A Voice of Her Own – Fanny Mendelssohn

What comes to mind when you hear the name “Mendelssohn”? Perhaps it’s the soulful melody that opens the Violin Concerto in E Minor. Maybe it’s the frenetic, driving pulse of A Midsummer Night’s Dream Overture. Regardless, you are most likely thinking of music penned by composer Felix Mendelssohn.

What many music lovers are unaware of is the fact that Felix Mendelssohn’s older sister, Fanny, was an equally gifted composer who wrote over 400 compositions in her lifetime.

Fanny Mendelssohn, like her brother, studied piano, theory, and composition. She began composing piano works and lieder at an early age, and had opportunities to share them with her friends and family through the “Sonntagsmusiken”, a concert series held at the Mendelssohn household.

As Felix matured, he was encouraged to travel abroad, giving him the chance to promote his music and perform as a pianist and conductor. Fanny, however, was not offered these same opportunities. As a young woman, societal and gender norms forced her to shift her attention away from career aspirations and instead towards becoming a wife and mother.

Even so, Fanny was determined to get her music out into the world. She published several compositions under her brother’s name, including them in his Liederheften op. 8 and 9.

She expanded the “Sonntagsmusiken” into a well-respected concert series, which boosted her reputation as both a composer and concert presenter. The series began to attract impressive audiences, with people like Franz Liszt and Clara Wieck-Schumann traveling to attend concerts. As the concert series grew, performances began to take place in larger concert halls, and Fanny was given the opportunity to write for larger musical forces.

Fanny composed over 400 works in her lifetime, but it was not until 1846–the last year of her life–that she published her music under her own name.

It is shocking that in 2017, Fanny’s music is still rarely performed. The Peninsula Symphony is proud to program her Overture in C, an elegant, shimmering work that displays the brilliance of her compositional voice. We hope that it will inspire you to explore the hundreds of other compositions left to us by this magnificent composer.

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