Felix Mendelssohn‑Bartholdy

Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy (1809–1847) was a German composer, conductor, and pianist. He was born into a wealthy Jewish family; his parents had strong links with  German intelligentsia and artistic circles. Young Felix grew up surrounded by art; he took violin and piano lessons from the earliest age – first with his mother and then a string of subsequent teachers. In 1819, together with his musically talented sister Fanny, he started studying composition under Carl Zelter. Over the following months, he wrote tens of pieces, including six symphonies for chamber orchestra, a comic opera, and a singspiel.

During a trip to Weimar in 1821, 12-year-old Felix met 72-year-old Goethe, and the two developed a lasting relationship, despite the age difference. In 1823, staying in Lozanne with his family, Felix completed his opus no. 1. At that time he also started to give public piano performances. Written in 1824, his Symphony No. 1 in C minor closed Mendelssohn’s study period, which brought about nearly a hundred pieces. 

Having stayed in Weimar and Paris, where he met many leading artists of the time (including Meyerbeer and Rossini), Felix and his family settled in Berlin. Soon their house became the city’s principal salon, featuring concerts, talks, and performances. The first signs of maturity were beginning to show in Felix’s music, e.g. the overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1826) composed at the time and premiered in 1827 in Szczecin. 

In 1829 Felix stayed in London. From the British capital he made a trip to Scotland, which brought about his popular Scottish Symphony. Having returned to the continent, he set out on another journey, this time to south Europe, where he wrote the Italian Symphony, among other pieces. On the way back, he stopped in Paris, where he listened to Chopin’s first concert. The two later developed a warm relationship. 

Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy was an avid organiser of music life. He should be credited with introducing works by earlier composers – such s Bach or Handel – into the concert programmes of his time. Mendelssohn was also involved in the setting up of a theatre in Düsseldorf, and acted as a director of a concert hall in Leipzig.

In 1835 Felix’s father died, which forced the composer to take full responsibility for himelf and his career. His private life transformed. He met Robert Schumann, who became his long-standing friend, and got married (1827). He became actively involved in the organisation of a few European music festivals, and effected the foundation of a Berlin conservatory in 1843. 

In the meantime Mendelssohn’s mother and his beloved sister Fanny, also a composer, both died. His own deteriorating health forced the artist to cancel concerts and quit all organisational activity. He died of a stroke and was buried in Berlin, next to his sister. 

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