Composer of the Week: Felix Mendelssohn

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Felix Mendelssohn, a musical prodigy who is known as the Mozart of the 19th Century, is our Composer of the Week, and he was also featured at our recent Summer Music Soiree listening party!

b. February 3, 1809 in Hamburg, Germany

d. November 4, 1847 in Leipzig, Germany

Felix Mendelssohn began writing masterpieces at the tender age of 15 and wrote the amazing Opus 21, Overture to “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at age 17.

His childhood was unquestionably interesting. Though his grandfather was a rabbi, Mendelssohn’s father decided the family would convert to the Lutheran church. As a result, Mendelssohn was secretly baptized at age seven, and his name was changed to Jakob Ludwig Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy. Whew! He never took a liking to his additional three names, however, and decided to stick with the name Felix Mendelssohn.

Many of Mendelssohn’s early works were influenced by Bach and Mozart. A few years after writing Overture to “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” he conducted a performance of Bach’s St. Matthew’s Passion which brought Bach’s music into the mainstream at a time when his works were mostly studied by scholars rather than enjoyed by the general public. (Bach’s works are, of course, still studied by scholars and music students everywhere.)

Felix Mendelssohn founded the Leipzig Conservatory in 1842 — the school still exists today. He also worked as a composer for King Frederick of Prussia, for whom he wrote many great works including Op. 61 A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which included both the Op. 21 overture and newly written incidental music for the play.

Sadly, Mendelssohn died at age 38 as a result of overwork, the devastation of death of his beloved sister, and a series of strokes.

Where to start:

-listen to Op. 61 A Midsummer Night’s Dream

-listen to Symphony No. 4 “Italian Symphony”

Here’s a YouTube video of Mendelssohn’s Hebrides Overture:

Here’s the first movement of his Symphony No. 4, conducted by Leonard Bernstein:

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