FELIX AND FANNY: MENDELSSOHN SIBLING RIVALRY
Elizabeth Handley, musicologist, independent lecturer for The Arts Society/NADFAS (UK)
Felix Mendelssohn is one of the most popular composers of the nineteenth-century Romantic era. His cheerful symphonies and piano concertos, his sublime violin concerto – one of the most significant in the repertoire – and choral works, are regular features in the concert hall. These and his numerous elegant and charming chamber works and piano pieces are familiar to all music lovers the world over.
But little is known about his gifted elder sister Fanny, who followed the traditional conventions of marriage and child-bearing, and whose contribution to the classical music lexicon has been sadly neglected. The reservations of her family, and social conventions of the time concerning the roles of women, led to the overshadowing and even suppression of her art. Some of her music was published under her brother’s name, to ensure its publication, and to ‘protect her reputation’. Fortunately, recent research has brought to light more information about her life and work, and her success in publishing some of her music in spite of the ambivalence of her family towards her musical aspirations.
In this double lecture the relationship between these gifted siblings is explored, their lives and their music, with particular focus on their roles and reception in the society of the time. With quotes from their letters, and ample musical and visual illustrations, it will be demonstrated that there is much more to the Mendelssohns than meets the eye – or the ear.