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Felix Mendelssohn 1809-1847

Felix Mendelssohn was born in Hamburg, the grandson of a Jewish philosopher and son of a successful banker.  His mother was a pianist, who gave him his first piano lessons.  He had a close relationship with his sister Fanny, who was also a pianist and composer.

In Paris in 1816, Madame Marie Bigot taught them piano and encouraged their musical talents.  When the family returned to Germany, Ludwig Berger taught them piano, Henning the violin and Carl Zelter harmony and composition.  Zelter played an important part in Mendelssohn's career, introducing him to the German poet Goethe in 1821.

Before he was 16, Mendelssohn had written twelve symphonies for string orchestra.  The overture to his incidental music for Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream" was performed when he was 17.

At the age of 20, Mendelssohn conducted the first public performance of the St Matthew Passion since Bach's death.  In that same year, he visited England.  He also holidayed in Scotland, and was so impressed by the scenery, he wrote the "Hebrides" overture.  In Scotland, he also had th eidea to write a "Scottish" Symphony, though that wasn't finished until many years later.

In 1830-31, he visited Italy, where he met Berlioz, and started to work on his "Italian" Symphony.  Next he went to Paris (1831-32), where he met Liszt and Chopin.  Mendelssohn didn't really like Liszt's compositions.

By 1833, Mendelssohn was in Germany again, and was appointed musical director at Dusseldorf.  In 1835, he was a conductor in Leipzig, conductor of the Gewandhaus concerts.  He married in 1837, and in 1842, founded with Schumann the Leipzig Conservatorium.

Mendelssohn also wrote church music.  In 1846, he gave the first performance of the oratorio "Elijah" in England.  However, he suffered from poor health.  The death of his sister in 1847 upset him greatly and he himself died six months later.

Mendelssohn's life was easy and luxurious compared with many other composers'.  His performance of Bach's "St Matthew Passion" played a great part in the revival of Bach's music.

Mendelssohn's compositions included:

for orchestra: "Scottish" symphony, "Italian" symphony, "The Hebrides" overture (also know as "Fingal's Cave"), piano concertos in G minor and D minor, violin concerto.

choral: "St Paul" oratorio, "Elijah" oratorio, "Christus" which was unfinished, "Lobgesang" (Hymn of Praise)- a symphony-cantata which is also know as symphony no. 2.

Stage Music: operas "Camacho's Wedding", "Son and Stranger", "Lorelei" also unfinished.  Also incidental music for "The First Witches' Sabbath", "A Midsummer Night's Dream", "Athalie".

Chamber Music: 6 string quartets, 3 piano quartets, 2 string quintets, string sextet, string octet, violin sonata and 2 cello sonatas.

Piano: Capriccio in F sharp minor, 6 preludes and fugues, 8 books of Songs without Words.

Organ: 3 preludes and fugues and six sonatas.

Mendelssohn also wrote 10 sets of songs with piano, and 11 sets of part-songs.