Felix and Fanny: The Mendelssohn Myth and Musical Saga

Felix Mendelssohn, Piano music, 1835; Newberry Vault Case MS VM 25 .M53L
Felix Mendelssohn, Piano music, 1835; Newberry Vault Case MS VM 25 .M53L
Tuesday, May 14, 2013

6 pm

Ruggles Hall

Speaker: Stephen Kleiman

When thinking about the relationship between Felix and Fanny Mendelssohn, another musically talented brother and sister come to mind: Wolfgang and Nannerl Mozart. In the Mozart family, however, Wolfgang was clearly accepted as the superior musician. This was not the case, early on, in the Mendelssohn household. As children, Fanny and Felix both studied music with Carl Friedrich Zelter, a friend of Goethe’s, who was mightily impressed with the Mendelssohns, particularly Fanny. In 1816 Zelter introduced Goethe to Fanny and Felix’s father by describing Mendelssohn’s precocious children. Zelter wrote, “[h]e has adorable children and his oldest daughter could give you something of Sebastian Bach. This child is really something special.”

Because it was almost impossible during the early nineteenth century for a woman composer to issue her work publicly, Felix published a number of Fanny’s songs under his name. His decision led to some later embarrassment, however. When Queen Victoria received the composer at Buckingham Palace and expressed her admiration for his work by singing her favorite Mendelssohn composition, Felix had to confess that the song had been written by his sister.

Come and explore the musical lives of Felix and Fanny Mendelssohn, dip into their family history, the social and political structures of the time, and why Felix emerged as a great nineteenth-century composer, while Fanny had to wait a century and a half.

Stephen Kleiman holds an M.M. in music composition from the University of Michigan and was an orchestra conductor in Europe and music director of the National Chamber Orchestra in Washington, D.C. A CD of his chamber music was released this spring.

Cost and registration information: 

This program is free and no reservations are required.

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