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Fanny Mendelssohn

Fanny Mendelssohn was a German pianist and composer from the Romantic period. Although her career was largely overshadowed by her younger brother Felix, she was a prolific composer of over 450 works. She was born in 1805 to a wealthy Jewish family in Hamburg. Her father Abraham was a successful banker, and her mother Lea was an accomplished pianist who learned from Johann Kirnberger, a former student of J. S. Bach. Mendelssohn and her three younger siblings all received their initial musical training from their mother. In 1811 the family moved to Berlin to escape the invading French army led by Napoleon. They were also baptized and converted to Christianity to avoid religious persecution. Five years later, she took piano lessons with Marie Bigot in Paris followed by further piano studies with Ludwig Berger. Beginning in 1819, she also studied composition with Carl Friedrich Zelter who was impressed with her interpretations of Bach. When she was around 17 years old, she began a long courtship with artist Wilhelm Hensel. Her parents discouraged the relationship because Hensel was not very wealthy, but they eventually married ten years later and had a son in 1830. That same year she also became known as a composer after writer John Thomsen mentioned her in an article in the British music journal, Harmonicon. She had her debut as a pianist in 1838, in a performance of her brother Felix Mendelssohn's Piano Concerto No. 1, and she only performed in public on two other occasions. Unlike her parents, her brother was very supportive of her career as a composer, and since women composers were often ignored and not taken seriously, she published some of her music under his name. Around 1839, she traveled to Italy with her son and husband and discovered that she had a large following of young musicians there who admired her and her music. This renewed her confidence and inspired her to compose and publish her works. She would continue to compose prolifically throughout her final years. She passed away in 1847 after suffering a stroke.
© RJ Lambert /TiVo
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