Monday, November 14, 2011

Only an Ornament

Sketch of Fanny Mendelssohn by Wilhelm Hensel

Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel was the older sister of the famous Romantic composer, Felix Mendelssohn, wife of the prominent court painter, Wilhelm Hensel, granddaughter of the great Jewish philosopher, Moses Mendelssohn, and the grandmother of a few notable intellectuals; the tradition of defining her in relation to prominent male relatives is a disservice to her own underappreciated genius.

Born to a respectable German Jewish family in 1805, Fanny Mendelssohn was subjected to the societal marginalization that was socially prominent toward women. In spite of her obvious musical talent, her family never allowed her to cultivate the knowledge and skill to meet her potential. While her brother was developed into one of the greatest voices of early Romantic composition, Fanny picked up her technique through self-taught trial and error as a performer.

Fortunately, her brother encouraged her compositional activities, publishing her works under his own name so as to avoid the scandal that would have ensued if the true authorship was known. When Fanny married Wilhelm Hensel, who supported her musical endeavors, she eventually began to publish under her own name.

Sketch of Fanny Mendelssohn by Wilhelm Hensel

Let's honor her birth date by listening to some beautiful music. And reflect upon the even greater music to which we cannot listen, those pieces that were never realized by Fanny because of the many social obstacles that prevented their creation, lost to the ignorance of misogyny.

In any case, here are a few of my favorite pieces:

Betty Ann Miller (piano)


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