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Felix Mendelssohn (Bartholdy) (1809-1847)

In 1842, Mendelssohn performed private concerts for Prince Albert and Queen Victoria, who were both strong supporters of his work.  A year later, Mendelssohn founded and directed the Leipzig Conservatory, where he also  taught when his busy schedule permitted it.  Despite being a generally happy and pleasant individual, Mendelssohn was sometimes a little too strict with his pupils; this was perhaps due to the fact that he was so passionate about music, and had a difficult time listening to the beginners' mistakes of his pupils.  Nonetheless, the Conservatory remained one of the most prestigious music institutions in Germany for half a century.

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.

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 he had lost his best friend.  Seven years later, his mother died, adding to the tragedy, but the worst was yet to come; following a Christmas family reunion, his sister Fanny suffered a stroke while rehearsing for a Sunday concert.  She died on May 14th, 1847.   Felix Mendelssohn is said to have screamed and fainted upon hearing the sad news, devastated by the loss.  Needless to say, Mendelssohn's mood did not improve following Fanny's death, and 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 in the cemetery of Holy Cross Church in Berlin.

While most of his life was spent in happiness, the final years of his life saw mounting grief and tragedy; however, this did not deter him from composing, and throughout the hardships he maintained the same degree of inspiration and the same quality of work, despite his intensely busy schedule.  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.  However, it is interesting to note that even in death, there were more tragic incidents which marred Mendelssohn's reputation.  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.

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.  Most critics agree that Mendelssohn's most vibrant contributions were in the choral and organ music genres, which was probably the result of his deep admiration for Bach and Handel.  Mendelssohn will remain the most successful composer of his time, but more importantly, one of the most gifted and talented, surely deserving a place alongside greats such as Mozart, Bach, and Beethoven, in the pantheon of musical gods.

 

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Last modified: November 24, 2009