Fanny Mendelssohn

Andante con Espressione    Fanny Mendelssohn (1805-1847) 

Fanny Mendelssohn was the oldest of four children, her younger brother being the famous Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847). Fanny received her first piano instruction from her mother, who had been a student of Johann Kirnberger (1721–1783), who was himself a student of J.S. Bach (1685-1750). As a thirteen year old, Fanny could already play all 24 Preludes and Fugues from Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier by heart (that's about 2 hours of very difficult), and she did so in honor of her father's birthday. Later she studied with Carl Friedrich Zelter, one of the top music instructors in Berlin. In a letter to Goethe about Fanny's father, Zelter wrote, "He has adorable children and his oldest daughter could give you something of Sebastian Bach. This child is really something special."

Her father however was more tolerant than supportive of Fanny's endeavors, writing: "Music will perhaps become his [i.e. Felix's] profession, while for you it can and must be only an ornament." At age 24 she married the artist Wilhelm Hensel (1794–1861) and the following year they had their only child: Sebastian Ludwig Felix Hensel. Her husband Wilhelm, unlike Fanny's father, was quite supportive of her efforts (though not musical himself), 'presiding' over a weekly informal concert at their home at which Felix' and Fanny's works shared equal billing. Wilhelm also supplied pictures and poems to go with pieces she wrote. In all she composed 460 works, but performed publically only once.

Fanny died in Berlin age 42 of complications from a stroke suffered while rehearsing one of her brother's oratorios. Felix himself died less than six months later from the same cause (which was also responsible for the deaths of both of their parents and their grandfather), but not before completing a String Quartet which he composed in memory of his sister.