Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy

Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy

Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy

(3 February 1809, Hamburg - 4 November 1847, Leipzig)


Jakob Ludwig Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy was a German composer, pianist, organist, teacher and musical conductor of the early Romantic period. Born in a well educated family with great financial support (his father, Abraham Mendelssohn, was a banker), Felix's education as well as living conditions, were well provided by both of his parents. As Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart before him, Felix was regarded as a child prodigy. His mother gave him his first piano lessons when he was 6, and at the age of 7, he was tutored by Marie Bigot in Paris.
Following the French occupation of Hamburg, the whole family moved to Berlin. Here, little Felix resumed his piano lessons with Ludwig Berger, a former student of Muzio Clementi. Around the same time he made his first public appearance (1818). Next year, May 1819 Felix and his sister Fanny, who was also musically gifted, studied counterpoint and composition with Carl Friedrich Zelter in Berlin. Zelter's musical tastes were conservative, he was a great admirer of Johann Sebastian Bach. This aspect played an important role in Felix Mendelssohn's musical tastes and future compositions. His fugues and chorales reflect a tonal clarity and use of counterpoint reminiscent of Johann Sebastian Bach, by whose music he was greatly influenced. Among his other influences, after a trip to Paris, where he took further piano lessons, it appears he became acquainted with the music of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
He was a prolific composer from an early age, his early compositions include 5 operas, 11 symphonies for string orchestra, concerti, sonatas, and fugues. Most of these works were long preserved in manuscript in the Prussian State Library in Berlin but are believed to have been lost in World War II. As an adolescent, his works were often performed at home with a private orchestra for the associates of his wealthy parents amongst the intellectual elite of Berlin. Between the ages of 12 and 14, Mendelssohn wrote 12 string symphonies for such concerts. These works were ignored for over a century, but are now recorded and occasionally played in concerts. He wrote his first published work, the Piano Quartet No. 3 in B Minor, by the time he was 13. At the age of 15 he composed his first symphony for full orchestra (in C minor, Op. 11). In 1826, Felix produced one of his best known works, Overture to A Midsummer Night's Dream, which attested his full stature as a composer.
On March 11, 1829, at the Singakademie, Berlin, he conducted the first performance since Bach's death of the St. Matthew Passion, thus inaugurating the Bach revival of the 19th century. The same year he traveled to England where he conducted his Symphony No. 1 in C Minor at the London Philharmonic Society.
Following Zelter's death in 1832, Mendelssohn applied for the vacant post of conductor of the Berlin Singakademie. However, at a vote in January 1833 he was defeated for the post by the less distinguished Carl Friedrich Rungenhagen. This may have been because of Mendelssohn's youth, and fear of possible innovations. Having been rejected, Felix divided most of his professional time over the next few years between England and Düsseldorf, where he was appointed musical director (he introduced into the church services the masses of Beethoven and Cherubini and the cantatas of Bach) in 1833.
At Düsseldorf he began composing the first of his oratorios, St. Paul, later premiered at the Lower Rhenish Festival in Düsseldorf in 1836. Having been appointed conductor of the celebrated Gewandhaus Orchestra at Leipzig, he not only raised the standard of orchestral playing but also made Leipzig the musical capital of Germany. Works written over the following years include the Variations sérieuses (1841), for piano, the Lobgesang (1840; Hymn of Praise), Psalm CXIV, the Piano Concerto No. 2 in D Minor (1837), and chamber works. In 1838 Mendelssohn began the Violin Concerto in E Minor–Major. At the request of King Friederich Wilhelm IV, Mendelssohn also wrote music for productions of Sophocles's Antigone (1841) and Oedipus at Colonus (1845), Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream (1843) and Racine's Athalie (1845). 
His last achievement was founding the Leipzig conservatory of music (now the University of Music and Theatre Leipzig) where, together with Schumann, he taught composition.
Felix Mendelssohn's music, stylish and elegant, contains elements that unite this versatile 19th-century composer to the principal artistic figures of his time. He wrote symphonies, concerti, oratorios, piano music and chamber music. His best-known works include his Overture and incidental music for A Midsummer Night's Dream, the Italian Symphony, the Scottish Symphony, the overture The Hebrides, his mature Violin Concerto, and his String Octet. His Songs Without Words are his most famous solo piano compositions. Mendelssohn was one of the first of the great 19th-century Romantic composers, and in this sense he remains even today a figure to be rediscovered.
Here  you can find a list of Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy's compositions.