Remembering Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel

The most recent work by R. Larry Todd, one of the foremost scholars of the Mendelssohn family, turns the attention away from Felix and to his older sister, Fanny.  The book, entitled Fanny Hensel – The Other Mendelssohn pays credit to the all too often neglected life and musical achievements of a woman who faced more than her share of obstacles.

As a result of her social class and the cultural expectations that followed, Fanny was largely prevented from fulfilling her desires of creating and performing.  And we can only imagine what it was like for Fanny to watch her brother achieve and excel while she was prevented from being heard.  As a 14 year-old Fanny was told by her father that,

“Music will perhaps become his [Felix’s] profession, but for you it can and must only be an ornament, never the root of your being and doing.”

And to reinforce the point, at 23 she was gain reminded by her father,

“You must become more steady and collected, and prepare more earnestly and eagerly for your calling, the only calling of a young woman – I mean the state of a housewife.”

Though scholarly work on Fanny has been done before, this is the first definitive biography and I am eager to add it to my library.  The book also has a companion website that includes audio clips of several of her pieces.  You can also learn more about the book and Fanny’s life through an article through Classical Minnesota Public Radio, where they also offer a podcast of an interview with the author.

In tribute to this relatively recent release, the Julliard School will be presenting a mini-festival honoring the works of Fanny Mendelssohn.  The Julliard Journal online explains that Dr. Todd is working with the performers to make it a true, “fusion of scholarship and performance.”  The festival, which runs from September 30 to October 2, will include lieder, solo piano pieces, piano duets, her Piano Trio in D Minor, op. 11, String Quartet in E-flat Major, and Das Jahr, a 12 movement cycle for solo piano representing the months of the year.

As Dr. Todd recognizes, “There is the spark of genius in this music, making her as a composer we should now recognize and celebrate.”  Though I believe we should have been recognizing and celebrating her all along, I suppose it’s never too late to start.