Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Felix Mendelssohn's Talented Sister

It seems in music history that we often tend to hear about male composers and their work, but did you know there are many prominent women composers as well? Some were known during their lifetime while others gained appreciation generations following their deaths. This month, let’s look at a few talented female composers, some living during the nineteenth century and some in the early twentieth.

Did you know that Felix Mendelssohn had a sister who was a skilled pianist and composer? Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel (1805–1847) studied piano, theory, and composition from a young age and was considered to be equal in ability to her more famous sibling, Felix. Because of the era in which she lived, Fanny was discouraged from a career in music by both her father and brother, who believed it inappropriate for a woman of her wealth and class to hold such a position.  Felix even published some of her compositions under his own name in order to keep her name out of the public eye.

Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel
Courtesy of wikipedia.org

Painter Wilhelm Hensel supported Fanny’s musicality and, following their marriage, allowed her to hold a salon in their home. A salon is a domestic gathering of friends to hear performances. Fanny had a music room in her home that held up to 200 people and would often invite many well-to-do people to hear her present many of her own works and perform on piano. Fellow musicians were known to drop in including Franz Liszt and Clara Schumann (who we will look at next week!) Hensel supported the publication of his wife’s works but unfortunately, Fanny did not receive much of an opportunity to pursue this avenue. She died suddenly of a stroke right after the publication of her first opus.

Join me next time as we take a look at a famous work by Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel!

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