Saturday, November 20, 2004


Felix Mendelssohn
-As a child prodigy

Felix Mendelssohn’s actual full name is Jacob Ludwig Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, but is always known as Felix Mendelssohn. Felix was born in the city of Hamburg, on February 3rd, 1809. Unlike many other famous composers, he grew up in a privileged environment and a wealthy family. As a child he studied piano with his mother, but soon took lessons from Carl Zelter in Berlin. Mendelssohn was soon composing trios, quartets and operettas, and was making his mark as a pianist. At the age of nine, he made his public debut, playing the piano in a trio for two horns and a piano by Joseph Wolfl. When Felix was just 10 years old, he was getting up at 5am every day to a very fulfilling day. Every moment of each day was purposeful. In a letter he once wrote he says, “ I have six hours of Latin a week: two for Caesoar, two for Ovid, one for grammar, and one for exercises. In mathematics I am reading the 5th book of Euclid, which seems to be much more difficult than everything else I have described. In addition, I have two hours of history, two of arithmetic, one of geography, and one of German speaking. I have two violin lessons a week and am playing etudes by Kreutzer. My schedule is so organized, that I prepare tasks in the evening that I have received in the morning.”
Early in Mendelssohn’s development as a composer, he and other musicians, such as his sister, would perform his own compositions at a series of Sunday musical gatherings. Not only would friends and invited guests come to these performances, but also musicians from the royal chapter and singers from the opera. Felix performed many times at the piano, but he also conducted and took turns at the violin. Some his first works that were all completed by 1821, (Piano sonata in G-minor, first six string sinfonie, the Singspeil, Die Beiden Padagogen) were known as works of astonishing polish. At the age of just 13, Mendelssohn wrote his first piano quartet, and at 15 he wrote his first symphony. By the time that Mendelssohn was 17, his fame as a musical prodigy was spreading. Also when he was seventeen, one of his first great compositions, the overture to Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream was produced.
Like all child prodigies Mendelssohn showed many signs of a true genius from childhood. Mendelssohn is known as one of the most gifted composers the world has ever known. People that don’t know his specific works, or that can’t name them, have still heard it, as his “wedding march” from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, which has accompanied a bride down the aisle. It is difficult to decide which quality Mendelssohn excelled at the most – whether composer, pianist, organist, or conductor of an orchestra. He was very accomplished at each of these at such a young age.

Major Works:

-Solo Piano works including a few sonatas, some Preludes and Fugues, and 49 Songs Without Words:
Song Without Words: Venetian Boat Song No. 1 Op. 16 No. 6
Song Without Words: Folk Song Op. 53 No. 5
Song Without Words: Spinning Song or Bee's Wedding Op. 67 No. 4
Song Without Words: The Adieu Op. 85 No. 2 Song Without Words: Faith Op. 102 No. 6
-Songs and Hymns, either stand-alone or from larger works, including: Christmas Carol: Hark! The Herald Angels Sing and "On Wings of Song"
-Overtures: Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage (after 2 poems by Goethe), Athalia (the incidental music for this includes the well-known "War March of the Priests"), Son and Stranger, Ruy Blas, Fingal's Cave or Hebrides overture, A Midsummer Night's Dream (This was composed in his teans, and then augmented in later years with full incidental music for Shakespeare's play, including the famous Wedding March).
-Oratorio: Elijah, including the song "Oh for the Wings of a Dove" later remixed by Madness!
-A Total of 5 mature Symphonies (3rd The Scottish, 4th The Italian, and 5th The Reformation) and a number of String Symphonies composed in his youth.
-Violin Concertos, particularly the popular mature one in Em (Mendelssohn was a violinist as well as a pianist)
-2 Piano Concertos
-Chamber music including String Quartets, String Qunitets and Piano Trio
-String Octet (highly regarded and composed at age 16)

Nichols, Roger. Mendelssohn Remembered. 1997.
Mercer-Taylor, Peter. The Life of Mendelssohn. Combridge University Press, 2000.