In the twenty-first century, researchers have identified the real author of this work. They claim that many of the melodies considered to be worked by the genius Felix Mendelssohn were written by his sister, Fanny.
Felix and Fanny Mendelssohn
On November 14, 1805, in Hamburg, a baby girl was born to the wealthy family of banker Abraham Mendelssohn and his wife Lea. She was given the name Fanny. And in 1809 was born a son Felix. It was these two who were gifted with a natural musical talent. Their famous grandfather, the educator and preacher of tolerance, Moses Mendelssohn, would certainly have been proud of his grandchildren.
Childhood and Early Education
The children were taught to play the piano from the age of 6 by their mother, and they showed amazing results. At 12 – 13, Fanny and Felix were composing music and giving small concerts, with audiences applauding in delight. All four children in the family received an excellent multifaceted education.
Soon the family moves from Hamburg to Berlin. The best music educator, Carl Friedrich Zelter (1758 – 1832) teaches his brother and sister piano lessons, violin lessons, and music notation. While in Paris, they took lessons from the pianist Marie Chienne Bigot de Moroghe (1786 – 1820), who was greatly admired by the great composer Ludwig van Beethoven.
Lessons from the Best Music Educators
Later Fanny was given lessons by Carl Ludwig Heinrich Berger (1777 – 1839). He was impressed by the girl’s ability to memorize scores and improvise.
Forbidden from Music Lessons
This idyll lasted until 1820. Abraham Mendelssohn decided that his daughter had enough music and needed to think about her future, that is, to prepare for marriage. He forbade Fanny to take music lessons. It was an unexpected and very painful blow for her.
Helping and Inspiring Felix
Abandoning music lessons on a professional level, Fanny began to help her beloved brother, showing stunning success. She lived for making royalty free music and her love for her younger brother. In 1821 Carl Zelter invited Felix to accompany him on a trip to the philosopher and writer Johann Wolfgang Goethe (1749 – 1832). Fanny could not join them because of her father’s prohibition.
Felix often wrote letters to his sister and told her everything. Fanny reread them, clearly imagining all that her brother was experiencing and feeling. She passed on to Goethe, through her brother, several of her tunes to the poet’s poems. Fanny was very modest and unsure of her talent. But Goethe was delighted with her melodies and he sent her more poems.
Marriage Brings Joy and Creativity
Once again, Fanny got the joy of creativity by getting married. Wilhelm Hansel (1794 – 1861), a portrait painter, asked Fanny’s parents for her hand in marriage for seven years. The reason for the refusal was that the suitor for their daughter’s hand was not rich. And the young people were already in love with each other. Wilhelm happened to see the 17-year-old Fanny at a concert, heard the beautiful melodies she had written, and his heart was won.
In 1829, Wilhelm was hired as a court painter and Fanny’s parents agreed to their marriage. A year later the young family had a son, Sebastian Ludwig Felix.
Fanny’s Works Hidden Behind Felix’s Name
This marriage brought together two people eager to bring joy to each other. Wilhelm, knowing how much Fanny loved to write music, was insistent that she continue these activities. He rejected the fixed stereotype that a woman should only be the mistress of the house and organized a music salon for his wife. Berlin’s cultural bohemia gathered there. Fanny wrote a great deal at this time. Melodies were born to her as if by magic.
Wilhelm Supports Fanny’s Talents
Wilhelm said to his beloved wife: “You must write music.” And she did – a lot, with rapture. She composed for herself, sometimes playing in the family circle. But her works were known to many. They were played in concert halls. Only their author was considered… Felix Mendelssohn.
Letters have survived, where this fact is confirmed. Even in his music collections, he included Fanny’s works. It was only to Queen Victoria, who delighted in his Italian Song, that he confessed it was his sister’s music.
His father reassured his daughter. He said that “composing music is not a woman’s business. For Felix, it is a profession, and for you, it is only entertainment. Your brother naturally has ambition, and you don’t need it. The parents were on their son’s side, asking them to persuade Fanny not to publish his plays.
Fanny’s Last Years and Death
Wilhelm could not agree to this. He wanted Fanny to develop her talent and sought to perpetuate her works. He published some of his wife’s works. But Fanny could not regain the self-confidence that she had lost after her father’s ban on professional pursuits of her beloved work.
Between 1839 and 1840 the Hansel family traveled in Italy. Wilhelm was able to organize several concerts where Fanny performed works by Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, and her brother.
She passed away at the age of 42, convinced that she was only an amateur, a pale star in the face of her brilliant brother.