Felix Mendelssohn

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Mendelssohn, Felix

(Jakob Ludwig Felix Mendelssohn) (mĕn`dəlsən, Ger. yä`kôp lo͝ot`vĭkh fā`lĭks mĕn`dəls-zōn'), 1809–47, German composer; grandson of the Jewish philosopher Moses MendelssohnMendelssohn, Moses
, 1729–86, German-Jewish philosopher; grandfather of Felix Mendelssohn. He was a leader in the movement for cultural assimilation. In 1743 he went to Berlin, where he studied and worked, becoming (1750) a partner in a silk merchant's firm.
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. Mendelssohn was one of the major figures in 19th-century European music. His father, Abraham, upon conversion to Christianity, changed his surname to Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, a seldom-used form. A prodigy, reared in a highly cultured atmosphere, the young Felix, who began composing at age 10, presented his orchestral compositions to illustrious audiences at the family estate. His first mature work, the Overture to A Midsummer Night's Dream, now a classical concert staple, was composed at 17, and he showed similar precocity at the piano.

In 1829, he conducted the St. Matthew Passion, stimulating a revival of interest in the music of J. S. BachBach, Johann Sebastian
, 1685–1750, German composer and organist, b. Eisenach; one of the greatest and most influential composers of the Western world. He brought polyphonic baroque music to its culmination, creating masterful and vigorous works in almost every musical
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. He was musical director (1833–35) at Düsseldorf, became (1835) conductor of the Gewandhaus concerts, Leipzig, and helped found (1842–43) the Leipzig Conservatory. He was appointed (1841) director of the music section of the Academy of Arts, Berlin, and often conducted the London Philharmonic Orchestra. His music is characterized by emotional restraint, refinement, sensitivity, and a fastidious adherence to classical forms. Of his five symphonies, the Scottish (1842), Italian (1833), and Reformation (1832) are best known. Frequently performed are his Violin Concerto in E Minor (1845); The Hebrides Overture, or Fingal's Cave (1832); and two oratorios, St. Paul (1836) and Elijah (1846). Outstanding piano works include the Variations sérieuses (1841) and eight sets of Songs without Words (1832–45). He also composed chamber music, songs, choral music, and six organ sonatas.

Bibliography

See his letters (ed. by G. Selden-Goth, 1945); biographies by G. R. Marek (1972), W. Blunt (1974), P. Mercer-Taylor (2000), and R. L. Todd (2003); H. Kupferberg, The Mendelssohns (1972).

His elder sister, Fanny Cäcilie Mendelssohn Hensel, 1805–47, was also a musical prodigy and a gifted composer and pianist. Her parents allowed her lessons, but forbade a musical career as indecent for a woman. She nonetheless led a musical salon and composed some 500 works, many of them for piano. Many of her compositions were rediscovered in the late 20th and early 21st cent.

Bibliography

See M. J. Citron, ed., The Letters of Fanny Hensel to Felix Mendelssohn (1987); biographies by F. Tillard (2003) and R. L. Todd.