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Felix Mendelssohn (Bartholdy) (1809-1847)

In 1821, Zelter took his 12 year-old student  to visit German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. The visit was most important to the young Mendelssohn, who remained at the 72 year-old  writer's home for over two weeks.  Goethe was fascinated by the gifted young man, and the two would later correspond via a series of letters. Later, when Goethe heard Mendelssohn's B minor pianoforte quartet, he showed such appreciation that the young composer dedicated the piece to him.

When Felix Mendelssohn was 16, he composed his Octet for Strings in E flat major, Op. 20, which wasn't just impressive because of its composer's age, but because it was the one of the first works of its kind.  Mendelssohn's piece featured an ingenious interplay between two distinct string quartets.

In addition to the literary works of Goethe, Mendelssohn found inspiration in the works of English playwright William Shakespeare.  At the age of seventeen, he composed the overture to "A Midsummer Night's Dream Opus 21", based on the Bard's comedic play.  The piece featured lush orchestration, and is considered one of the most beautiful works of the Romantic period of Classical music.

From 1826 to 1829, Mendelssohn studied at Berlin University.  It was then he decided on music as his chosen profession.

During the years that followed, Mendelssohn traveled and performed all over Europe, discovering England, Scotland, Italy and France. In 1832, Mendelssohn presented his magnificent  "Hebrides Overture", as well as other important works, in London, a city where he greatly enjoyed performing his works.  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".

At the age of 26, Mendelssohn moved to Leipzig and became conductor of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, performing works by Bach and Beethoven among others;  at the time, there was little interest in Bach's music, but Mendelssohn changed all that, using his own popularity and the four hundred singers and soloists of the Singakademie to help renew interest in the great composer's work.  Earlier, in 1829, Mendelssohn had made his debut as a Maestro, being the first to conduct Bach's "St. Matthew Passion" since the composer's death in 1750, and more importantly, 100 years after Bach's own premiere performance of the work. Mendelssohn performed the piece.

In 1832, Mendelssohn married Cécile Jeanrenaud, the daughter of a Protestant clergyman.  It was a happy marriage, and they had five children, Carl, Marie, Paul, Felix and Lilli.  Over the years that followed, Mendelssohn was very prolific, and in addition to numerous composition, he gave several successful performances of his work, and those of other great composers.  Mendelssohn composed several works for the piano, which was highly popular at the time; but he also wrote for many different combinations of instruments and voices.

 

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Last modified: November 24, 2009