Who Was Felix Mendelssohn?
German composer Felix Mendelssohn made his public debut in Berlin at just 9 years old. In 1819, he joined the Singakademie music academy and began composing non-stop. At Singakademie, he also became a conductor, but continued to compose prolifically. Mendelssohn founded the Leipzig Conservatory of Music in 1843.
Pianist, composer and conductor Felix Mendelssohn was born Jakob Ludwig Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy in Hamburg, Germany, on February 3, 1809. His parents were Jewish, but converted to Christianity before he, his brother and two sisters were born. When Mendelssohn was 2 years old, he moved to Berlin with his parents and siblings. In Berlin, the young Mendelssohn began taking piano lessons with Ludwig Berger. Mendelssohn also studied composition under composer K.F. Zelter as a child. In 1816, he broadened his lessons, studying under pianist Marie Bigot during an extended stay in Paris, France.
Mendelssohn was quick to establish himself as a musical prodigy. During his childhood, he composed a handful of operas and 11 symphonies. At just 9 years old, he made his public debut in Berlin.
In 1819, Mendelssohn joined the Singakademie music academy and began composing non-stop. In 1820 alone, he wrote a violin sonata, two piano sonatas, multiple songs, a cantata, a brief opera and a male quartet. In 1826, Mendelssohn produced one of his best known works, Overture to a Midsummer Night's Dream. He presented his opera The Marriage of the Camacho, the following year in Berlin. It was the only opera of his performed in public during his life.
At Singakademie, Mendelssohn also became a conductor. In 1829, he conducted a performance of Bach's St. Matthew Passion. The performance's success led to other great opportunities, including a chance to conduct the London Philharmonic Society that same year. Inspired by his visit to England and Scotland, Mendelssohn began composing his Symphony No. 3; it took more than a decade to complete. Known as his Scottish Symphony, the work commemorated his visit to Holyrood Chapel in Edinburgh and the highlands.
Mendelssohn continued to compose prolifically while working as a conductor. He wrote the Reformation Symphony in 1830, and followed that accomplishment with a three-year European tour. During that time, he published his first book of songs, entitled Songs without Words (1832). Italian Symphony (1833), another of Mendelssohn's best known works, was also born of this period. In 1835, Mendelssohn was granted an illustrious role: conductor of the Gewandhaus Orchestra in Leipzig.
In 1836, a year after his father died, Mendelssohn met Cécile Jeanrenaud, a clergyman's daughter, in Frankfurt. Mendelssohn was 10 years Jeanrenaud's senior. She was just 16 when they got engaged. The couple married on March 28, 1837. Over the course of their marriage, they had five children.
The same year that he married, Mendelssohn composed his Piano Concerto No. 2 in D Minor. From 1838 to 1844, he toiled away on his Violin Concerto in E Minor. Prior to the piece's completion, Mendelssohn founded the Leipzig Conservatory of Music and became its director. In so doing, he put Leipzig on the map as the musical center of Germany. After finishing Violin Concerto in E Minor, Mendelssohn conducted a string of concerts for the Philharmonic. In 1846 he presented his newly written Elijah at the Birmingham Festival.
Final Years and Death
In May 1847, Mendelssohn's sister, Fanny, who was a lifelong inspiration to him, died suddenly. Her death left him so devastated that he soon lost his own zest for life. His health, already compromised by his strenuous career, began to deteriorate rapidly. Six months later, on November 4, 1847, Felix Mendelssohn died of a ruptured blood vessel in Leipzig, Germany. He had recently returned from a brief visit to Switzerland, where he'd completed composition of his String Quartet in F Minor.
Although he was only 38 when he died, Mendelssohn managed to distinguish himself as one of the first significant Romantic composers of the 1800s.
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