- Felix Mendelssohn - Man of the Moment [Biography]
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Felix Mendelssohn

"Die erste Bedingung zu einem Künstler ist, dass er Respekt vor dem Großen habe und sich davor beuge und es anerkenne und nicht die großen Flammen auszupusten versuche, damit das kleine Talglicht ein wenig heller leuchte."

During the 19th century, Mendelssohn was one of the best loved of all composers, particularly in Victorian England. Today he is admired worldwide as a composer of great charm and refinement. Born 3 February, 1809 in Hamburg, Germany. He began, like Mozart, as a child prodigy. Encouraged by his family and teachers, the precocious Felix began writing music when he was 9 years old. His public debut as a pianist was in 1818. At the age of 17, he astonished the world with a true masterpiece, his overture to William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream.

He had a deep respect for musical tradition and for the past. He was largely responsible for the revival of J.S. Bach's mid-19th century revival. In 1829, at the age of 20, Mendelssohn conducted the first performance of St. Matthew Passion since Bach's death nearly eighty years before. Inspired by its beauty, Mendelssohn set out to bring the brilliance of Bach to the world.

In October of 1830, he began an extended tour of Italy, and for the next nine months he marvelled at its wonders. He travelled from Venice to Florence and then on to Rome, where he met Berlioz. Later, he went to Naples and Pompeii, where he was struck by the magnificent antiquities that he would later describe so grandly in his "Italian" symphony. In fact, on hearing the symphony that resulted from this tour, Schumann remarked that the music had completely transported him to Italy.

Mendelssohn wrote forty-eight short piano pieces under the collective title Lieder ohne Worte (Songs Without Words). He composed them for what was, at the time, a fairly new but growing market: amateur pianists who wanted music that was of good quality, yet not too difficult to play in their own homes. Mendelssohn's chosen title perfectly reflects the melodious character of the pieces, which carry individual names relating to the subjects that inspired them.

As a conductor, Mendelssohn was very busy both in his native Germany and in England, where he was adored by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. The art, or technique, of conducting was still something new during his lifetime. In this area of skill, he is often considered to have been the man of the moment.

Mendelssohn's elder sister Fanny was also a talented composer and pianist. Her work was not publicly performed, however, because a musical career was not thought proper for women then. There had always been a close bond between the two siblings, and when Fanny died in May of 1847, Mendelssohn fell into a deep depression. Already exhausted and ill, he never recovered from Fanny's death, and his own death followed a few months later. His death at the tragically young age of 38 robbed the music world of an outstanding conductor and an inventive musical talent.

contributed by Gifford, Katya


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