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Mendelssohn, Fanny (1805-1847)

Fanny Mendelssohn

born: 14 November 1805
died: 14 May 1847
country: Germany

This extraordinarily gifted composer contributed some 250 lieder to the repertory. Her work is still undervalued, and only a fraction it has been performed and recorded. As the sister of Felix Mendelssohn she benefited from a splendid musical education (she studied with Zelter and Ludwig Berger among others). Nevertheless, as the eldest daughter of a Jewish family (where wealth and religious conversion did not guarantee a liberal attitude to a woman becoming a professional musician) she was under constant pressure to fulfil her domestic destiny as a daughter and prospective wife. It must have caused her untold distress that her musical significance was discounted in this way, but she seems to have dutifully suppressed an open expression of these feelings. In 1829 she married the painter William Hensel (whose poem Am Maienfeste was set to music by Berger during his early days in Berlin when he was a friend of Wilhelm Müller). Happily Hensel valued his wife’s musical talents, and she soon became an important part of musical life in Berlin where she was renowned as a conductor and organizer of Sunday concerts. Her early death from a heart attack at the age of forty-two shocked her brother Felix so much that it is said to have hastened his own premature death.

from notes by Graham Johnson 2006

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