Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Felix Mendelssohn at 200

Today, February 3rd is the 200th anniversary of Felix Mendelssohn's birth. Mendelssohn had a short life, only living to the age of 38. However, he was a prolific composer and is well-respected to this day.
Mendelssohn was somewhat of a musical prodigy as a pianist and composer. His adolescent works had an unusual maturity, including the overture to Midsummer Night's Dream (composed at age 17) which showed an equal mastery as the remaining pieces of the incidental music composed 15 years later. About half of his chamber music output was composed before the age of 20, as were about half of his solo piano works.
At the age of 20, Mendelssohn conducted the performance of Bach's St. Matthew Passion in Berlin that started a Bach revival. He beame conductor of Leipzig's famous Gewandhaus Orchestra in 1835 -- at the age of 26 -- and influenced German musical culture greatly through the musicians he engaged and the repertoire he conducted. In 1842, he organized the Leipzig Conservatory, with a star-studded faculty, including himself, Schumann, Hauptmann (music theory), David (violin), Becker (organ), Plaidy and Wenzel (piano). He toured throughout his musical career, allowing people all over Europe to become familiar with his works, his conducting, and his playing. This German was particularly favored in England.
Felix Mendelssohn died in 1847, not long after the death of his favorite sister, Fanny (also a composer, but some of whose works were originally published under the name of Felix).
In the 20th century, Nazi Germany censored the works of Felix Mendelssohn, as being of Jewish, even though the family had converted to Protestantism. It is now believed that this censorship created a greater appreciation for the work of Felix Mendelssohn afterwards.
My favorites from the works of Mendelssohn just happen to be some his most popular pieces: the oratorio Elijah, the violin concerto, Songs without Words for piano, Fingal's Cave (Hebrides) overture, and the Italian symphony (Symphony no. 4).
The library has lots of Mendelssohn in our collection -- scores and CDs. Or, you can find plenty of Mendelssohn on the Classical Music Library database from the website. We also have several biographies if you would like to learn more about Felix Mendelssohn's life.
Happy birthday, Felix!

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