Felix Mendelssohn
Overview
Jakob Ludwig Felix Mendelssohn Barthóldy (ˈjaːkɔp ˈluːtvɪç ˈfeːlɪks ˈmɛndl̩szoːn baʁˈtɔldi, born, and generally known in English-speaking countries as, Felix Mendelssohn) (3 February 18094 November 1847) was a German composer, pianist, organist
Organist
An organist is a musician who plays any type of organ. An organist may play solo organ works, play with an ensemble or orchestra, or accompany one or more singers or instrumental soloists...

 and conductor of the early Romantic
Romantic music
Romantic music or music in the Romantic Period is a musicological and artistic term referring to a particular period, theory, compositional practice, and canon in Western music history, from 1810 to 1900....

 period.

The grandson of the philosopher Moses Mendelssohn
Moses Mendelssohn
Moses Mendelssohn was a German Jewish philosopher to whose ideas the renaissance of European Jews, Haskalah is indebted...

, Felix Mendelssohn was born into a notable ethnically Jewish family
Mendelssohn family
The Mendelssohn family are the descendants of the German Jewish philosopher Moses Mendelssohn, and include his grandson, the composer Felix Mendelssohn....

, although he himself was brought up initially without religion, and later as a Lutheran Christian.
Encyclopedia
Jakob Ludwig Felix Mendelssohn Barthóldy (ˈjaːkɔp ˈluːtvɪç ˈfeːlɪks ˈmɛndl̩szoːn baʁˈtɔldi, born, and generally known in English-speaking countries as, Felix Mendelssohn) (3 February 18094 November 1847) was a German composer, pianist, organist
Organist
An organist is a musician who plays any type of organ. An organist may play solo organ works, play with an ensemble or orchestra, or accompany one or more singers or instrumental soloists...

 and conductor of the early Romantic
Romantic music
Romantic music or music in the Romantic Period is a musicological and artistic term referring to a particular period, theory, compositional practice, and canon in Western music history, from 1810 to 1900....

 period.

The grandson of the philosopher Moses Mendelssohn
Moses Mendelssohn
Moses Mendelssohn was a German Jewish philosopher to whose ideas the renaissance of European Jews, Haskalah is indebted...

, Felix Mendelssohn was born into a notable ethnically Jewish family
Mendelssohn family
The Mendelssohn family are the descendants of the German Jewish philosopher Moses Mendelssohn, and include his grandson, the composer Felix Mendelssohn....

, although he himself was brought up initially without religion, and later as a Lutheran Christian. He was recognised early as a musical prodigy
Child prodigy
A child prodigy is someone who, at an early age, masters one or more skills far beyond his or her level of maturity. One criterion for classifying prodigies is: a prodigy is a child, typically younger than 18 years old, who is performing at the level of a highly trained adult in a very demanding...

, but his parents were cautious and did not seek to capitalise on his abilities.

Early success in Germany, where he also revived interest in the music of Johann Sebastian Bach
Johann Sebastian Bach
Johann Sebastian Bach was a German composer, organist, harpsichordist, violist, and violinist whose sacred and secular works for choir, orchestra, and solo instruments drew together the strands of the Baroque period and brought it to its ultimate maturity...

, was followed by travel throughout Europe. Mendelssohn was particularly well-received in Britain as a composer, conductor and soloist, and his ten visits there – during which many of his major works were premiered – form an important part of his adult career. His essentially conservative musical tastes, however, set him apart from many of his more adventurous musical contemporaries such as Franz Liszt
Franz Liszt
Franz Liszt ; ), was a 19th-century Hungarian composer, pianist, conductor, and teacher.Liszt became renowned in Europe during the nineteenth century for his virtuosic skill as a pianist. He was said by his contemporaries to have been the most technically advanced pianist of his age...

, Richard Wagner
Richard Wagner
Wilhelm Richard Wagner was a German composer, conductor, theatre director, philosopher, music theorist, poet, essayist and writer primarily known for his operas...

 and Hector Berlioz
Hector Berlioz
Hector Berlioz was a French Romantic composer, best known for his compositions Symphonie fantastique and Grande messe des morts . Berlioz made significant contributions to the modern orchestra with his Treatise on Instrumentation. He specified huge orchestral forces for some of his works; as a...

. The Leipzig
Leipzig
Leipzig Leipzig has always been a trade city, situated during the time of the Holy Roman Empire at the intersection of the Via Regia and Via Imperii, two important trade routes. At one time, Leipzig was one of the major European centres of learning and culture in fields such as music and publishing...

 Conservatoire (now the University of Music and Theatre Leipzig), which he founded, became a bastion of this anti-radical outlook.

Mendelssohn's work includes symphonies
Symphony
A symphony is an extended musical composition in Western classical music, scored almost always for orchestra. A symphony usually contains at least one movement or episode composed according to the sonata principle...

, concerti
Concerto
A concerto is a musical work usually composed in three parts or movements, in which one solo instrument is accompanied by an orchestra.The etymology is uncertain, but the word seems to have originated from the conjunction of the two Latin words...

, oratorio
Oratorio
An oratorio is a large musical composition including an orchestra, a choir, and soloists. Like an opera, an oratorio includes the use of a choir, soloists, an ensemble, various distinguishable characters, and arias...

s, piano music
Piano Music
Piano Music is a suite of four short pieces composed by Alexina Louie in 1982 for the Alliance for Canadian New Music Projects. The four pieces are The Enchanted Bells, Changes, Distant Memories, and Once upon a time....

 and chamber music
Chamber music
Chamber music is a form of classical music, written for a small group of instruments which traditionally could be accommodated in a palace chamber. Most broadly, it includes any art music that is performed by a small number of performers with one performer to a part...

. His most-performed works include his Overture and incidental music for A Midsummer Night's Dream, the Italian Symphony
Symphony No. 4 (Mendelssohn)
The Symphony No. 4 in A major, Op. 90, commonly known as the Italian, is an orchestral symphony written by German composer Felix Mendelssohn ....

, the Scottish Symphony
Symphony No. 3 (Mendelssohn)
The Symphony No. 3 in A minor, Op. 56, known as the Scottish Symphony, is a work by Felix Mendelssohn. It is thought that a painting on a Scottish trip made by Mendelssohn had inspired the 33-year-old composer, especially the opening theme of the first movement.The emotional scope of the work is...

, the Hebrides Overture
Hebrides Overture
The Hebrides Overture , Op. 26, also known as Fingal's Cave , is a concert overture composed by Felix Mendelssohn. Written in 1830, the piece was inspired by a cavern known as Fingal's Cave on Staffa, an island in the Hebrides archipelago located off the west coast of Scotland...

, his Violin Concerto
Violin Concerto (Mendelssohn)
Felix Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto in E minor, Op. 64 is his last large orchestral work. It forms an important part of the violin repertoire and is one of the most popular and most frequently performed violin concertos of all time...

, and his String Octet
Octet (Mendelssohn)
Felix Mendelssohn's Octet in E-flat major, Op. 20 was composed in the autumn of 1825 , when the composer was aged 16. He wrote it as a birthday gift for his friend and violin teacher Eduard Rietz ; it was slightly revised in 1832 before the first public performance on 30 January 1836 at the...

. After a long period of relative denigration due to changing musical tastes and anti-Semitism
Anti-Semitism
Antisemitism is suspicion of, hatred toward, or discrimination against Jews for reasons connected to their Jewish heritage. According to a 2005 U.S...

 in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, his creative originality has now been recognised and re-evaluated. He is now among the most popular composers of the Romantic era
Romantic music
Romantic music or music in the Romantic Period is a musicological and artistic term referring to a particular period, theory, compositional practice, and canon in Western music history, from 1810 to 1900....

.

Childhood

Felix Mendelssohn was born on 3 February 1809, in Hamburg
Hamburg
-History:The first historic name for the city was, according to Claudius Ptolemy's reports, Treva.But the city takes its modern name, Hamburg, from the first permanent building on the site, a castle whose construction was ordered by the Emperor Charlemagne in AD 808...

, at the time an independent city-state, in the same house where, a year later, the dedicatee and first performer of his Violin Concerto, Ferdinand David
Ferdinand David (musician)
Ferdinand David was a German virtuoso violinist and composer.Born in the same house in Hamburg where Felix Mendelssohn had been born the previous year, David was raised Jewish but later converted to Christianity...

, was to be born. Mendelssohn's father was the banker Abraham Mendelssohn
Abraham Mendelssohn Bartholdy
Abraham Ernst Mendelssohn Bartholdy was a German Jewish banker and philanthropist...

, the son of the German Jewish philosopher Moses Mendelssohn. His mother was Lea Salomon, a member of the Itzig family
Itzig family
Many of the thirteen children of Daniel Itzig and Miriam Wulff, and their descendants and spouses, had significant impact on both Jewish and German social and cultural history...

 and the sister of Jakob Salomon Bartholdy
Jakob Salomon Bartholdy
Jakob Salomon Bartholdy was a Prussian diplomat, born Jakob Salomon in Berlin of Jewish parentage, and educated at the University of Halle...

. Mendelssohn was the second of four children; his older sister Fanny
Fanny Mendelssohn
Fanny Cäcilie Mendelssohn , later Fanny Hensel, was a German pianist and composer, the sister of the composer Felix Mendelssohn and granddaughter of the philosopher Moses Mendelssohn...

 also displayed exceptional and precocious musical talent.

The family moved to Berlin in 1811, leaving Hamburg in disguise fearing French revenge for the Mendelssohn bank
Mendelssohn & Co.
Mendelssohn & Co. was a private bank residing in Berlin, Germany. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, it was one of the preeminent banking houses in Europe....

's role in breaking Napoleon's Continental System
Continental System
The Continental System or Continental Blockade was the foreign policy of Napoleon I of France in his struggle against the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland during the Napoleonic Wars. It was a large-scale embargo against British trade, which began on November 21, 1806...

 blockade. Abraham and Lea Mendelssohn sought to give their children – Fanny, Felix, Paul and Rebecka – the best education possible. Fanny became a well-known pianist and amateur composer; originally Abraham had thought that she, rather than Felix, would be the more musical. However, at that time, it was not considered proper, by either Abraham or Felix, for a woman to have a career in music, so Fanny remained an active, but non-professional musician. Abraham was also disinclined to allow Felix to follow a musical career until it became clear that he intended seriously to dedicate himself to it.

Mendelssohn grew up in an intellectual environment. Frequent visitors to the salon
Salon (gathering)
A salon is a gathering of people under the roof of an inspiring host, held partly to amuse one another and partly to refine taste and increase their knowledge of the participants through conversation. These gatherings often consciously followed Horace's definition of the aims of poetry, "either to...

 organised by his parents at the family's home in Berlin included artists, musicians and scientists, amongst them Wilhelm
Wilhelm von Humboldt
Friedrich Wilhelm Christian Karl Ferdinand Freiherr von Humboldt was a German philosopher, government functionary, diplomat, and founder of Humboldt Universität. He is especially remembered as a linguist who made important contributions to the philosophy of language and to the theory and practice...

 and Alexander von Humboldt
Alexander von Humboldt
Friedrich Wilhelm Heinrich Alexander Freiherr von Humboldt was a German naturalist and explorer, and the younger brother of the Prussian minister, philosopher and linguist Wilhelm von Humboldt...

, and the mathematician Gustav Dirichlet
Johann Peter Gustav Lejeune Dirichlet
Johann Peter Gustav Lejeune Dirichlet was a German mathematician with deep contributions to number theory , as well as to the theory of Fourier series and other topics in mathematical analysis; he is credited with being one of the first mathematicians to give the modern formal definition of a...

 (whom Mendelssohn's sister Rebecka would later marry). Sarah Rothenburg wrote of the household that "Europe came to their living room".

Felix's surname

Abraham Mendelssohn renounced the Jewish religion; he and his wife deliberately decided not to have Felix circumcised
Circumcision
Male circumcision is the surgical removal of some or all of the foreskin from the penis. The word "circumcision" comes from Latin and ....

, in contravention of the Jewish tradition. Felix and his siblings were first brought up without religious education, and were baptised as Lutherans in 1816, at which time Felix took the additional names Jakob Ludwig. Abraham and his wife Lea were baptised in 1822, formally adopting the surname Mendelssohn Bartholdy (which they had used since 1812) for themselves and their children. The name Bartholdy was added at the suggestion of Lea's brother, Jakob Salomon Bartholdy, who had inherited a property of this name in Luisenstadt
Luisenstadt
Luisenstadt is a former quarter of central Berlin, now divided into the present localities of Mitte and Kreuzberg. It gave its name to the Luisenstadt Canal and the Luisenstädtische Kirche.-History:...

 and adopted it as his own surname. Abraham later explained this decision in a letter to Felix as a means of showing a decisive break with the traditions of his father Moses: "There can no more be a Christian Mendelssohn than there can be a Jewish Confucius
Confucius
Confucius , literally "Master Kong", was a Chinese thinker and social philosopher of the Spring and Autumn Period....

". On embarking on his musical career, Felix did not entirely drop the name Mendelssohn as Abraham requested, but in deference to his father signed his letters and had his visiting cards printed using the form 'Mendelssohn Bartholdy'. In 1829, his sister Fanny wrote to him of "Bartholdy [...] this name that we all dislike".

Musical education

Like Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart , baptismal name Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart , was a prolific and influential composer of the Classical era. He composed over 600 works, many acknowledged as pinnacles of symphonic, concertante, chamber, piano, operatic, and choral music...

 before him, Mendelssohn was regarded as a child prodigy
Child prodigy
A child prodigy is someone who, at an early age, masters one or more skills far beyond his or her level of maturity. One criterion for classifying prodigies is: a prodigy is a child, typically younger than 18 years old, who is performing at the level of a highly trained adult in a very demanding...

. He began taking piano lessons from his mother when he was six, and at seven was tutored by Marie Bigot
Marie Bigot
Marie Bigot was a French piano teacher whose full name was Marie Kiéné Bigot de Morogues. As a composer she is best known for her sonatas and études....

 in Paris. After the family moved to Berlin, all four Mendelssohn children studied piano with Ludwig Berger, who was himself a former student of Muzio Clementi
Muzio Clementi
Muzio Clementi was a celebrated composer, pianist, pedagogue, conductor, music publisher, editor, and piano manufacturer. Born in Italy, he spent most of his life in England. He is best known for his piano sonatas, and his collection of piano studies, Gradus ad Parnassum...

. From at least May 1819 Felix (and his sister Fanny) studied counterpoint
Counterpoint
In music, counterpoint is the relationship between two or more voices that are independent in contour and rhythm and are harmonically interdependent . It has been most commonly identified in classical music, developing strongly during the Renaissance and in much of the common practice period,...

 and composition with Carl Friedrich Zelter
Carl Friedrich Zelter
Carl Friedrich Zelter was a German composer, conductor and teacher of music.Zelter became friendly with Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, and his works include settings of Goethe's poems...

 in Berlin. This was an important influence on his future career. Zelter had almost certainly been recommended as a teacher by his aunt Sarah Levy, who had been a pupil of W. F. Bach and a patron of C. P. E. Bach. Sarah Levy was a talented keyboard player in her own right, often playing with Zelter's orchestra at the Berlin Singakademie
Berlin Singakademie
The Sing-Akademie zu Berlin is a musical society founded in Berlin in 1791 by Carl Friedrich Christian Fasch, harpsichordist to the court of Prussia, on the model of the 18th century London Academy of Ancient Music.-Early history:...

, of which she and the Mendelssohn family were leading patrons. Sarah had formed an important collection of Bach family manuscripts which she bequeathed to the Singakademie; Zelter, whose tastes in music were conservative, was also an admirer of the Bach tradition. This undoubtedly played a significant part in forming Felix Mendelssohn's musical tastes. His works show his study of Baroque and early classical music. His fugues and chorales especially reflect a tonal clarity and use of counterpoint reminiscent of Johann Sebastian Bach
Johann Sebastian Bach
Johann Sebastian Bach was a German composer, organist, harpsichordist, violist, and violinist whose sacred and secular works for choir, orchestra, and solo instruments drew together the strands of the Baroque period and brought it to its ultimate maturity...

, by whose music he was deeply influenced.

Early maturity

Mendelssohn probably made his first public concert appearance at age nine, when he participated in a chamber music
Chamber music
Chamber music is a form of classical music, written for a small group of instruments which traditionally could be accommodated in a palace chamber. Most broadly, it includes any art music that is performed by a small number of performers with one performer to a part...

 concert accompanying a horn duo. He was also a prolific composer from an early age. 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, a piano quartet, by the time he was 13. It was probably Abraham Mendelssohn who procured the publication of Mendelssohn's early piano quartet by the house of Schlesinger
Adolf Martin Schlesinger
Adolf Martin Schlesinger was a German music publisher whose firm became one of the most influential in Berlin in the early nineteenth century.-Career:...

. In 1824, the 15-year-old wrote his first symphony
Symphony No. 1 (Mendelssohn)
Symphony No. 1 in C minor, Op. 11, is a work by Felix Mendelssohn, which was completed on March 31, 1824, when the composer was only 15 years old. However, the autographed score was not published until 1831. The symphony was dedicated to the Royal Philharmonic Society who premièred the work in...

 for full orchestra, (op. 11 in C minor).

At age 16 Mendelssohn wrote his String Octet in E-flat major, the first work which showed the full power of his genius. This Octet and his Overture to Shakespeare
William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare was an English poet and playwright, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world's pre-eminent dramatist. He is often called England's national poet and the "Bard of Avon"...

's A Midsummer Night's Dream
A Midsummer Night's Dream
A Midsummer Night's Dream is a play that was written by William Shakespeare. It is believed to have been written between 1590 and 1596. It portrays the events surrounding the marriage of the Duke of Athens, Theseus, and the Queen of the Amazons, Hippolyta...

, which he wrote a year later in 1826, are the best-known of his early works. He later also wrote incidental music
Incidental music
Incidental music is music in a play, television program, radio program, video game, film or some other form not primarily musical. The term is less frequently applied to film music, with such music being referred to instead as the "film score" or "soundtrack"....

 for the play, including the famous Wedding March
Wedding March (Mendelssohn)
Felix Mendelssohn's "Wedding March" in C major, written in 1842, is one of the best known of the pieces from his suite of incidental music to Shakespeare's play A Midsummer Night's Dream...

, in 1842. The Overture is perhaps the earliest example of a concert overture – that is, a piece not written deliberately to accompany a staged performance, but to evoke a literary theme in performance on a concert platform; this was a genre which became a popular form in musical Romanticism.

In 1824 Mendelssohn studied under the composer and piano virtuoso Ignaz Moscheles
Ignaz Moscheles
Ignaz Moscheles was a Bohemian composer and piano virtuoso, whose career after his early years was based initially in London, and later at Leipzig, where he succeeded his friend and sometime pupil Felix Mendelssohn as head of the Conservatoire.-Sources:Much of what we know about Moscheles's life...

, who however confessed in his diaries that he had little to teach him. Moscheles became a close colleague and lifelong friend. 1827 saw the premiere – and sole performance in his lifetime – of Mendelssohn's opera, Die Hochzeit des Camacho
Die Hochzeit des Camacho
Die Hochzeit des Camacho is a Singspiel in two acts by Felix Mendelssohn, to a libretto probably written largely by Friedrich Voigt, based on an episode in Cervantes's Don Quixote. The opera is listed as Mendelssohn's op. 10...

. The failure of this production left him disinclined to venture into the genre again.

Besides music, Mendelssohn's education included art, literature, languages, and philosophy. He had a particular interest in classical literature and translated Terence
Terence
Publius Terentius Afer , better known in English as Terence, was a playwright of the Roman Republic, of North African descent. His comedies were performed for the first time around 170–160 BC. Terentius Lucanus, a Roman senator, brought Terence to Rome as a slave, educated him and later on,...

's Andria
Andria (comedy)
Andria is a comedy by Terence, a Roman playwright. It was Terence's first play, and he wrote it when he was approximately 19 years old. Terence adapted through translation from Menander's play, although as he is at pains to point out in his prologue he goes beyond mere translation. It was first...

for his tutor Heyse in 1825; Heyse was impressed and had it published in 1826 as a work of "his pupil, F****" [i.e. "Felix" (asterisks as provided in original text)]. This translation also qualified Mendelssohn to study at the Humboldt University of Berlin
Humboldt University of Berlin
The Humboldt University of Berlin is Berlin's oldest university, founded in 1810 as the University of Berlin by the liberal Prussian educational reformer and linguist Wilhelm von Humboldt, whose university model has strongly influenced other European and Western universities...

, where from 1826 to 1829 he attended lectures on aesthetics by Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel
Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel
Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel was a German philosopher, one of the creators of German Idealism. His historicist and idealist account of reality as a whole revolutionized European philosophy and was an important precursor to Continental philosophy and Marxism.Hegel developed a comprehensive...

, on history by Eduard Gans
Eduard Gans
Eduard Gans was a German jurist.He was born in Berlin of prosperous Jewish parents. He studied law first at the Friedrich Wilhelm University, Berlin, then at Göttingen, and finally at Heidelberg, where he attended G. W. F. Hegel's lectures, and became thoroughly imbued with the principles of...

 and on geography by Carl Ritter
Carl Ritter
Carl Ritter was a German geographer. Along with Alexander von Humboldt, he is considered one of the founders of modern geography. From 1825 until his death, he occupied the first chair in geography at the University of Berlin.-Biography:Ritter was born in Quedlinburg, one of the six children of a...

.

Meeting Goethe and conducting Bach

In 1821 Zelter introduced Mendelssohn to his friend and correspondent, the elderly Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was a German writer, pictorial artist, biologist, theoretical physicist, and polymath. He is considered the supreme genius of modern German literature. His works span the fields of poetry, drama, prose, philosophy, and science. His Faust has been called the greatest long...

, who was greatly impressed by the child, leading to perhaps the earliest confirmed comparison with Mozart in the following conversation between Goethe and Zelter:
Mendelssohn was invited to meet Goethe on several later occasions, and set a number of Goethe's poems to music. His other compositions inspired by Goethe include the overture Meeresstille und glückliche Fahrt (Calm Sea and a Prosperous Voyage, Op. 27, 1828) and the cantata Die erste Walpurgisnacht (The First Walpurgis Night, Op. 60, 1832).

In 1829, with the backing of Zelter and the assistance of actor Eduard Devrient
Eduard Devrient
Eduard Devrient was a German baritone, librettist, playwright, actor, theatre director and theatre reformer and historian.Devrient came from a theatrical family...

, Mendelssohn arranged and conducted a performance in Berlin of Bach's St Matthew Passion. Four years previously his grandmother, Bella Salomon, had given him a copy of the manuscript of this (by then all-but-forgotten) masterpiece. The orchestra and choir for the performance were provided by the Berlin Singakademie. The success of this performance – the first since Bach's death in 1750 – was an important element in the revival of J. S. Bach's music in Germany and, eventually, throughout Europe. It earned Mendelssohn widespread acclaim at the age of 20. It also led to one of the few references which Mendelssohn made to his origins: "To think that it took an actor and a Jew's son to revive the greatest Christian music for the world!"

Over the next few years Mendelssohn traveled widely, including making his first visit to England in 1829, and also visiting amongst other places Vienna
Vienna
Vienna is the capital and largest city of the Republic of Austria and one of the nine states of Austria. Vienna is Austria's primary city, with a population of about 1.723 million , and is by far the largest city in Austria, as well as its cultural, economic, and political centre...

, Florence
Florence
Florence is the capital city of the Italian region of Tuscany and of the province of Florence. It is the most populous city in Tuscany, with approximately 370,000 inhabitants, expanding to over 1.5 million in the metropolitan area....

, Milan, Rome and Naples
Naples
Naples is a city in Southern Italy, situated on the country's west coast by the Gulf of Naples. Lying between two notable volcanic regions, Mount Vesuvius and the Phlegraean Fields, it is the capital of the region of Campania and of the province of Naples...

, in all of which he met with local and visiting musicians and artists. These years proved the germination for some of his most famous works, including the Hebrides Overture and the Scottish and Italian symphonies.

Düsseldorf

On Zelter's death in 1832, Mendelssohn had hopes of succeeding him as conductor of the Berlin Singakademie
Berlin Singakademie
The Sing-Akademie zu Berlin is a musical society founded in Berlin in 1791 by Carl Friedrich Christian Fasch, harpsichordist to the court of Prussia, on the model of the 18th century London Academy of Ancient Music.-Early history:...

. However, at a vote in January 1833 he was defeated for the post by the less distinguished Karl Friedrick Rungenhagen. This may have been because of Mendelssohn's youth, and fear of possible innovations; it was also suspected by some to be attributable to his Jewish ancestry. Following this rebuff, Mendelssohn divided most of his professional time over the next few years between England and Düsseldorf
Düsseldorf
Düsseldorf is the capital city of the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia and centre of the Rhine-Ruhr metropolitan region.Düsseldorf is an important international business and financial centre and renowned for its fashion and trade fairs. Located centrally within the European Megalopolis, the...

, where he was appointed musical director (his first paid post as a musician) in 1833.

In the spring of that year Mendelssohn directed the Lower Rhenish Music Festival in Düsseldorf, beginning with a performance of Handel's
George Frideric Handel
George Frideric Handel was a German-British Baroque composer, famous for his operas, oratorios, anthems and organ concertos. Handel was born in 1685, in a family indifferent to music...

 oratorio Israel in Egypt prepared from the original score which he had found in London. This precipitated a Handel revival in Germany, similar to the reawakened interest in J. S. Bach following his performance of the St Matthew Passion. Mendelssohn worked with dramatist Karl Immermann
Karl Leberecht Immermann
Karl Leberecht Immermann was a German dramatist and novelist.He was born at Magdeburg, the son of a government official. In 1813 he went to study law at Halle, where he remained, after the suppression of the university by Napoleon in the same year, until Frederick William III of Prussia's...

 to improve local theatre standards, and made his first appearance as an opera conductor in Immermann's production of Mozart's Don Giovanni
Don Giovanni
Don Giovanni is an opera in two acts with music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and with an Italian libretto by Lorenzo Da Ponte. It was premiered by the Prague Italian opera at the Teatro di Praga on October 29, 1787...

at the end of 1833, where he took umbrage at the audience's protests about the cost of tickets. His frustration at his everyday duties in Düsseldorf, and the city's provincialism, led him to resign his position at the end of 1834.

Mendelssohn in Britain

In 1829 Mendelssohn paid his first visit to Britain, where his former teacher Ignaz Moscheles, already settled in London, introduced him to influential musical circles. In the summer he visited Edinburgh
Edinburgh
Edinburgh is the capital city of Scotland, the second largest city in Scotland, and the eighth most populous in the United Kingdom. The City of Edinburgh Council governs one of Scotland's 32 local government council areas. The council area includes urban Edinburgh and a rural area...

, where he met among others the composer John Thomson
John Thomson (composer)
John Thomson was a Scottish classical composer. He was born in Sprouston, Roxburghshire, the son of the Minister of Sprouston Church...

, whom he later recommended to be Professor of Music at Edinburgh University. On his eighth visit in the summer of 1844, he conducted five of the Philharmonic concerts in London, and wrote:

[N]ever before was anything like this season – we never went to bed before half-past one, every hour of every day was filled with engagements three weeks beforehand, and I got through more music in two months than in all the rest of the year.


On subsequent visits he met Queen Victoria and her musical husband Prince Albert, who both greatly admired his music.

In the course of ten visits to Britain during his life, totalling about 20 months, Mendelssohn won a strong following, sufficient for him to make a deep impression on British musical life. He composed and performed, and he edited for British publishers the first critical editions of oratorio
Oratorio
An oratorio is a large musical composition including an orchestra, a choir, and soloists. Like an opera, an oratorio includes the use of a choir, soloists, an ensemble, various distinguishable characters, and arias...

s of Handel and of the organ
Organ (music)
The organ , is a keyboard instrument of one or more divisions, each played with its own keyboard operated either with the hands or with the feet. The organ is a relatively old musical instrument in the Western musical tradition, dating from the time of Ctesibius of Alexandria who is credited with...

 music of J.S. Bach. Scotland inspired two of his most famous works: the Hebrides Overture, (also known as Fingal's Cave); and the Scottish Symphony (Symphony No. 3). Mendelssohn also worked closely with his protégé, the British composer and pianist William Sterndale Bennett
William Sterndale Bennett
Sir William Sterndale Bennett was an English composer. He ranks as the most distinguished English composer of the Romantic school-Biography:...

, (whom he had first heard in London in 1833 when Bennett was 17), both in London and Leipzig, where Bennett appeared throughout the 1836/37 season. Mendelssohn's oratorio Elijah
Elijah (oratorio)
Elijah, in German: Elias, is an oratorio written by Felix Mendelssohn in 1846 for the Birmingham Festival. It depicts various events in the life of the Biblical prophet Elijah, taken from the books 1 Kings and 2 Kings in the Old Testament....

was premiered in Birmingham
Birmingham
Birmingham is a city and metropolitan borough in the West Midlands of England. It is the most populous British city outside the capital London, with a population of 1,036,900 , and lies at the heart of the West Midlands conurbation, the second most populous urban area in the United Kingdom with a...

 at the Triennial Music Festival
Birmingham Triennial Music Festival
The Birmingham Triennial Musical Festival, in Birmingham, England, founded in 1784, was the longest-running classical music festival of its kind. Its last performance was in 1912.-History:...

 on 26 August 1846, using an English translation by William Bartholomew
William Bartholomew (writer)
William Bartholomew was an English libretist, composer, and writer. He made his living as a chemist, but is best remembered as the translator/text author for the premieres of many of Felix Mendelssohn's works in England; most notably the anthem Hear My Prayer and the oratorio Elijah for its...

, who served as his text author and translator for many of his works during his time in England. On his last visit to England in 1847, Mendelssohn was the soloist in Beethoven
Ludwig van Beethoven
Ludwig van Beethoven was a German composer and pianist. A crucial figure in the transition between the Classical and Romantic eras in Western art music, he remains one of the most famous and influential composers of all time.Born in Bonn, then the capital of the Electorate of Cologne and part of...

's Piano Concerto No. 4
Piano Concerto No. 4 (Beethoven)
Ludwig van Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 4 in G major, Op. 58, was composed in 1805–1806, although no autograph copy survives.-Musical forces and movements:...

 and conducted his own Scottish Symphony with the Philharmonic Orchestra before the Queen and Prince Albert.

Leipzig and Berlin

In 1835 Mendelssohn was named conductor of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra
Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra
The Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra is one of the the oldest symphony orchestras in the world...

. He chose this position although he had also been offered direction of the opera house in Munich
Munich
Munich The city's motto is "" . Before 2006, it was "Weltstadt mit Herz" . Its native name, , is derived from the Old High German Munichen, meaning "by the monks' place". The city's name derives from the monks of the Benedictine order who founded the city; hence the monk depicted on the city's coat...

 and the editorship of the prestigious music journal, the Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung
Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung
The Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung was a German-language periodical published in the 19th century. Comini has called it "the foremost German-language musical periodical of its time"...

. Mendelssohn concentrated on developing the musical life of Leipzig
Leipzig
Leipzig Leipzig has always been a trade city, situated during the time of the Holy Roman Empire at the intersection of the Via Regia and Via Imperii, two important trade routes. At one time, Leipzig was one of the major European centres of learning and culture in fields such as music and publishing...

, working with the orchestra, the opera house, the Choir of St. Thomas Church, and the city’s other choral and musical institutions. Mendelssohn's concerts included, in addition to many of his own works, three series of "historical concerts" and a number of works by his contemporaries. He was deluged by offers of music from rising composers and would-be composers; amongst these was Richard Wagner, who submitted his early Symphony, which to Wagner’s disgust Mendelssohn lost or mislaid. Mendelssohn also revived interest in Franz Schubert
Franz Schubert
Franz Peter Schubert was an Austrian composer.Although he died at an early age, Schubert was tremendously prolific. He wrote some 600 Lieder, nine symphonies , liturgical music, operas, some incidental music, and a large body of chamber and solo piano music...

. Robert Schumann
Robert Schumann
Robert Schumann, sometimes known as Robert Alexander Schumann, was a German composer, aesthete and influential music critic. He is regarded as one of the greatest and most representative composers of the Romantic era....

 discovered the manuscript of Schubert's 9th Symphony
Symphony No. 9 (Schubert)
The Symphony No. 9 in C major, D. 944, known as the Great , is the final symphony completed by Franz Schubert. Nicknamed The Great C major originally to distinguish it from his Symphony No...

 and sent it to Mendelssohn, who promptly premiered it in Leipzig on 21 March 1839, more than a decade after Schubert's death.

A landmark event during Mendelssohn’s Leipzig years was the premiere of his oratorio St. Paul
St. Paul (oratorio)
St. Paul , Op. 36, is an oratorio by Felix Mendelssohn.The libretto was begun in 1832 by the composer with Pastor Julius Schubring, a childhood friend, pulling together passages from the New Testament and Old Testament...

, given at the Lower Rhenish Festival in Düsseldorf in 1836, shortly after the death of the composer’s father, which much affected him; Felix wrote that he would "never cease to endeavour to gain his approval [...] although I can no longer enjoy it". St. Paul seemed to many of Mendelssohn’s contemporaries to be his finest work, and sealed his European reputation.

When Friedrich Wilhelm IV came to the Prussian throne in 1840 with ambitions to develop Berlin as a cultural centre (including the establishment of a music school, and reform of music for the church), the obvious choice to head these reforms was Mendelssohn. He was however reluctant to undertake the task, especially in the light of his existing strong position in Leipzig. Mendelssohn did however spend some time in Berlin, writing some church music, and, at the King’s request, music for productions of Sophocles
Sophocles
Sophocles is one of three ancient Greek tragedians whose plays have survived. His first plays were written later than those of Aeschylus, and earlier than or contemporary with those of Euripides...

’s Antigone
Antigone (Sophocles)
Antigone is a tragedy by Sophocles written in or before 442 BC. Chronologically, it is the third of the three Theban plays but was written first...

(1841) and Oedipus at Colonus
Oedipus at Colonus
Oedipus at Colonus is one of the three Theban plays of the Athenian tragedian Sophocles...

(1845), Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream (1843) and Racine
Jean Racine
Jean Racine , baptismal name Jean-Baptiste Racine , was a French dramatist, one of the "Big Three" of 17th-century France , and one of the most important literary figures in the Western tradition...

's Athalie
Athalie
Athalie is the final tragedy of Jean Racine, and has been described as the masterpiece of 'one of the greatest literary artists known' and the 'ripest work' of Racine's genius...

(1845). But the funds for the school never materialised, and various of the court's promises to Mendelssohn regarding finances, title, and concert programming were broken. He was therefore not displeased to have the excuse to return to Leipzig.

In 1843 Mendelssohn founded a major music school – the Leipzig Conservatory, now the Hochschule für Musik und Theater "Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy" or (in its own English self-designation) the Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy University of Music and Theatre – where he persuaded Ignaz Moscheles and Robert Schumann to join him. Other prominent musicians, including string players Ferdinand David and Joseph Joachim
Joseph Joachim
Joseph Joachim was a Hungarian violinist, conductor, composer and teacher. A close collaborator of Johannes Brahms, he is widely regarded as one of the most significant violinists of the 19th century.-Origins:...

 and music theorist Moritz Hauptmann
Moritz Hauptmann
Moritz Hauptmann , was a German music theorist, teacher and composer.Hauptmann was born in Dresden, and studied violin under Scholz, piano under Franz Lanska, composition under Grosse and Francesco Morlacchi,...

, also became staff members. After Mendelssohn's death in 1847, his conservative tradition was carried on when Moscheles succeeded him as head of the Conservatory.

Death

Mendelssohn suffered from poor health in the final years of his life, probably aggravated by nervous problems and overwork. The death of his sister Fanny on 14 May 1847 caused him great distress. Less than six months later, on 4 November, Mendelssohn himself died in Leipzig after a series of strokes. He was 38. His grandfather Moses, his sister Fanny and both his parents had died from similar apoplexies. The details of the moment of his death are quite poetic. As he lay unconscious in bed surrounded by friends and doctors, a marching band passed by outside his home. A servant absentmindedly threw open the front door and the brass music flooded into his bedchamber. Mendelssohn sat bolt upright in bed with his hands ready to conduct, and then collapsed back on his pillow and was dead. His funeral was held at the Paulinerkirche, Leipzig
Paulinerkirche, Leipzig
The Paulinerkirche was a church on the Augustusplatz in Leipzig, named after the "Pauliner", its original Dominican friars. It was built in 1231 as the Klosterkirche St. Pauli for the Dominican monastery in Leipzig. From the foundation of the University of Leipzig in 1409, it served as the...

, and he was buried in the Trinity Church Cemetery No. 1 in Berlin-Kreuzberg
Kreuzberg
Kreuzberg, a part of the combined Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg borough located south of Mitte since 2001, is one of the best-known areas of Berlin...

. The pallbearer
Pallbearer
A pall-bearer is one of several funeral participants who helps carry the casket of a deceased person from a religious or memorial service or viewing either directly to a cemetery or mausoleum, or to and from the hearse which carries the coffin....

s included Moscheles, Schumann and Niels Gade. Mendelssohn had once described death, in a letter to a stranger, as a place "where it is to be hoped there is still music, but no more sorrow or partings".

Personality

Although the image was cultivated, especially after his death in the detailed family memoirs by his nephew Sebastian Hensel, of a man always equable, happy and placid in temperament, this was misleading. The nickname "discontented Polish count" was given to Mendelssohn because of his aloofness, and he referred to the epithet in his letters. Mendelssohn was frequently given to alarming fits of temper which occasionally led to collapse. On one occasion in the 1830s, when his wishes had been crossed, "his excitement was increased so fearfully ... that when the family was assembled ... he began to talk incoherently, and in English, to the great terror of them all. The stern voice of his father at last checked the wild torrent of words; they took him to bed, and a profound sleep of twelve hours restored him to his normal state". Such fits may be related to his early death.

Mendelssohn was a fine and enthusiastic artist in pencil and watercolour, a skill which he used throughout his life for his own amusement and that of his friends. His enormous correspondence shows that he could also be a witty writer in German and English – sometimes accompanied by humorous sketches and cartoons in the text.

Religion

Although Mendelssohn was a conforming (if not over-zealous) Lutheran by confession, he was both conscious and proud of his Jewish ancestry and notably of his connection with his grandfather Moses Mendelssohn. He was the prime mover in proposing to the publisher Heinrich Brockhaus a complete edition of Moses's works, which continued with the support of his uncle Joseph Mendelssohn
Joseph Mendelssohn
Joseph Mendelssohn was a German Jewish banker.He was the oldest son of the influential philosopher Moses Mendelssohn. In 1795, he founded his own banking house. In 1804, his younger brother Abraham Mendelssohn Bartholdy, the father of the composer Felix Mendelssohn, joined the company. The bank...

. Mendelssohn was notably reluctant, either in his letters or conversation, to comment on his innermost beliefs; his friend Devrient wrote that "[his] deep convictions were never uttered in intercourse with the world; only in rare and intimate moments did they ever appear, and then only in the slightest and most humorous allusions". Thus for example in a letter to his sister Rebecka, Mendelssohn rebukes her complaint about an unpleasant relative: "What do you mean by saying you are not hostile to Jews? I hope this was a joke [...] It is really sweet of you that you do not despise your family, isn't it?". Some modern scholars have devoted considerable energy to demonstrate that Mendelssohn was either deeply sympathetic to his Jewishness or sincere to his Lutheran beliefs (though there is in fact no reason to suppose these attitudes to be incompatible).

Mendelssohn and his contemporaries

Throughout his life Mendelssohn was wary of the more radical musical developments undertaken by some of his contemporaries. He was generally on friendly, if sometimes somewhat cool, terms with the likes of Hector Berlioz, Franz Liszt, and Giacomo Meyerbeer, but in his letters expresses his frank disapproval of their works, for example writing of Liszt that his compositions were "inferior to his playing, and [..] only calculated for virtuosos"; of Berlioz's overture Les francs-juges
Les francs-juges
Les francs-juges is the title of an unfinished opera by the French composer Hector Berlioz written to a libretto by his friend Humbert Ferrand in 1826. The opera itself was abandoned by Berlioz, who destroyed most of the music...

"the orchestration is such a frightful muddle [...] that one ought to wash one's hands after handling one of his scores"; and of Meyerbeer's opera Robert le diable
Robert le diable (opera)
Robert le diable is an opera by Giacomo Meyerbeer, often regarded as the first grand opera. The libretto was written by Eugène Scribe and Casimir Delavigne and has little connection to the medieval legend of Robert the Devil. Originally planned as a three-act opéra comique, "Meyerbeer persuaded...

"I consider it ignoble", calling its villain Bertram "a poor devil". When his friend the composer Ferdinand Hiller
Ferdinand Hiller
Ferdinand Hiller was a German composer, conductor, writer and music-director.-Biography:Ferdinand Hiller was born to a wealthy Jewish family in Frankfurt am Main, where his father Justus was a merchant in English textiles – a business eventually continued by Ferdinand’s brother Joseph...

 suggested in conversation to Mendelssohn that he looked rather like Meyerbeer – they were actually distant cousins, both descendants of Rabbi Moses Isserlis – Mendelssohn was so upset that he immediately went to get a haircut to differentiate himself.

In particular, Mendelssohn seems to have regarded Paris and its music with the greatest of suspicion and an almost puritanical distaste. Attempts made during his visit there to interest him in Saint-Simonianism
Saint-Simonianism
Saint-Simonianism was a French political and social movement of the first half of the 19th century, inspired by the ideas of Claude Henri de Rouvroy, comte de Saint-Simon ....

 ended in embarrassing scenes.

It is significant that the only musician with whom he remained a close personal friend, Ignaz Moscheles, was of an older generation and equally conservative in outlook. Moscheles preserved this outlook at the Leipzig Conservatory until his own death in 1870.

Marriage and children

Mendelssohn married Cécile Charlotte Sophie Jeanrenaud (10 October 1817 – 25 September 1853), the daughter of a French Protestant clergyman, on 28 March 1837. The couple had five children: Carl, Marie, Paul, Lilli and Felix. The youngest child, Felix August, contracted measles
Measles
Measles, also known as rubeola or morbilli, is an infection of the respiratory system caused by a virus, specifically a paramyxovirus of the genus Morbillivirus. Morbilliviruses, like other paramyxoviruses, are enveloped, single-stranded, negative-sense RNA viruses...

 in 1844 and was left with his health impaired; he died in 1851. The eldest, Carl Mendelssohn Bartholdy ( 7 February 1838 – 23 February 1897 ), became a distinguished historian, and professor of history at Heidelberg and Freiburg universities, dying in 1897. Paul Mendelssohn Bartholdy
Paul Mendelssohn Bartholdy
Paul Mendelssohn Bartholdy was a German chemist and a pioneer in the manufacture of aniline dye. He co-founded the Aktien-Gesellschaft für Anilin-Fabrikation , a German chemical company.-Life:...

 (1841–1880) was a noted chemist and pioneered the manufacture of aniline
Aniline
Aniline, phenylamine or aminobenzene is an organic compound with the formula C6H5NH2. Consisting of a phenyl group attached to an amino group, aniline is the prototypical aromatic amine. Being a precursor to many industrial chemicals, its main use is in the manufacture of precursors to polyurethane...

 dye. Marie married Victor Benecke and lived in London. Lili married Adolphe Wach, later Professor of Law at Leipzig University. The family papers inherited by Marie and Lili's children form the basis of the extensive collection of Mendelssohn manuscripts, including the so-called 'Green Books' of his correspondence, now in the Bodleian Library
Bodleian Library
The Bodleian Library , the main research library of the University of Oxford, is one of the oldest libraries in Europe, and in Britain is second in size only to the British Library...

 at Oxford University.

Cécile Mendelssohn Bartholdy died less than six years after her husband, on 25 September 1853.

Jenny Lind

In general Mendelssohn's personal life seems to have been fairly conventional compared to his contemporaries Wagner, Berlioz, and Schumann – except for his relationship with Swedish soprano Jenny Lind
Jenny Lind
Johanna Maria Lind , better known as Jenny Lind, was a Swedish opera singer, often known as the "Swedish Nightingale". One of the most highly regarded singers of the 19th century, she is known for her performances in soprano roles in opera in Sweden and across Europe, and for an extraordinarily...

, whom he met in October 1844. An affidavit from Lind's husband, Otto Goldschmidt
Otto Goldschmidt
Otto Moritz David Goldschmidt was a German composer, conductor and pianist, known for his piano concertos and other piano pieces...

, which is currently held in the archive of the Mendelssohn Scholarship Foundation at the Royal Academy of Music
Royal Academy of Music
The Royal Academy of Music in London, England, is a conservatoire, Britain's oldest degree-granting music school and a constituent college of the University of London since 1999. The Academy was founded by Lord Burghersh in 1822 with the help and ideas of the French harpist and composer Nicolas...

 in London, reportedly describes Mendelssohn's 1847 written request for Lind, who was then not married, to elope with him to America. The affidavit, though unsealed, is currently unreleased by the Mendelssohn Scholarship Foundation, despite requests to make it public.

Mendelssohn met and worked with Lind many times, and started an opera, Lorelei, for her, based on the legend of the Lorelei
Lorelei
The Lorelei is a rock on the eastern bank of the Rhine near St. Goarshausen, Germany, which soars some 120 metres above the waterline. It marks the narrowest part of the river between Switzerland and the North Sea. A very strong current and rocks below the waterline have caused many boat...

 Rhine maidens; the opera was unfinished at his death. He is said to have included a high F-sharp in his oratorio Elijah
Elijah (oratorio)
Elijah, in German: Elias, is an oratorio written by Felix Mendelssohn in 1846 for the Birmingham Festival. It depicts various events in the life of the Biblical prophet Elijah, taken from the books 1 Kings and 2 Kings in the Old Testament....

("Hear Ye Israel") with Lind's voice in mind, although she did not sing this part until after his death, at a concert in December 1848. In 1847 Mendelssohn attended a London performance of Meyerbeer's Robert le diable
Robert le diable (opera)
Robert le diable is an opera by Giacomo Meyerbeer, often regarded as the first grand opera. The libretto was written by Eugène Scribe and Casimir Delavigne and has little connection to the medieval legend of Robert the Devil. Originally planned as a three-act opéra comique, "Meyerbeer persuaded...

– an opera which musically he despised – in order to hear Lind's British debut, in the role of Alice. The music critic Henry Chorley
Henry Fothergill Chorley
Henry Fothergill Chorley was an English literary, art and music critic and editor. He was also an author of novels, drama, poetry and lyrics....

, who was with him, wrote "I see as I write the smile with which Mendelssohn, whose enjoyment of Mdlle. Lind's talent was unlimited, turned round and looked at me, as if a load of anxiety had been taken off his mind. His attachment to Mlle. Lind's genius as a singer was unbounded, as was his desire for her success".

Upon Mendelssohn's death Lind wrote, "[He was] the only person who brought fulfillment to my spirit, and almost as soon as I found him I lost him again". In 1869 Lind erected a plaque in Mendelssohn's memory at his birthplace in Hamburg; in 1849 she established the Mendelssohn Scholarship
Mendelssohn Scholarship
The Mendelssohn Scholarship refers to two scholarships awarded in Germany and in the United Kingdom. Both commemorate the composer, Felix Mendelssohn, and are awarded to promising young musicians to enable them to continue their development.-History:...

 Foundation, which makes an award to a British resident young composer every two years in Mendelssohn's memory. The first winner of the scholarship was Arthur Sullivan
Arthur Sullivan
Sir Arthur Seymour Sullivan MVO was an English composer of Irish and Italian ancestry. He is best known for his series of 14 operatic collaborations with the dramatist W. S. Gilbert, including such enduring works as H.M.S. Pinafore, The Pirates of Penzance and The Mikado...

, then aged 14, in 1856.

Mendelssohn as musician

Composer

Richard Taruskin
Richard Taruskin
Richard Taruskin is an American-Russian musicologist, music historian, and critic who has written about the theory of performance, Russian music, fifteenth-century music, twentieth-century music, nationalism, the theory of modernism, and analysis. As a choral conductor he directed the Columbia...

 points out that, although Mendelssohn produced works of extraordinary mastery at a very early age,
he never outgrew his precocious youthful style. [...] He remained stylistically conservative [...] feeling no need to attract attention with a display of 'revolutionary' novelty. Throughout his short career he remained comfortably faithful to the musical status quo – that is, the "classical" forms, as they were already thought of by his time. His version of romanticism
Romanticism
Romanticism was an artistic, literary and intellectual movement that originated in the second half of the 18th century in Europe, and gained strength in reaction to the Industrial Revolution...

, already evident in his earliest works, consisted in musical "pictorialism" of a fairly conventional, objective nature (though exquisitely wrought).


In these ways he differed substantially from his contemporaries such as Wagner and Berlioz, even from Schumann and Chopin. The absence of real stylistic 'development' during Mendelssohn's career makes it appropriate to consider his works by genre, rather than in order of composition.

Early works

The young Mendelssohn was greatly influenced in his childhood by the music of Bach, Beethoven, and Mozart and traces of these can all be seen in the 12 early string symphonies – mainly written for performance in the Mendelssohn household, and not published or publicly performed until long after his death. He wrote these from 1821 to 1823, when he was between the ages of 12 and 14 years old.

Mendelssohn's first published works were his three piano quartet
Piano quartet
In European classical music, piano quartet denotes a chamber music composition for piano and three other instruments, or a musical ensemble comprising such instruments...

s, (1822–1825; Op. 1
Piano Quartet No. 1 (Mendelssohn)
Felix Mendelssohn's Piano Quartet No. 1 in C minor, Op. 1, for piano, violin, viola and cello was completed on 18 October 1822 and dedicated to Prince Antoni Radziwiłł...

 in C minor, Op. 2
Piano Quartet No. 2 (Mendelssohn)
Felix Mendelssohn's Piano Quartet No. 2 in F minor, Op. 2, for piano, violin, viola and cello was completed on 3 December 1823 and published two years later. The work was dedicated to Mendelssohn's teacher, Carl Friedrich Zelter...

 in F minor and Op. 3
Piano Quartet No. 3 (Mendelssohn)
Felix Mendelssohn began composing his Piano Quartet No. 3 in B minor, Op. 3, for piano, violin, viola and cello in late 1824 and completed on 18 January 1825, just before his sixteenth birthday. The quartet was published later that year and was dedicated to Goethe whom Mendelssohn had met a few...

 in B minor); but his astounding capacities are especially revealed in a group of works of his early maturity:
  • the String Octet (1825)

  • the Overture A Midsummer Night's Dream (1826), which in its finished form also owes much to the influence of Adolf Bernhard Marx
    Adolf Bernhard Marx
    Friedrich Heinrich Adolf Bernhard Marx was a German composer, musical theorist and critic.-Life:...

    , at the time a close friend of Mendelssohn.

  • the two early quartets: Op. 12
    String Quartet No. 1 (Mendelssohn)
    The String Quartet No. 1 in E flat major, Op. 12, was composed by Felix Mendelssohn in 1829, completed in London on September 14th and possibly dedicated to Betty Pistor, a neighbor and the daughter of a Berlin astronomer.- Movements :...

     (1829), and Op.13
    String Quartet No. 2 (Mendelssohn)
    The String Quartet No. 2 in A minor, Op. 13, was composed by Felix Mendelssohn in 1827. Written when he was 18 years old, it was, despite its official number, Mendelssohn's first string quartet...

     (1827), which both show a remarkable grasp of the techniques and ideas of Beethoven's last quartets, which Mendelssohn had been closely studying


These four works show an intuitive grasp of form, harmony, counterpoint
Counterpoint
In music, counterpoint is the relationship between two or more voices that are independent in contour and rhythm and are harmonically interdependent . It has been most commonly identified in classical music, developing strongly during the Renaissance and in much of the common practice period,...

, colour, and compositional technique, which justify claims frequently made that Mendelssohn's precocity exceeded even that of Mozart in its intellectual grasp.

Symphonies

The numbering of Mendelssohn's mature symphonies is approximately in order of publishing, rather than of composition. The order of actual composition is: 1, 5, 4, 2, 3. Because he worked on it for over a decade, the placement of No. 3 in this sequence is problematic; Mendelssohn started sketches for it soon after starting No. 5, but completed it following both Nos. 5 and 4.

The Symphony No. 1 in C minor for full-scale orchestra was written in 1824, when Mendelssohn was aged 15. This work is experimental, showing the influences of Beethoven, and Carl Maria von Weber
Carl Maria von Weber
Carl Maria Friedrich Ernst von Weber was a German composer, conductor, pianist, guitarist and critic, one of the first significant composers of the Romantic school....

. Mendelssohn conducted this symphony on his first visit to London in 1829, with the orchestra of the Royal Philharmonic Society
Royal Philharmonic Society
The Royal Philharmonic Society is a British music society, formed in 1813. It was originally formed in London to promote performances of instrumental music there. Many distinguished composers and performers have taken part in its concerts...

. For the third movement he substituted an orchestration of the Scherzo from his Octet. In this form the piece was a success, and laid the foundations of his British reputation.

During 1829 and 1830 Mendelssohn wrote his Symphony No. 5
Symphony No. 5 (Mendelssohn)
The Symphony No. 5 in D major/D minor, Op. 107, called the Reformation Symphony, was composed by Felix Mendelssohn in 1830 in honor of the 300th anniversary of the Presentation of the Augsburg Confession. This Confession was a key document of Lutheranism and its Presentation to Emperor Charles V in...

, known as the Reformation. It celebrated the 300th anniversary of the Lutheran Church
Protestant Reformation
The Protestant Reformation was a 16th-century split within Western Christianity initiated by Martin Luther, John Calvin and other early Protestants. The efforts of the self-described "reformers", who objected to the doctrines, rituals and ecclesiastical structure of the Roman Catholic Church, led...

. Mendelssohn remained dissatisfied with the work and did not allow publication of the score.

The Scottish Symphony (Symphony No. 3 in A minor) was written and revised intermittently between 1829 (when Mendelssohn noted down the opening theme during a visit to Holyrood Palace
Holyrood Palace
The Palace of Holyroodhouse, commonly referred to as Holyrood Palace, is the official residence of the monarch in Scotland. The palace stands at the bottom of the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, at the opposite end to Edinburgh Castle...

) and 1842, when it was given its premiere in Leipzig, the last of his symphonies to be performed in public. This piece evokes Scotland's atmosphere in the ethos of Romanticism
Romanticism
Romanticism was an artistic, literary and intellectual movement that originated in the second half of the 18th century in Europe, and gained strength in reaction to the Industrial Revolution...

, but does not employ any identified Scottish folk melodies.

Mendelssohn's travels in Italy inspired him to write the Symphony No. 4 in A major, known as the Italian Symphony. Mendelssohn conducted the premiere in 1833, but he did not allow this score to be published during his lifetime as he continually sought to rewrite it.

Mendelssohn wrote the choral
Choral symphony
A choral symphony is a musical composition for orchestra, choir, sometimes with solo vocalists, which in its internal workings and overall musical architecture adheres broadly to symphonic musical form. The term "choral symphony" in this context was coined by Hector Berlioz when describing his...

 Symphony No. 2
Symphony No. 2 (Mendelssohn)
The Symphony No. 2 in B flat major, op. 52, called the "Lobgesang" Symphony, was composed by Felix Mendelssohn. It was written in 1840 to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the invention of printing, along with the less-known Festgesang "Gutenberg Cantata".The composer's description of the work...

 in B-flat major, entitled Lobgesang (Hymn of Praise), to mark the celebrations in Leipzig of the 400th anniversary of the invention of the printing press
Printing press
A printing press is a device for applying pressure to an inked surface resting upon a print medium , thereby transferring the ink...

; the first performance took place on 25 June 1840.

Other orchestral music

Mendelssohn wrote the concert Hebrides Overture (Fingal's Cave) in 1830, inspired by visits he made to Scotland around the end of the 1820s. He visited Fingal's Cave
Fingal's Cave
Fingal's Cave is a sea cave on the uninhabited island of Staffa, in the Inner Hebrides of Scotland, part of a National Nature Reserve owned by the National Trust for Scotland. It is formed entirely from hexagonally jointed basalt columns, similar in structure to the Giant's Causeway in Northern...

, on the Hebridean
Hebrides
The Hebrides comprise a widespread and diverse archipelago off the west coast of Scotland. There are two main groups: the Inner and Outer Hebrides. These islands have a long history of occupation dating back to the Mesolithic and the culture of the residents has been affected by the successive...

 isle of Staffa
Staffa
Staffa from the Old Norse for stave or pillar island, is an island of the Inner Hebrides in Argyll and Bute, Scotland. The Vikings gave it this name as its columnar basalt reminded them of their houses, which were built from vertically placed tree-logs....

, as part of his Grand Tour of Europe, and was so impressed that he scribbled the opening theme of the overture on the spot, including it in a letter he wrote home the same evening.

Throughout his career he wrote a number of other concert overtures. Those most frequently played today include an overture to Ruy Blas
Ruy Blas
Ruy Blas is a tragic drama by Victor Hugo. It was the first play presented at the Théâtre de la Renaissance and opened on November 8, 1838. Though considered by many to be Hugo’s best drama, the play initially met with only average success....

, commissioned for a charity performance of Victor Hugo
Victor Hugo
Victor-Marie Hugo was a Frenchpoet, playwright, novelist, essayist, visual artist, statesman, human rights activist and exponent of the Romantic movement in France....

's drama, which Mendelssohn hated; Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage (Meeresstille und glückliche Fahrt) inspired by a pair of poems by Goethe; and The Fair Melusine
Melusine
Melusine is a figure of European legends and folklore, a feminine spirit of fresh waters in sacred springs and rivers.She is usually depicted as a woman who is a serpent or fish from the waist down...

.

The incidental music to A Midsummer Night's Dream (Op. 61), including the well-known Wedding March, was written in 1843, seventeen years after the overture.

Opera

Mendelssohn wrote some Singspiel
Singspiel
A Singspiel is a form of German-language music drama, now regarded as a genre of opera...

s for family performance in his youth. His opera Die beiden Neffen
Die beiden Neffen
Die beiden Neffen , also known as Der Onkel aus Boston , is a three act Singspiel by Felix Mendelssohn to a libretto by Johann Ludwig Casper.-Background:...

(The Two Nephews) was rehearsed for him on his 15th birthday. 1829 saw Die Heimkehr aus der Fremde (Son and Stranger or Return of the Roamer), a comedy of mistaken identity written in honor of his parents' silver anniversary and unpublished during his lifetime. In 1825 he wrote a more sophisticated work, Die Hochzeit des Camacho
Die Hochzeit des Camacho
Die Hochzeit des Camacho is a Singspiel in two acts by Felix Mendelssohn, to a libretto probably written largely by Friedrich Voigt, based on an episode in Cervantes's Don Quixote. The opera is listed as Mendelssohn's op. 10...

(Camacho's Wedding), based on an episode in Don Quixote, for public consumption. It was produced in Berlin in 1827, but cooly received. Mendelssohn left the theatre before the conclusion of the first performance, and subsequent performances were cancelled.

Although he never abandoned the idea of composing a full opera, and considered many subjects – including that of the Nibelung saga
Nibelungenlied
The Nibelungenlied, translated as The Song of the Nibelungs, is an epic poem in Middle High German. The story tells of dragon-slayer Siegfried at the court of the Burgundians, how he was murdered, and of his wife Kriemhild's revenge....

 later adapted by Wagner – he never wrote more than a few pages of sketches for any project. In Mendelssohn's last years the opera manager Benjamin Lumley
Benjamin Lumley
Benjamin Lumley, opera manager and solicitor, was born Benjamin Levy, in 1811, the son of a Jewish merchant Louis Levy, and died 17 March 1875 in London.-Beginnings at His Majesty's Theatre:...

 tried to contract him to write an opera from Shakespeare's The Tempest
The Tempest
The Tempest is a play by William Shakespeare, believed to have been written in 1610–11, and thought by many critics to be the last play that Shakespeare wrote alone. It is set on a remote island, where Prospero, the exiled Duke of Milan, plots to restore his daughter Miranda to her rightful place,...

on a libretto by Eugène Scribe
Eugène Scribe
Augustin Eugène Scribe , was a French dramatist and librettist. He is best known for the perfection of the so-called "well-made play" . This dramatic formula was a mainstay of popular theater for over 100 years.-Biography:...

, and even announced it as forthcoming in 1847, the year of Mendelssohn's death. The libretto was eventually set by Fromental Halévy
Fromental Halévy
Jacques-François-Fromental-Élie Halévy, usually known as Fromental Halévy , was a French composer. He is known today largely for his opera La Juive.-Early career:...

. At his death Mendelssohn left some sketches for an opera on the story of the Lorelei
Lorelei
The Lorelei is a rock on the eastern bank of the Rhine near St. Goarshausen, Germany, which soars some 120 metres above the waterline. It marks the narrowest part of the river between Switzerland and the North Sea. A very strong current and rocks below the waterline have caused many boat...

.

Concertos

The Violin Concerto in E minor, Op. 64 (1844), written for Ferdinand David, has become one of the most popular of all of Mendelssohn's compositions. David, who had worked closely with Mendelssohn during the piece's preparation, gave the premiere of the concerto on his Guarneri
Guarneri
The Guarneri is the family name of a group of distinguished luthiers from Cremona in Italy in the 17th and 18th centuries, whose standing is considered comparable to those of the Amati and Stradivari families...

 violin.

Mendelssohn also wrote two piano concertos; a lesser-known, early violin concerto (D minor); two concertos for two pianos and orchestra when he was 15 and 17 years old; and a double concerto for piano and violin. In addition, there are several single-movement works for soloist and orchestra. Those for piano are the Rondo Brillante, Op. 29, of 1834; the Capriccio Brillante, Op. 22, of 1832; and the Serenade and Allegro Giocoso Op. 43, of 1838. He also wrote two concertinos
Concertino (composition)
A concertino is a short concerto freer in form. It normally takes the form of a one-movement musical composition for solo instrument and orchestra, though some concertinos are written in several movements played without a pause....

 (Konzertstücke), Op. 113 and Op. 114, originally for clarinet
Clarinet
The clarinet is a musical instrument of woodwind type. The name derives from adding the suffix -et to the Italian word clarino , as the first clarinets had a strident tone similar to that of a trumpet. The instrument has an approximately cylindrical bore, and uses a single reed...

, basset horn and piano; Op. 113 was orchestrated
Orchestration
Orchestration is the study or practice of writing music for an orchestra or of adapting for orchestra music composed for another medium...

 by the composer.

Chamber music

Mendelssohn's mature output contains many chamber works
Chamber music
Chamber music is a form of classical music, written for a small group of instruments which traditionally could be accommodated in a palace chamber. Most broadly, it includes any art music that is performed by a small number of performers with one performer to a part...

, many of which display an emotional intensity lacking in some of his larger works. In particular his String Quartet No. 6
String Quartet No. 6 (Mendelssohn)
The String Quartet No. 6 in F minor, Op. 80, was composed by Felix Mendelssohn in 1847 and is essentially his last major composition...

, which is the last of his string quartets
String Quartets (Mendelssohn)
Felix Mendelssohn wrote six numbered string quartets which were published during his lifetime:*String Quartet No. 1 in E flat major, Op. 12 composed in 1829*String Quartet No. 2 in A minor, Op. 13 composed in 1827...

 and last major work – written following the death of his sister Fanny – is both powerful and eloquent. Other mature works include two string quintet
String quintet
A string quintet is a musical composition for a standard string quartet supplemented by a fifth string instrument, usually a second viola or a second cello , but occasionally a double bass. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, who favoured addition of a viola, is considered a pioneer of the form...

s; sonatas for the clarinet
Clarinet
The clarinet is a musical instrument of woodwind type. The name derives from adding the suffix -et to the Italian word clarino , as the first clarinets had a strident tone similar to that of a trumpet. The instrument has an approximately cylindrical bore, and uses a single reed...

, cello, viola
Viola Sonata (Mendelssohn)
Felix Mendelssohn's Viola Sonata in C minor was composed when he was only 15 years old. The autograph score is dated 14 February 1824. The work was not published in Mendelssohn's lifetime and it was not assigned an opus number. For the time, a viola sonata was a rare genre of chamber music and...

 and violin; and two piano trio
Piano trio
A piano trio is a group of piano and two other instruments, usually a violin and a cello, or a piece of music written for such a group. It is one of the most common forms found in classical chamber music...

s. For the Piano Trio No. 1 in D minor
Piano Trio No. 1 (Mendelssohn)
Felix Mendelssohn's Piano Trio No. 1 in D minor, Op. 49 was completed on 23 September 1839 and published the following year. The work is scored for a standard piano trio consisting of violin, cello and piano. The trio is one of Mendelssohn's most popular chamber works and is recognized as one of...

, Mendelssohn uncharacteristically took the advice of his fellow composer, Ferdinand Hiller, and rewrote the piano part in a more romantic, "Schumannesque
Robert Schumann
Robert Schumann, sometimes known as Robert Alexander Schumann, was a German composer, aesthete and influential music critic. He is regarded as one of the greatest and most representative composers of the Romantic era....

" style, considerably heightening its effect.

Choral works

Mendelssohn's two large biblical oratorio, St Paul in 1836 and Elijah in 1846, are greatly influenced by Bach. His unfinished oratorio, Christus, consists of a recitative
Recitative
Recitative , also known by its Italian name "recitativo" , is a style of delivery in which a singer is allowed to adopt the rhythms of ordinary speech...

, a chorus "There Shall a Star Come out of Jacob," and a male trio; the chorus is sometimes performed.

Strikingly different is the more overtly romantic Die erste Walpurgisnacht (The First Walpurgis Night), a setting for chorus and orchestra of a ballad by Goethe describing pagan
Paganism
Paganism is a blanket term, typically used to refer to non-Abrahamic, indigenous polytheistic religious traditions....

 rituals of the Druid
Druid
A druid was a member of the priestly class in Britain, Ireland, and Gaul, and possibly other parts of Celtic western Europe, during the Iron Age....

s in the Harz
Harz
The Harz is the highest mountain range in northern Germany and its rugged terrain extends across parts of Lower Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt and Thuringia. The name Harz derives from the Middle High German word Hardt or Hart , latinized as Hercynia. The legendary Brocken is the highest summit in the Harz...

 mountains in the early days of Christianity. This remarkable score has been seen by the scholar Heinz-Klaus Metzger
Heinz-Klaus Metzger
Heinz-Klaus Metzger was a German music critic and theorist.Metzger studied piano under Carl Seemann in Freiburg and composition under Max Deutsch in Paris. Later, attending a summer course for new music in Darmstadt, he met Theodor W. Adorno, Edgard Varèse, Karlheinz Stockhausen and Luigi Nono...

 as a "Jewish protest against the domination of Christianity".

Mendelssohn also wrote many smaller-scale sacred works for unaccompanied choir and for choir with organ. Most are written in or translated into English, and remain highly popular. Amongst the most famous is Hear My Prayer
Hear My Prayer
Hear My Prayer is a Christian anthem for soprano solo, chorus and organ or orchestra composed by Felix Mendelssohn in Germany in 1844. The first performance took place in Crosby Hall, London, on 8 January 1845. The accompanist on that occasion was organist, composer and teacher Ann Mounsey...

, with its second half containing "O for the Wings of a Dove," which became extremely popular as a separate item. The piece is written for full choir, organ, and a treble
Boy soprano
A boy soprano is a young male singer with an unchanged voice in the soprano range. Although a treble, or choirboy, may also be considered to be a boy soprano, the more colloquial term boy soprano is generally only used for boys who sing, perform, or record as soloists, and who may not necessarily...

 or soprano
Soprano
A soprano is a voice type with a vocal range from approximately middle C to "high A" in choral music, or to "soprano C" or higher in operatic music. In four-part chorale style harmony, the soprano takes the highest part, which usually encompasses the melody...

 soloist who has many challenging and extended solo passages. As such, it is a particular favourite for choirboys in churches and cathedrals, and has frequently been recorded as a treble solo. Mendelssohn's biographer Todd comments 'The very popularity of the anthem in England [...] later exposed it to charges of superficiality from those contemptuous of Victorian mores
Mores
Mores, in sociology, are any given society's particular norms, virtues, or values. The word mores is a plurale tantum term borrowed from Latin, which has been used in the English language since the 1890s....

'.

The hymn tune
Hymn tune
A hymn tune is the melody of a musical composition to which a hymn text is sung. Musically speaking, a hymn is generally understood to have four-part harmony, a fast harmonic rhythm , and no refrain or chorus....

 Mendelssohn – an adaptation by William Hayman Cummings
William Hayman Cummings
William Hayman Cummings , born in Sidbury in Devon, was an English musician, tenor and organist at Waltham Abbey....

 of a melody from Mendelssohn's cantata Festgesang (Festive Hymn) – is the standard tune for Charles Wesley
Charles Wesley
Charles Wesley was an English leader of the Methodist movement, son of Anglican clergyman and poet Samuel Wesley, the younger brother of Anglican clergyman John Wesley and Anglican clergyman Samuel Wesley , and father of musician Samuel Wesley, and grandfather of musician Samuel Sebastian Wesley...

's popular hymn
Hymn
A hymn is a type of song, usually religious, specifically written for the purpose of praise, adoration or prayer, and typically addressed to a deity or deities, or to a prominent figure or personification...

 Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
“Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” is a Christmas carol that first appeared in 1739 in the collection Hymns and Sacred Poems, having been written by Charles Wesley. This is not the version widely known today. A sombre man, Wesley had requested and received slow and solemn music for his lyrics, not the...

. This extract from an originally secular 1840s composition, which Mendelssohn felt unsuited to sacred music, is ubiquitous at Christmas.

Songs

Mendelssohn wrote many songs, both for solo voice and for duet, with piano. Many of these are simple, or slightly modified, strophic
Strophic form
Strophic form is the simplest and most durable of musical forms, elaborating a piece of music by repetition of a single formal section. This may be analyzed as "A A A..."...

 settings. Such songs as Auf Flügeln des Gesanges ("On Wings of Song") became popular. Seven of Mendelssohn's songs, including Auf Flügeln des Gesanges and Neue Liebe (New Love, set to a poem by Heinrich Heine
Heinrich Heine
Christian Johann Heinrich Heine was one of the most significant German poets of the 19th century. He was also a journalist, essayist, and literary critic. He is best known outside Germany for his early lyric poetry, which was set to music in the form of Lieder by composers such as Robert Schumann...

) were transcribed for piano solo, in a virtuoso style, by Franz Liszt.

A number of songs written by Mendelssohn's sister Fanny originally appeared under her brother's name; this may have been partly due to the prejudice of the family, and partly to her own retiring nature.

Piano music

Mendelssohn's Songs Without Words
Songs without Words
Songs Without Words is a series of short, lyrical piano pieces by the Romantic composer Felix Mendelssohn.-Composition and reception:...

(Lieder ohne Worte), eight cycles each containing six lyric pieces (two published posthumously), remain his most famous solo piano compositions. They became standard parlour recital items even during the composer's lifetime, and their overwhelming popularity has itself caused many critics to underrate their musical value. Other composers who were inspired to produce similar pieces of their own included Charles-Valentin Alkan
Charles-Valentin Alkan
Charles-Valentin Alkan was a French composer and one of the greatest virtuoso pianists of his day. His attachment to his Jewish origins is displayed both in his life and his work. He entered the Paris Conservatoire at the age of six, earning many awards, and as an adult became a famous virtuoso...

 (his five sets of Chants, each ending with a barcarole), Anton Rubinstein
Anton Rubinstein
Anton Grigorevich Rubinstein was a Russian-Jewish pianist, composer and conductor. As a pianist he was regarded as a rival of Franz Liszt, and he ranks amongst the great keyboard virtuosos...

, Ignaz Moscheles, and Edvard Grieg
Edvard Grieg
Edvard Hagerup Grieg was a Norwegian composer and pianist. He is best known for his Piano Concerto in A minor, for his incidental music to Henrik Ibsen's play Peer Gynt , and for his collection of piano miniatures Lyric Pieces.-Biography:Edvard Hagerup Grieg was born in...

.

Other notable piano pieces by Mendelssohn include his Variations sérieuses
Variations Sérieuses
The Variations sérieuses, Op. 54, is a set of variations, many of them requiring a virtuoso technique, on a theme in D minor by Felix Mendelssohn, lasting about twelve minutes in performance. It was completed on 4 June 1841....

, Op. 54 (1841), the Rondo Capriccioso, the set of six Preludes and Fugues, Op. 35 (written between 1832 and 1837), and the Seven Characteristic Pieces, Op. 7 (1827).

Organ music

Mendelssohn played the organ and composed for it from the age of 11 to his death. His primary organ works are the Three Preludes and Fugues, Op. 37 (1837), and the Six Sonatas, Op. 65 (1845), of which Eric Werner wrote "next to Bach's works, Mendelssohn's Organ Sonatas belong to the required repertory of all organists".

Performer

Mendelssohn was renowned during his lifetime as a keyboard performer, both on the piano and on the organ. One of his obituarists noted:
First and chiefest we esteem his pianoforte-playing, with its amazing elasticity of touch, rapidity, and power; next his scientific and vigorous organ playing [...] his triumphs on these instruments are fresh in public recollection.


In his concerts and recitals Mendelssohn performed both his own works and those of his predecessor German composers, notably works of Weber, Beethoven and (on the organ) J.S. Bach.

Both in private and public performances, Mendelssohn was also renowned for his improvisations. On one occasion in London, when asked by the soprano Maria Malibran
Maria Malibran
The mezzo-soprano Maria Malibran , was one of the most famous opera singers of the 19th century. Malibran was known for her stormy personality and dramatic intensity, becoming a legendary figure after her death at age 28...

 after a recital to extemporise, he created a piece which included the melodies of all the songs she had sung. The music publisher Victor Novello who was present remarked 'He has done some things that seem to me impossible, even after I have heard them done.'. At another recital in 1837, where Mendelssohn played the piano for a singer, Robert Schumann ignored the soprano and wrote 'Mendelssohn accompanied like a God'.

Conductor

Mendelssohn was a noted conductor, both of his own works and of other composers. At his London debut in 1829, he was noted for his innovatory use of a baton (then a great novelty). But his novelty also extended to taking great care over tempo
Tempo
In musical terminology, tempo is the speed or pace of a given piece. Tempo is a crucial element of any musical composition, as it can affect the mood and difficulty of a piece.-Measuring tempo:...

, dynamics
Dynamics (music)
In music, dynamics normally refers to the volume of a sound or note, but can also refer to every aspect of the execution of a given piece, either stylistic or functional . The term is also applied to the written or printed musical notation used to indicate dynamics...

 and the orchestral players themselves – both rebuking them when they were recalcitrant and praising them when they satisfied him. . It was his success at conducting at the Lower Rhine music festival of 1836 that led to him taking his first paid professional position as director at Düsseldorf. Amongst those who appreciated Mendelssohn's conducting was Hector Berlioz, who in 1843, invited to Leipzig, exchanged batons with Mendelssohn, writing "When the Great Spirit sends us to hunt in the land of souls, may our warriors hang our tomahawk
Tomahawk (axe)
A tomahawk is a type of axe native to North America, traditionally resembling a hatchet with a straight shaft. The name came into the English language in the 17th century as a transliteration of the Powhatan word.Tomahawks were general purpose tools used by Native Americans and European Colonials...

s side by side at the door of the council chamber". At Leipzig, Mendelssohn led the Gewandhaus orchestra to great heights; although concentrating on the great composers of the past (already becoming canonised as the 'classics') he also included new music by Schumann, Berlioz, Gade and many others (including of course his own music). One critic who was not impressed however was Richard Wagner; he accused Mendelssohn of using tempos in his performances of Beethoven symphonies that were far too fast.

Editor

Mendelssohn's interest in baroque music was not limited to the Bach St Matthew Passion which he had revived in 1829. He was concerned in preparing and editing such music, whether for performance or for publication, to be as close as possible to the original intentions of the composers, including wherever possible a close study of early editions and manuscripts. This could lead him into conflict with publishers; for instance, his edition of Handel's oratorio Israel in Egypt for the London Handel Society (1845) evoked an often contentious correspondence, with Mendelssohn refusing for example to add dynamics
Dynamics (music)
In music, dynamics normally refers to the volume of a sound or note, but can also refer to every aspect of the execution of a given piece, either stylistic or functional . The term is also applied to the written or printed musical notation used to indicate dynamics...

 where not given by Handel, or to add parts for trombone
Trombone
The trombone is a musical instrument in the brass family. Like all brass instruments, sound is produced when the player’s vibrating lips cause the air column inside the instrument to vibrate...

s. Mendelssohn also edited a number of Bach's works for organ, and apparently discussed with Robert Schumann the possibility of producing a complete Bach edition.

Teacher

Although Mendelssohn attributed great importance to musical education, and made a substantial commitment to the Conservatoire he founded in Leipzig, he did not greatly enjoy teaching and undertook only a very few private pupils; these he took only if he believed they had notable qualities or potential. Amongst such students were composer William Sterndale Bennett
William Sterndale Bennett
Sir William Sterndale Bennett was an English composer. He ranks as the most distinguished English composer of the Romantic school-Biography:...

, the pianist Camille Stamaty, the violinist and composer Julius Eichberg
Julius Eichberg
Julius Eichberg was a German-born composer, musical director and educator who worked mostly in Boston, Massachusetts, in the United States.-Biography:...

, and Walther Goethe (grandson of the poet). At the Leipzig Conservatoire Mendelssohn taught classes in composition and ensemble playing.

The first century

In the immediate wake of Mendelssohn's death, he was mourned both in Germany and England. However, the conservative strain in Mendelssohn, which set him apart from some of his more flamboyant contemporaries, bred a corollary condescension amongst some of them toward his music. Mendelssohn's relations with Berlioz, Liszt and others had been uneasy and equivocal. Listeners who had raised questions about Mendelssohn's talent included Heinrich Heine, who wrote in 1836 after hearing the oratorio St. Paul that his work was "characterized by a great, strict, very serious seriousness, a determined, almost importunate tendency to follow classical models, the finest, cleverest calculation, sharp intelligence and, finally, complete lack of naïveté. But is there in art any originality of genius without naïveté?"

Such criticism of Mendelssohn for his very ability – which could be characterised negatively as facility – was taken to further lengths by Richard Wagner. Mendelssohn's success, his popularity and his Jewish origins irked Wagner sufficiently to damn Mendelssohn with faint praise
Damn with faint praise
Damn with faint praise is an English idiom for words that effectively condemn by seeming to offer praise which is too moderate or marginal to be considered praise at all...

, three years after his death, in an anti-Jewish pamphlet Das Judenthum in der Musik
Das Judenthum in der Musik
Das Judenthum in der Musik is an essay by Richard Wagner, attacking Jews in general and the composers Giacomo Meyerbeer and Felix Mendelssohn in particular, which was published under a pseudonym in the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik of Leipzig in...

.
[Mendelssohn] has shown us that a Jew may have the amplest store of specific talents, may own the finest and most varied culture, the highest and tenderest sense of honour – yet without all these pre-eminences helping him, were it but one single time, to call forth in us that deep, that heart-searching effect which we await from art [...] The washiness and the whimsicality of our present musical style has been [...] pushed to its utmost pitch by Mendelssohn's endeavour to speak out a vague, an almost nugatory Content as interestingly and spiritedly as possible.
This was the start of a movement to downgrade Mendelssohn's status as a composer which lasted almost a century, the echoes of which still survive today in critiques of Mendelssohn's supposed mediocrity. Even the comment of Friedrich Nietzsche
Friedrich Nietzsche
Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche was a 19th-century German philosopher, poet, composer and classical philologist...

 that Mendelssohn was "a lovely interlude" in German music (i.e. biding time between Beethoven and Wagner) is condescending. In the 20th century the Nazi
Nazism
Nazism, the common short form name of National Socialism was the ideology and practice of the Nazi Party and of Nazi Germany...

 regime and its Reichsmusikkammer
Reichsmusikkammer
The Reichsmusikkammer was a Nazi institution. It promoted "good German music" which was composed by Aryans and seen as consistent with Nazi ideals, while suppressing other, "degenerate" music, which included atonal music, jazz, and music by Jewish composers...

cited Mendelssohn's Jewish origin in banning performance and publication of his works, even asking Nazi-approved composers to rewrite incidental music for A Midsummer Night's Dream. (Carl Orff
Carl Orff
Carl Orff was a 20th-century German composer, best known for his cantata Carmina Burana . In addition to his career as a composer, Orff developed an influential method of music education for children.-Early life:...

 obliged.) Under the Nazis, 'Mendelssohn was presented as a dangerous “accident” of music history, who played a decisive role in rendering German music in the 19th century “degenerate” .' The monument dedicated to Mendelssohn erected in Leipzig in 1892 was removed by the Nazis in 1936. A replacement was erected in 2008.
Mendelssohn's reputation in England remained high throughout the 19th century. Prince Albert inscribed (in German), a libretto for the oratorio Elijah in 1847:
To the noble artist who, surrounded by the Baal
Baal
Baʿal is a Northwest Semitic title and honorific meaning "master" or "lord" that is used for various gods who were patrons of cities in the Levant and Asia Minor, cognate to Akkadian Bēlu...

-worship of false art, has been able, like a second Elijah, through genius and study, to remain true to the service of true art.
In 1851 an adulatory novel by the teenaged Sarah Sheppard was published, entitled Charles Auchester. The book features Mendelssohn as the "Chevalier Seraphael", and remained in print for nearly 80 years. In 1854 Queen Victoria requested that the Crystal Palace
The Crystal Palace
The Crystal Palace was a cast-iron and glass building originally erected in Hyde Park, London, England, to house the Great Exhibition of 1851. More than 14,000 exhibitors from around the world gathered in the Palace's of exhibition space to display examples of the latest technology developed in...

 include a statue of Mendelssohn when it was rebuilt. Mendelssohn's Wedding March from A Midsummer Night's Dream was played at the wedding of Queen Victoria's daughter, Princess Victoria, The Princess Royal, to Crown Prince Frederick of Prussia
Frederick III, German Emperor
Frederick III was German Emperor and King of Prussia for 99 days in 1888, the Year of the Three Emperors. Friedrich Wilhelm Nikolaus Karl known informally as Fritz, was the only son of Emperor William I and was raised in his family's tradition of military service...

 in 1858, and it remains popular at marriage ceremonies. Mendelssohn's sacred choral music, particularly the smaller-scale works, remains popular in the choral tradition of the Church of England
Church of England
The Church of England is the officially established Christian church in England and the Mother Church of the worldwide Anglican Communion. The church considers itself within the tradition of Western Christianity and dates its formal establishment principally to the mission to England by St...

. However many critics, including Bernard Shaw
George Bernard Shaw
George Bernard Shaw was an Irish playwright and a co-founder of the London School of Economics. Although his first profitable writing was music and literary criticism, in which capacity he wrote many highly articulate pieces of journalism, his main talent was for drama, and he wrote more than 60...

, began to condemn Mendelssohn's music for its association with Victorian cultural insularity; Shaw in particular complained of the composer's "kid-glove
Kid gloves
- Music :*"Kid Gloves", by Rush from the 1984 album Grace Under Pressure*"Kid Gloves", by Rory Gallagher from the 1990 album Fresh Evidence*"Kid Gloves", by Fountains of Wayne from the 2005 album Out-of-State Plates...

 gentility, his conventional sentimentality, and his despicable oratorio-mongering". In the 1950s the scholar Wilfrid Mellers
Wilfrid Mellers
Wilfrid Howard Mellers OBE was an English music critic, musicologist and composer.-Early life:Born in Leamington, Warwickshire, Mellers was educated at the local Leamington College and later won a scholarship to Downing College, Cambridge, where he read English. At Cambridge, he formed a...

 complained of Mendelssohn's "spurious religiosity which reflected the element of unconscious humbug
Hypocrisy
Hypocrisy is the state of pretending to have virtues, moral or religious beliefs, principles, etc., that one does not actually have. Hypocrisy involves the deception of others and is thus a kind of lie....

 in our morality".

A contrasting opinion came from the pianist and composer Ferruccio Busoni
Ferruccio Busoni
Ferruccio Busoni was an Italian composer, pianist, editor, writer, piano and composition teacher, and conductor.-Biography:...

, who considered Mendelssohn "a master of undisputed greatness" and "an heir of Mozart". Busoni and other pianists such as Anton Rubinstein and Alkan all regularly included Mendelssohn's piano works in their recitals.

Modern opinions

Charles Rosen
Charles Rosen
Charles Rosen is an American pianist and author on music.-Life and career:In his youth he studied piano with Moriz Rosenthal. Rosenthal, born in 1862, had been a student of Franz Liszt...

 in a chapter on Mendelssohn in his 1995 book The Romantic Generation both praises and criticizes the composer, calling him a "genius" with a "profound" comprehension of Beethoven and "the greatest child prodigy the history of Western music has ever known". Although Rosen feels that in his later years, without losing his craft or genius, the composer "renounced ... his daring", he calls Mendelssohn's relatively late Violin Concerto in E minor "the most successful synthesis of the Classical concerto tradition and the Romantic virtuoso form". Rosen calls the Fugue in E minor (later included in Mendelssohn's Op. 35 for piano) a "masterpiece"; but in the same paragraph calls Mendelssohn "the inventor of religious kitsch
Kitsch
Kitsch is a form of art that is considered an inferior, tasteless copy of an extant style of art or a worthless imitation of art of recognized value. The concept is associated with the deliberate use of elements that may be thought of as cultural icons while making cheap mass-produced objects that...

 in music".

Such opinions are evidence of how a more nuanced appreciation of Mendelssohn's work has developed over the last 50 years, together with the publication of a number of modern biographies placing his achievements in context. Mercer-Taylor comments on the irony that "this broad-based reevaluation of Mendelssohn's music is made possible, in part, by a general disintegration of the idea of a musical canon", an idea which Mendelssohn "as a conductor, pianist and scholar" had done so much to establish.

About 750 of Mendelssohn's works still remained unpublished in the 1960s, but most of them have now been made available. A complete scholarly edition is now (2010) in preparation of Mendelssohn's works and correspondence but is expected to take many years to complete, and will be in excess of 150 volumes. All of Mendelssohn's oeuvre – including the most popular works such as the E minor Violin Concerto and the Italian Symphony – has been explored more deeply, and prior concepts about the Victorian conventionality of the oratorio Elijah have been shed. The frequently intense and dramatic world of Mendelssohn's chamber works has been more fully recognized. Virtually all of Mendelssohn's published works are now available on CD, and his works are frequently heard in the concert hall and on broadcasts. As the critic H. L. Mencken
H. L. Mencken
Henry Louis "H. L." Mencken was an American journalist, essayist, magazine editor, satirist, acerbic critic of American life and culture, and a scholar of American English. Known as the "Sage of Baltimore", he is regarded as one of the most influential American writers and prose stylists of the...

 concluded, if Mendelssohn indeed missed true greatness, he missed it "by a hair".

Sources

  • Barenboim, Lev Aronovich (1962). Anton Grigorevich Rubinstein (2 vols.) (in Russian). Leningrad: State Musical Publishing House(Edited by Ernest Newman
    Ernest Newman
    Ernest Newman was an English music critic and musicologist. Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians describes him as "the most celebrated British music critic in the first half of the 20th century." His style of criticism, aiming at intellectual objectivity in contrast to the more subjective...

    ).
  • Conway, David, "Short, Dark and Jewish-Looking": Felix Mendelssohn in Britain, in The Jewish Year Book 2009, ed. Stephen Massil, London, 2009. ISBN 9780853038900 downloadable here(Translator: N.MacFarren). (in German).
  • Articles in Grove Music Online (subscribers only):

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  • Hansen, Jōrg and Gerald Vogt, "Blut und Geist" : Bach, Mendelssohn und ihre Musik im Dritten Reich, Eisenach, 2009 2 volumes. Edited by Felix's nephew, an important collection of letters and documents about the family. (Translator: M.E.von Glehn).. Edited by Camilla Cai. Edited by F. Moscheles Edited by R. Elvers, translated by C. Tomlinson.
  • Sanders, L.G.D. Jenny Lind, Sullivan and the Mendelssohn Scholarship, in The Musical Times, vol 97, no.1363 (September 1956)
  • Sterndale Bennett, R., The Death of Mendelssohn, in 'Music and Letters' vol. 36 no. 4, Oxford, 1955(Translated: Andrew Grey)(Translated: W. Ashton Ellis)


There are numerous published editions and selections of Mendelssohn's letters.

The main collections of Mendelssohn's original musical autographs and letters are to be found in the Bodleian Library
Bodleian Library
The Bodleian Library , the main research library of the University of Oxford, is one of the oldest libraries in Europe, and in Britain is second in size only to the British Library...

, Oxford University, the New York Public Library
New York Public Library
The New York Public Library is the largest public library in North America and is one of the United States' most significant research libraries...

, and the Staatsbibliothek
Berlin State Library
The Berlin State Library is a library in Berlin, Germany and a property of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation.-Buildings:The State Library runs several premises, three of which are open for users, namely House 1 in Unter den Linden 8, House 2 in Potsdamer Straße 33 and the newspaper archive...

 in Berlin. His letters to Moscheles are in the Brotherton Collection, University of Leeds
University of Leeds
The University of Leeds is a British Redbrick university located in the city of Leeds, West Yorkshire, England...

.

A Thematic-systematic Catalogue of the Musical Works (MWV) has been prepared by Ralph Wehner.

External links



Recordings
See also articles on individual works for links to recordings

Music scores
  • Mendlessohn editions of Julius Rietz
    Julius Rietz
    August Wilhelm Julius Rietz was a German composer, conductor and cellist. He was a teacher among whose students were Woldemar Bargiel, Salomon Jadassohn and Arthur Sullivan. He also edited many works by Felix Mendelssohn for publication.-Biography:He studied the cello under Schmidt, Bernhard...

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