The idea that Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy prevented his sister, Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel, from publishing her compositions is not a feminist reinterpretation of her life; it can be traced to 19th-century publications by the Mendelssohn family that portray both siblings within socially acceptable gender roles. Centering Hensel’s biography on her brother’s influence oversimplifies the historical situation for women composers, replacing issues surrounding gender and class with a single male villain.
Current treatments of Hensel rely on Romantic stereotypes of the neglected genius; her life reveals a need for a feminist biography that balances larger cultural constraints with recognition of individual female agency.
This according to “The ‘suppression’ of Fanny Mendelssohn: Rethinking feminist biography” by Marian Wilson Kimber (19th-century music XXVI/2 [fall 2002] pp. 113–129).
Todays is Hensel’s 210th birthday! Below, Claudie Verhaeghe sings her Nachtwanderer.
When Mendelssohn Bartholdy was 13 a family trip to Switzerland afforded his first opportunity to devote himself to drawing; subsequently a sketch book was always an indispensable part of his holiday luggage.
Soon the prodigy’s musical career precluded other artistic activities, but after the death of his beloved sister Fanny when he was 38 he returned to Switzerland and completed a remarkable series of watercolors. These were among his final creative activities; he died in November of that year.
This according to the preface by Margaret Crum for Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy (Oxford: Bodleian Library, 1972), which reproduces items from the Bodleian Library’s collection.
Above, Mendelssohn Bartholdy’s depiction of Lucerne in July 1847; below, Piero Bellugi conducts the final movements of his sixth string symphony, written around the time he first started drawing.
In 1833 Sophy Horsley, a well-heeled British teenager, wrote to her aunt “Mendelssohn took my album with him the night of our glee-party, but you have no idea how many names he has got me.” Over the following years Horsley and Mendelssohn Bartholdy, who was a family friend, collected musical works, illustrations, and autographs in a 144-page album measuring 1⅞ by 1¼ inches.
Composers who contributed works or snippets included Mendelssohn Bartholdy himself along with Bellini, Brahms, Chopin, Liszt, Paganini, and Clara Schumann. Drawings and paintings were contributed by Edwin Landseer, Franz Xaver Winterhalter, and Julius Hübner; inscriptions include contributions by Charles Dickens, Jacob Grimm, and Jenny Lind.
This according to “Sophy’s album” by Anne C. Bromer and Julian I. Edison, an article included in Miniature books: 4,000 years of tiny treasures (New York: Abrams, 2007); the book was published in conjunction with an exhibition at The Grolier Club, New York City, from 15 May through 28 July 2007. Many thanks to James Melo for bringing it to our attention!
Below, Rahmaninov plays his transcription of Mendelssohn-Bartholdy’s “Scherzo” from his incidental music for A midsummer night’s dream, written when the composer was a teenager himself.