Italien : Work information

Composers
(Jacob Ludwig) Felix Mendelssohn ( Music, Images,)
Fanny (Cäcilie) Mendelssohn-Hensel ( Music, Images,)
Performed by
Julianne Baird (Soprano), Keith Weber (Fortepiano)

This work

Work name
Italien
Work number
Op. 8 No. 3
Key
n/a
Genre
A
Composed
1825-01-01 02:00:00

This recording

Label
Newport Classic
Producer
John Ostendorf
Engineer
Stephen J Epstein
Recording date
1998-01-01 01:00:00

The Composers

(Jacob Ludwig) Felix Mendelssohn

One of the leading German composers of the 1830s and 40s, Felix Mendelssohn's music is often cited as evidence of the growing tension between musical Classicism and Romanticism in the post-Beethoven generation.

Described by Schumann as the 'Mozart of the 19th century', his style, fully formed by the age of 20, combines Mozartean grace with the drama of Beethoven and the complexity of J S Bach. Many of his orchestral, choral and chamber works are firmly established in the repertoire, and he remains a popular figure with concert-goers.

Born the son of a Jewish banker in Hamburg on 3 February 1809 and secretly baptized into the Protestant faith, Mendelssohn's early musical education was supervised by his mother. Along with his talented sister Fanny, he displayed remarkable ability on a number of instruments and as a composer.

At the age of 12 he had already written, and seen performed, a fully produced Singspiel and had composed numerous works in other genres. A solid general education and trips around Europe exposed him to new literary and musical influences to build on his knowledge of Bach, Mozart and Haydn, and by 1825 he had written his first masterpiece, the String Octet. This was followed in 1826 by another remarkable work, the Midsummer Night's Dream overture, pointing to his love for Shakespeare.

Following the study of legal history, geography and aesthetics at the University of Berlin, Mendelssohn embarked in 1829 on a musical tour of Italy, France and England, meeting Goethe along the way. While in Britain he undertook a walking tour of Scotland where the Symphony No. 3 and Hebrides overture were conceived. Indeed, Mendelssohn was a frequent visitor to England throughout the rest of his career.

In 1833, Mendelssohn was offered a position as Düsselfdorf music director. His energies were devoted to reviving the oratorios of Haydn and Handel, having already presented a revival performance of Bach's St Matthew Passion in 1829. This no doubt prompted him to begin his own oratorio, St Paul in 1834.

A move to Leipzig occurred in 1835, where Mendelssohn served as municipal music director and conductor of the Gewandhaus Orchestra. Over the next 12 years, he turned this orchestra into one of Europe's most prestigious ensembles.

International fame was secured in 1836 by his decision to direct the 18th Niederrheinisches Musikfest in Dusseldorf; shortly after he married Cécile Jeanrenaud, daughter of a Huguenot minister. A time of personal and professional happiness, Mendelssohn was constantly in demand to conduct the major music festivals of Europe.

In September 1841 he was appointed Kapellmeister to Friedrich Wilhelm IV of Prussia, and charged with the task of trying to revive Berlin's musical life. Mendelssohn's duties were never clear and he continued to return to Leipzig to conduct, eventually resigning the Berlin position in September 1844. Meanwhile his Leipzig efforts had helped found a new Conservatory and won him an honorary citizenship of the city.

The last years were dominated by the composition and performance of his great oratorio, Elijah . However in 1847, returning to Frankfurt from England, Mendelssohn was shattered to hear of Fanny's death. Mendlessohn's own demise was not far off either and, after suffering a number of strokes, he died on 4 November 1847 and was buried next to his beloved sister.

Mourned internationally, his reputation suffered in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries due to the anti-Semitic views of Wagner and, later, the Nazis who banned his music. However, in recent years, the quality and attractiveness of his music has won him a loyal following among concert-goers.

Related Composers: Schubert, Beethoven, BerliozMozartWeber, J S BachHandel

Fanny (Cäcilie) Mendelssohn-Hensel

Fanny Mendelssohn was born in Hamburg, the eldest of four siblings, one of whom was Felix Mendelssohn.  Her family were cultured, and firmly a part of fashionable salon life.  Fanny and Felix shared their love of music from an early age, with Fanny playing a contributory role in the composition of works as significant as Felix's St Paul.  Felix encouraged his sister musically, but advised her against publishing for reasons which are not clear.  He did, however, include some of his sister's songs in his own collections, such as the Op. 9 set.

Fanny's parents provided her with a thorough musical education, first at their own hands and then at the hands of eminent tutors such as C.F. Zelter, one of the musicians of the time seeking to revive the music of J.S. Bach.  Her first compositions date from around 1819, and she produced around 500 pieces in her life, mainly lieder or piano works.  In 1829 she married the court painter of Prussia, William Hensel.  Her brother married in 1837, after which their contact was less frequent.  She performed in public only once, in 1838, playing her brother's First Piano Concerto.

During a trip to Italy she met Gounod, the two forming a firm friendship, with Gounod later acknowledging the influence she brought to bear on his musical development.  Despite the notable size of her output, little of it was published; even now, many of her manuscripts are unavailable and so a thorough analysis of her style is problematic.  However her known works display fine crafting, and a traditional stance evidencing her admiration of composers unfashionable at the time, such as Mozart and Handel.

Track listing

  • 1:44 min