Popularly Known as Felix Mendelssohn in English speaking countries, Jakob Ludwig Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy was a German conductor, composer, organist and pianist of the early Romantic period. Proved to be child prodigy, it was not by a chance but by choice he got into musical career. He showed a strong inclination towards music and passionately worked for it. Concerti, symphonies, piano music, oratorios, chamber music; there is hardly a side of music that he had not explored. His aloofness got him a nickname – disconnected Polish Count. Holding conservative tastes in music, he chose to stay away from his contemporaries like Franz Liszt, Richard Wagner and Hector Berlioz who were more adventurous and experimented with new styles of music trying to break the chains which tied music to olden times. Being extremely talented, he composed many popular compositions which are still adapted by many music admirers. His admirers include Queen Victoria and her husband Prince Albert. This genius had composed eleven symphonies, five operas, and many piano pieces which stay ahead of times and are still enjoyed by music enthusiasts. Read further o know more about his life.
Born in a prominent Jew family as grandson to the famous philosopher Moses Mendelssohn, he was raised without religion but later baptized as a Lutheran Christian. Felix was born on 3rd February 1809 in Hamburg as son of Abraham Mendelssohn and Lea Salomon. He had three siblings - Fanny, Paul and Rebecka. His elder sister Fanny was also musically skilled. He was recognized as a musical prodigy and was compared to Mozart.
Mendelssohn bank, a private bank established by Joseph Mendelssohn (elder brother of Abraham Mendelssohn, played a major role in abolishing Napoleon's Continental System blockade (foreign policy) and being afraid of French revenge the Mendelssohn family moved to Berlin In the year 1811, when Felix was about two years old. Felix MendeAbraham and Lea Mendelssohn were very keen to provide their children with the best education possible. Felix Mendelssohn’s elder sister expressed a strong passion towards music but, being born in a time where women pursuing a musical career were not considered proper, Fanny chose to stay away from making music as her career. However, she was actively involved in music throughout her life. Abraham was not so happy with Felix Mendelssohn’s idea of pursuing music as his career as well until he is he is clear that he takes music seriously. Felix Mendelssohn’s parents organized slaloms at their home and thus Felix was fortunate enough to meet many knowledgeable people Alexander von Humboldt, Wilhelm, Gustav Dirichlet etc.
Abraham Mendelssohn did not wanted to be a Jew anymore and they had not circumcised Felix. Though they brought up their children without any religious education, they chose to be Lutherans and all their children got baptized in 1916. Felix took additional names Jakob Ludwig as part of baptizing. Felix’s parents Abraham and Lea got baptized in 1822 and adopted the surname Mendelssohn Bartholdy formally, though they and their children had been using this name since 1812. Though Abraham asked Felix to give up his name ‘Mendelssohn’, Felix did not entirely drop the name Mendelssohn but changed it as 'Mendelssohn Bartholdy' in his signature and visiting cards.
Felix took piano lessons from his mother at the age of six. Next year, he was sent to Paris for piano tuition under Marie Bigot. When the family moved to Berlin, Felix along his siblings were trained by Ludwig Berger, a student of Muzio Clementi. Around May 1819 Felix and Fanny learned counterpoint and composition under Carl Friedrich Zelter, which influenced Felix to a greater extent and probably it was from this point of time that he decided to pursue music till the end of his life. This was an important influence on his future career.
Felix Mendelssohn did his first public concert at the age of nine, participating in a chamber music concert with a horn duo. Being a prolific composer from an early age, he got many chances to express his musical skills. Adolescent Mendelsohn often performed at home along with private orchestra, with many intellectual elite of Berlin as his audients. In the span of two years between 12 and 14 years of age, Mendelssohn composed 12 string symphonies for such concerts performed in front of elites. Though ignored for a century, these works are now recorded and performed by many music aspirants nowadays. He published his first work at the age of thirteen. It was a piano quartet. He composed a full-orchestra symphony at the age of 13. It was probably Abraham Mendelssohn who procured the publication of Mendelssohn's early piano quartet by the house of Schlesinger. In 1824, the 15-year-old wrote his first symphony, op.11 in C minor, with full orchestra.
Exhibiting his genius, Mendelssohn wrote his String Octet in E-flat major at the age of 16. This Octet and his Overture and incidental music to Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream are the best-known of his early works. In 1824 Mendelssohn became a disciple of Ignaz Moscheles, who was a composer and piano virtuoso. Rather than having a teacher-student relationship, Moscheles became a close friend of Mendelssohn.
Music was not the sole interest of Mendelssohn. He had great taste in languages, art, literature, and philosophy. Being interested in classical literature, Mendelssohn translated Terence's Andria for his tutor Heyse in 1825. Impressed with this work, Heyse published tis work in in 1826 stating that it is done by one of his pupil. Thus Mendelssohn was qualified to study at the Humboldt University of Berlin and attended lectures from 1826 to 1829. Zelter, his teacher, introduced him to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, who was an intellectual with expertise in writing, art, biology, theoretical physics, poly math etc. He was greatly impressed by Mendelssohn and compared him with Mozart.
Goethe invited Mendelssohn several times and he set music for many of Goethe’s poems. Mendelssohn set a conducted performance in1829 in Berlin with ample support of Zelter and actor Eduard Devrient.
In 1829, with the backing of Zelter and the assistance of actor Eduard Devrient, Mendelssohn arranged and conducted a performance in Berlin of Bach's St Matthew Passion. Mendelssohn made his first trip to England in 1829. He visited many other places as well in the next few years, including Florence, Vienna, Milan, Naples and Rome. During these travels he met with many artists and local as well as visiting musicians and these meetings and discussions led to germination of some of his most famous works like the Scottish and Italian symphonies and Hebrides Overture. In 1833 Mendelssohn directed the Lower Rhenish Music Festival in Düsseldorf and performed Handel's oratorio ‘Israel in Egypt’. Queen Victoria and her husband Prince Albert being great admirer of his music, he paid frequent visits to England. Such visits helped him create a huge pool of admirers there, making a substantial impression in British musical life.
Mendelssohn tied his knot to Cécile Charlotte Sophie Jeanrenaud on 28th March 1837. The couple had five children - Carl, Marie, Paul, Felix and Lilli. Felix August was badly affected by measles and died out of serious health problems in 1844. His elder son Carl Mendelssohn Bartholdy became a famous historian and works as professor of history at Heidelberg University and Freiburg University. Paul Mendelssohn Bartholdy became a famous chemist who pioneered the manufacture of aniline dye. Mendelssohn had a relationship with Jenny Lind, a Swedish soprano. Lind’s husband, Otto Goldschmidt had an affidavit of Mendelssohn’s request to Lind to elope with him. This letter is now held in the archive of the Mendelssohn Scholarship Foundation at the Royal Academy of Music, London. Lind was unmarried then. It was Lind who established Mendelssohn Scholarship to recognize young British composers. Mendelssohn’s wife Cécile Mendelssohn Bartholdy died on 25 September 1853. Mendelssohn died of poor health conditions which probably resulted from nervous problems and overwork. The situation worsened as he became mentally exhausted after his sister Fanny’s death 14th May 1847. Mendelssohn suffered from a series of strokes which caused his death on 4th November 1947, at the age of 38, in Leipzig, Germany.
String Octet (1825)
Overture to A Midsummer Night's Dream (1826)
Scottish Symphony (Between 1829-1842)
Choral Symphony No. 2 (1840)
Hebrides Overture (1830)
Die beiden Neffen (The Two Nephews) (1924)
Die Hochzeit des Camacho (Camacho's Wedding) (1825)
The novel ‘Charles Auchester’ features Mendelssohn as the "Chevalier Seraphael".
Mendelssohn’s statue is included in Crystal Palace
Mendelson’s composition ‘A Wedding March’ from ‘A Midsummer Night’ was played at Queen Victoria’s daughter’s wedding and it still remains one of the most popular wedding march compositions.
Mendelssohn's sacred choral music holds No.1 position in the choral tradition of the Church of England.
Famous pianists like Busoni, Anton Rubinstein and Alkan included Mendelssohn's piano works in their recitals.
Mendelssohn Scholarship is given to recognize young British composers.
1809: Felix Mendelssohn was born in Hamburg, Germany.
1811: Felix Mendelssohn’s family moved to Berlin.
1916: Felix Mendelssohn and his siblings were baptized as Lutherans and Mendelssohn took up additional names Jakob Ludwig.
1819: Felix and Fanny started learning music under Carl Friedrich Zelter.
1824: Mendelssohn became a disciple of Ignaz Moscheles, a composer and piano virtuoso.
1826: Mendelssohn was qualified to study at the Humboldt University of Berlin.
1829: Mendelson visited England for the first time.
1833: Mendelssohn directed the Lower Rhenish Music Festival in Düsseldorf and performed Handel's oratorio ‘Israel in Egypt’.
1837: Mendelssohn tied his knot to Cécile Charlotte Sophie Jeanrenaud.
1844: Mendelssohn’s son Felix August was badly affected by measles and died out of serious health problems.
1847: Mendelssohn died after a series of stroke.