The June meeting of the Understanding Music group focussed on Felix Mendelssohn.
Although he is regarded as one of the Romantic composers, he admired and based much of his work on the earlier Baroque and Classical giants – Bach, Mozart and Beethoven. He wrote some beautiful tunes. Here is his Octet, written when he was only 15.
And here is the overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream, also written in his 16th year.
Like Mozart, Felix was a child prodigy, giving his first public performance aged 9. According to the poet Goethe, who in his long life heard both the child Mozart and young Mendelssohn play the piano, Felix was by far the more mature and accomplished.
The Mendelssohns were a wealthy banking family and no expense was spared in the education of their four children. They had private tutors in literature, music and painting and Felix became a gifted and accomplished landscape painter as well as a composer. His older sister, Fanny, also became a concert pianist and a composer in her own right, although she did not receive the same encouragement in her endeavours as her brother.
When he was 28 he married Cecile, whom he met in Paris, and they had five children, none of whom followed in Felix’s footsteps.
Mendelssohn developed a great love of the British Isles, which he visited no less than 10 times. Queen Victoria and Prince Albert were fans of his, and he performed for them on several occasions.
While visiting Scotland, Felix took a boat trip to the Hebrides, and, in spite of suffering from dreadful seasickness, he felt moved by the majestic scenery to write his famous “Fingal’s Cave” overture.
In 1846 the Birmingham Festival commissioned him to write his oratorio, “Elijah”, and it was premiered in Birmingham Town Hall. It has become a very popular work. The Burnham Music Group performed it in 2010, so several members of our U3A group know this music quite well.
The following year, in May, his beloved older sister Fanny died of a stroke, the same condition which had carried off her grandfather and both her parents. That November, less than 6 months later, Felix himself died of the same cause, leaving behind a catalogue of gorgeous music for us all to enjoy.