Felix Mendelssohn- Former Child Prodigy And A Timeless, Talented Musician

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Jakob Ludwig Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy (February 3, 1809 – November 4, 1847), born and widely known as Felix Mendelssohn, was a German composer, pianist, organist, and conductor of the early Romantic period.

His prodigious musical gifts allowed him to make significant contributions to the development of German musical life in general, most notably through his almost singlehanded revival of the works of Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750). Mendelssohn’s efforts proved crucial in reestablishing the older composer at the forefront of Western music, consequently affecting the very concept of art music ever since.

Early Life

Born into a family of means and privilege, Felix Mendelssohn had loving parents who encouraged him to be a musician. And he certainly had the correct name. Felix is Latin for “happy.”

 Mendelssohn was born in Hamburg, Germany, and grew up in Berlin. His grandfather was the great Jewish philosopher Moses Mendelssohn. Felix Mendelssohn’s father, Abraham, a banker, didn’t want to deal with anti-Semitism. So he converted to Christianity and changed the family name to Mendelssohn-Bartholdy.

Felix Mendelssohn produced around 750 musical works in every genre.

The Mendelssohn family held regular Sunday afternoon concerts at their house, so Felix grew up with music all around him. As a child, Mendelssohn already established himself as a terrific pianist and started composing when he was ten.

By the time he was a teenager, Felix Mendelssohn was already an excellent pianist and composer. In addition to German (his native language), Mendelssohn spoke French, English, and Italian. He was also an excellent painter. And he became quite famous as a conductor.

A glance at his notable works

During his brief life, Mendelssohn produced approximately 750 musical works in nearly every genre — from solo songs and works for solo piano to choral and chamber works, and too large scale orchestral works, oratorio, and even opera. As a virtuoso pianist and organist, it is not surprising that nearly one-quarter of his works include these instruments. His piano works, the series of Lieder Ohne Worte (“Songs without Words”) are the most renowned. Felix’s approximately forty chamber works include five string quartets, three piano quartets , and the Octet of 1825, generally acknowledged as Mendelssohn’s first masterwork. His choral works include sacred works (psalm settings, motets, sacred cantatas, etc.) and secular compositions. Perhaps inspired by the religious choral works of J.S. Bach and G.F. Handel, Mendelssohn’s own oratorios, Paulus (St. Paul, 1836), Elijah (1847), and Christus (1847) became the most successful and enduring oratorios produced during the nineteenth century. 

Mendelssohn also became well known as a conductor. When he was just 20, he conducted the first concert of Johann Sebastian Bach’s St. Matthew Passion since Bach’s lifetime.

Mendelssohn loved to travel. His trips to other countries inspired some of his best music, like his Scottish and Italian Symphonies. 

Mendelssohn’s notable works include his works for full orchestra, represented by five symphonies, two piano concertos, the widely admired Violin Concerto (op. 64, 1844), and numerous tone poems and overtures. The incidental music to A Midsummer Night’s Dream includes the famous recessional wedding march that is a musical fixture at nuptial ceremonies.

Why is Felix Mendelssohn not so famous?

A combination of several factors contributed to this neglect of Mendelssohn’s works. First of all, Mendelssohn’s career started at the era of Ludwig van Beethoven and Richard Wagner, the two Titans of nineteenth-century German music, the enormous scope of whose work unfortunately diminished that of Mendelssohn and his no-less-significant contemporaries (i.e., Carl Maria von Weber, Robert, and Clara Schumann, etc.) in comparison. While Mendelssohn’s musical language does not reflect harmonic or structural innovations on the scale of Beethoven or Wagner, he nevertheless created a large body of finely crafted works that bear the indelible stamp of his personal style.


Mendelssohn died on November 4, 1847

Felix Mendelssohn died in Leipzig on November 4, 1847, at the age of thirty-eight. His influence on Western music of the era, represented by many works produced and his tireless efforts in performing, conducting, and resurrecting pieces of the past, has left an indelible imprint on our shared musical culture that may be perceived even today.

Also read: Maude Adams – An iconic child actress

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