Happy Birthday Felix Mendelssohn!

Happy Birthday to Felix Mendelssohn

Happy Birthday Mendelssohn!

The German composer Felix Mendelssohn was born on this day in 1809 in Hambury, Germany. He was a composer, pianist, organist and conductor of the early Romantic period.

Mendelssohn began taking piano lessons from his mother at the age of 6. In later years, he was taught (as were his three siblings) by Ludwig Berger, who had been a formed student of Muzio Clementi.

Although born to Jewish parents, Felix’s family were not a religious family. He was brought up without religion until the age of seven. In 1816 he was baptised as a reformed Christian and was given the additional Christian names of Jakob Ludwig. He also formally adopted the surname Mendelssohn Bartholdy.

Mendelssohn probably made his first public concert appearance at the age of nine. He was a prolific composer from an early age. His early compositions were often performed at home with a private orchestra, for the benefit of friends of his wealthy parents. Between the ages of 12 and 14 he wrote 13 string symphonies and a number of chamber works. His first piece – a piano quartet – was published at age 13.

His musical talent was recognised from an early age, but his parents were cautious and did not seek to capitalise on his talent. However, aged only 17 he wrote his Overture to Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”. This is now one of the best-known of his early works. The Overture is one of the earliest examples of a concert overture – a piece not written deliberately to accompany a staged performance but to invoke a literary theme in performance on a concert platform.

Mendelssohn was influenced heavily by Johann Sebastian Bach, and revived interest in his music. He had fairly conservative musical tastes, in an age when composers such as Liszt, Wagner and Berlioz were promoting new radical and adventurous styles. He was described by Schumann as “the Mozart of the nineteenth century, the most brilliant musician”.

Throughout his career he visited Britain a total of 10 times. He was always well-received, which enabled him to make a great impression on British musical life. Scotland inspired two of his most famous works: The Hebrides (also known as Fingal’s Cave) and the Scottish Symphony. During one of Mendelssohn’s later visits to Britain he met Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Both were great admirers of his work.

Often suffering from overwork and nervous problems, Mendelssohn died in November 1847 aged just 38 years old after a series of strokes. He is now among the most popular composers of the Romantic era.

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