood. He has been called the Wordsworth of piano music. His most famous compositions are probably the wedding march to “A Midsummer’s Night Dream,” and his “Violin Concerto in E minor.” They both are used extensively in weddings and performances. He was a very skilled composer, and his works are of such high quality they will be preserved and played in the years to come.
IMPORTANT EVENTS IN MENDELSSOHN’S LIFE
1809 -Born at Hamburg, Germany.
-Though of Jewish descent baptized in the Christian faith.
1821 -Visited Weimar, where he enjoyed Goethe’s friendship.
1825 -Accompanied by his father he went to Paris to ascertain Cherubini’s opinion of
-His opera “The Wedding of the Camacho” was brought out in Berlin.
1826 -Composed the overture to “Midsummer Night’s Dream.”
1829 -Revived Bach’s “St. Matthew Passion” by leading a public performance of it in
-First visit to England
1831 -Tour to Italy and Switzerland
1833 -Accepted the directorship of the concerts and the theater of the city of Dusseldorf.
1835 -Went to Leipzig as director of the Gewandhaus concerts.
1836 -First performance of “St. Paul” at Dusseldorf.
1840 -“Hymn of Praise” brought out at Leipzig.
1843 -Organized the Leipzig Conservatory of Music.
1846 -“Elijah” produced at the Birmingham (England) Festival.
1847 -Death of his sister, Fanny Hensel.
-His own death in Leizig and burial in Berlin.