Felix Mendelssohn Mendelssohn


Felix Mendelssohn Mendelssohn Famous memorial

Hamburg-Altstadt, Hamburg-Mitte, Hamburg, Germany
Death 4 Nov 1847 (aged 38)
Leipzig, Stadtkreis Leipzig, Saxony (Sachsen), Germany
Burial Kreuzberg, Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg, Berlin, Germany
Plot Mendelssohn Family Plot
Memorial ID 10315 View Source

Composer, Conductor, Pianist. A leading light of early Romantic music. Robert Schumann called him "The Mozart of the 19th Century." The grandson of German-Jewish philosopher Moses Mendelssohn, he was born Jakob Ludwig Felix Mendelssohn in Hamburg and lived in Berlin from age two. His affluent and culture-loving parents converted to Christianity in 1816 and added "Bartholdy" to the family name (though they disliked it and it is seldom used outside of Germany). Felix and his older sister Fanny were both musical prodigies and grew up in an environment that ideally nurtured their gifts. He debuted as a pianist at age nine and began composing at 11; a private orchestra was later put at his disposal so he could try out his new pieces. Important musicians visited the Mendelssohn home every Sunday and marvelled at the child's abilities. From 1817 to 1824 he studied composition and conducting with Carl Friedrich Zelter, who in 1821 introduced him to the German literary giant Goethe. The two became warm friends despite the 60-year age difference between them. At 16 Mendelssohn wrote his first masterpiece, the Octet for Strings (1825), and followed this with the enchanting "Overture to A Midsummer Night's Dream" (1826), inspired by Shakespeare's play; these two works made him internationally famous. Continuing his good fortune, Mendelssohn launched his career as a conductor with one of the most significant events in music history. He had inherited from Zelter a love for the music of J.S. Bach, known at that time only to specialists, and was determined to rescue it from obscurity. In 1829 he organized and conducted a Berlin performance of Bach's "St. Matthew Passion." It was the first performance of that work since the composer's death, and its overwhelming success sparked the Bach revival. Mendelssohn spent much of the next four years touring England, Scotland, France, and Italy, then returned to Germany to direct the Lower Rhine Festival in Dusseldorf (1833 to 1835). As director of the Gewandhaus Orchestra in Leipzig from 1835 until his death, he built the ensemble into one of the finest in Europe with his erudition and perfectionist standards. He was the first conductor to organize concerts devoted to specific periods of music history, and was lauded for his interpretations of the German and Viennese schools. In 1839 he led the world premiere of Franz Schubert's "Great" C Major Symphony, effectively demonstrating that Schubert was more than just a brilliant songwriter. Mendelssohn's last decade was one of dizzying activity. At the urging of the Prussian King he accepted the post as music director of the Academy of Arts in Berlin (1841 to 1845), while retaining his conductorship in Leipzig, touring, and composing in spare moments. He grew to love England, where he was the most admired German composer since Handel, and was a favorite of Queen Victoria; his "Scottish" Symphony (1842) was dedicated to her. In 1843 he realized another ambition when he founded the Leipzig Conservatory of Music, the first of its kind in Germany. He taught courses in piano and composition and invited Isaac Ignaz Moscheles and Robert and Clara Schumann to join the staff. In the mid-1840s Mendelssohn's health declined from the effects of high blood pressure and overwork. His grief over the sudden death of Fanny in May 1847 precipitated a series of strokes, and he died six months later at 38. His passing was mourned as a calamity throughout Europe. Mendelssohn was a major transitional figure in music of the 1800s. His style was conservative, blending Romantic feeling and scene-painting with classical form, clarity, and emotional restraint; his mastery of counterpoint reflected his debt to Bach and other German Baroque masters. These influences were united with an ingratiating ease of melodic inspiration. He matured early as a composer and from then on was more occupied in refining his technique than taking his music in new directions. A example of this is his incidental score for "A Midsummer Night's Dream" (1843). Although 17 years separate this set from his "Overture" for the same play, their style is so similar they could have been written at the same time. This creative attitude put Mendelssohn at odds with his more progressive colleagues. He was tight-lipped over Schumann's music and expressed serious reservations about Berlioz, Liszt, and Meyerbeer, though he was personally friendly towards all. He was self-critical as well; of his estimated 500 compositions, he allowed only 72 opuses to be published before his death. His other important works include the "Reformation" (1830) and "Italian" (1833) symphonies, the overtures "Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage" (1828), "The Hebrides" (aka "Fingal's Cave", 1830), and "Ruy Blas" (1839), the oratorios "St. Paul" (1836) and "Elijah" (1846), the Violin Concerto (1844), two Piano Concertos (1831, 1837), six string quartets (1829 to 1847), and the "Songs Without Words" for solo piano (8 books, 1829 to 1845). A melody from his secular cantata "Festgesang" (1840) was adapted in England into the Christmas carol "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" (1855), and the "Wedding March" from "A Midsummer Night's Dream" has been played at countless nuptials. Adored in his lifetime, Mendelssohn's music was dismissed by succeeding generations as lightweight and lacking passion. Some of the criticism (notoriously from Richard Wagner) was anti-Semitic in nature and reflected a growing trend in Germany that culminated with the rise of Hitler. In 1936, the Nazis banned Mendelssohn's music and destroyed his monument outside the Leipzig Gewandhaus. The composer's manuscripts were smuggled out of the Berlin State Library to safety in Poland, and at the start of World War II they were hurriedly scattered throughout the world. It was not until the 1990s that scholars began a concerted effort to track down this material, making a fuller appreciation of his work possible. By the time of Mendelssohn's bicentenary in 2009, his reputation had come almost full circle. Throughout it all some of his key compositions - the "Italian" and "Scottish" symphonies, the Violin Concerto, "The Hebrides", the evergreen "A Midsummer Night's Dream" music - stayed strong in the international repertory. Today he is among the most popular of the early Romantics.

Bio by: Bobb Edwards


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  • Maintained by: Find a Grave
  • Added: 3 Jul 2000
  • Find a Grave Memorial 10315
  • Find a Grave, database and images ( : accessed ), memorial page for Felix Mendelssohn Mendelssohn (3 Feb 1809–4 Nov 1847), Find a Grave Memorial ID 10315, citing Dreifaltigkeitsfriedhof I, Kreuzberg, Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg, Berlin, Germany ; Maintained by Find a Grave .