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Fine Literature
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Felix Mendelssohn

Portrait of Felix Mendelssohn

In full, Jakob Ludwig Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy (bär-tōl'dē), 1809–1847. The son of Abraham Mendelssohn and the grandson of Moses Mendelssohn, he added Bartholdy to his surname following his conversion to Christianity in early childhood. A German composer, pianist, and musical conductor, he was born in Hamburg. Mendelssohn made his first public appearance as a pianist in 1818, and presented original compositions at musical gatherings in his father's house. He formed close friendships with Weber, Goethe (1821), and Moscheles, and gave initial impetus to the Bach revival, and successfully conducted Bach's Matthew Passion in Berlin in 1829, the first time after the death of the composer. He appeared successfully as pianist and conductor in London in 1829; toured (until 1832) in England, Italy, and on the Continent; again in London in 1833 and repeatedly thereafter. Mendelssohn was musical director in Düsseldorf (1833); director of the famous Gewandhaus concerts in Leipzig (from 1835), which became the center of the musical world of Europe; helped found the Berlin Academy of the Arts and reorganized the Cathedral choir; cofounder (1843) and director of Leipzig Conservatory; first met Jenny Lind in 1844, for whom he composed special music. He collapsed from overwork and from nervous prostration following death of his sister Fanny (1805–1847), a composer and pianist, the wife of painter Wilhelm Hensel.

Mendelssohn composed five symphonies, including:

  • Symphony in C Minor (1824)
  • Italian Symphony (1833)
  • Scotch Symphony (1842)
  • Reformation Symphony
  • symphony cantata Lobgesang (Eng. Hymn of Praise; revised 1840)

Overtures, including:

  • The Hebrides, or Fingal's Cave (1830)
  • Goethe's A Calm Sea and a Prosperous Voyage (1833)
  • The Lovely Melusine (1833)
  • Ruy Bias (1839)
  • Trumpet Overture (1839)

Other works include:

  • Concertos, including a violin concerto (1844) and two piano concertos
  • works for piano and orchestra
  • dramatic works, including:
    • music to Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream (overture, 1826; completed, 1842)
    • Goethe's First Walpurgis Night (1831)
    • Sophocles's Antigone (1841) and Oedipus at Colonus (1845)
    • Racine's Athalie (1843–45)
    • comic opera The Wedding of Camacho (prod. 1827)
    • Singspiel Son and Stranger (1829)
    • unfinished fragments of opera Lorelei
  • chamber music including:
    • piano works including:
      • eight books of Songs Without Words (1830–45)
      • four sonatas
      • three books of Variations
      • six preludes and fugues
      • various fantasias (including one on The Last Rose of Summer)
    • organ sonatas
    • vocal music, including:
      • oratorios St. Paul (1836) and Elijah (1846)
      • songs, psalms, motets, and other choral works, etc.

He was the father of historian Karl Mendelssohn-Bartholdy (1838–1897) and grandfather of Albrecht Mendelssohn-Bartholdy (1874–1936), professor of civil and international law at Würzburg (1905) and Hamburg (1920).

[Thanks, in part, to Webster's Biographical Dictionary, 1943.]

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