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celebrating three hundred years of music by women

Fanny Mendelssohn (1805-1847)

Fanny was Felix's elder sister by four years, and like him was a child prodigy. Throughout their lives they had an extremely close personal and musical relationship, Felix often depending on Fanny for advice about his works. Despite being discouraged by both him and her father from publishing her works, she wrote over 400 pieces, in the main piano works and lieder. Her music was heard at the Sunday morning 'Musicales' at their house in Berlin, which were attended by eminent musicians. Goethe was not alone in considering her to be just as gifted as her genius brother. While people often compare her music with that of Felix, her expression is of an altogether more passionate nature. Her music is now being published, and is played and recorded more.

Click on these works and books for more details below: Fanny Hensel, The Other Mendelssohn, by R Larry Todd, OUP, 2014.
See the bottom of the page for the book on Fanny Mendelssohn by Francoise Tillard (Amadeus Press).

Here is a video of Diana Ambache playing her Lento appassionato Op. 5 No. 4.
Here is a video of a talk by Diana Ambache about her piano cycle Das Jahr.
You can download and hear the first minute of the Piano Trio by clicking here.
The whole Trio is on the Ambache Romantic Women Composers CD, (buy from the Ambache CD shop for £10).

For more information on Fanny Mendelssohn go to the publisher Furore Verlag's page link.

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Overture in C, c1830
2 fl, 2 ob, 2 cl, 2 bn; 4 hn, 2 tpt, timps, strings. 10 mins
Andante - Allegro di molto - Con fuoco - Piu presto
When we gave the UK premiere of this work in 1994 the London Independent wrote "Put it down to sibling rivalry, but this week's most exciting premiere, an Overture in C, was by a girl. A taut finely orchestrated structure, brimful of invention, its pacing and harmonic wit showed not just potential but genuine mastery. There were good tunes too. The composer - Fanny Mendelssohn. This overture, for classical orchestra with an extra pair of horns, is an excellent concert opener, and a highly effective concert piece. It is her only known orchestral piece, more's the pity given her strong sense of orchestration.
Published by Furore Edition (nr 153), Kassel, Germany

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Quartet for Piano, Violin, Viola & Cello in A flat, 1822
1. Allegro moderato, A flat. 2. Larghetto, E flat. 3. Tempo di Menuetto, A flat. 4. Presto, A flat. 20 mins
This is the work of a brilliant seventeen year old showing off both compositional abilities and pianistic flair. There is a glittering piano part, which dominates, though there is attractive writing for the strings. The swaying Larghetto has an elegant, dancing mood. The Menuet and Trio again feature the piano, and the whole is rounded off with a brief and speedy Presto.
When we performed this in 1996, one of the (male) players said during rehearsal "this is the kind of piece that gives women's music a bad name." However we worked at it, and after the performance he said "that really had something!" So perseverance can pay off.

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Trio for Piano, Violin & Cello in D minor, Op 11
1. Allegro molto vivace, D minor. 2. Andante espressivo, A major. 3. Lied: Allegretto, D major. 4. Allegro moderato, D minor. 25 mins
The Mendelssohn family published this Trio in 1850 after Fanny's death. Given it's quality, it is surprising that it is not better known. The piano part illustrates that she must have been a phenomenal pianist. Every time I relearn it, it's a major task, but worth it because the music is so passionate. Torrents of notes pour from the piano against sonorous string lines. Both the middle movements are very beautiful, while the Finale, starting with a piano cadenza, shows influences from Bach and gypsy music. Altogether an enthralling work.
Here's the opening, by my Ensemble Mendelssohn, from the collection of Romantic women in the Ambache Recordings Romantic CD.
Published by Edition Peters (PE.WW95) and Hildegard Publishing.

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Adagio for Violin & Piano
Adagio, E major. 1823. 5 mins
Probably written (when Fanny was 18 years old) for a Sunday Musicale, this 53 bar Adagio is a little musical gem. It is a heartfelt slow movement, with some beautiful violin writing and some highly original chromatic piano writing.
Published by Furore Edition (nr 137), Kassel, Germany.

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Two Pieces for Cello & Piano
1. Fantasia: Andante doloroso - Prestissimo - Poco piu lento - Allegro molto moderato, G minor.
2. Capriccio: Andante - Allegro di molto - Andante, A flat. c1829. 10 mins
Fanny know the Beethoven Cello Sonatas, and used the idea of a work with equal importance for both players; both take turns with tunes and accompaniment. As usual the music is highly charged, and both parts are challenging.
Published by Breitkopf (nr 8575)

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Das Jahr, 12 Characterstucke fur das Forte-Piano
1. Januar: Ein Traum. Adagio, quasi una Fantasia - Presto. B major
2. Februar: Scherzo. Presto. F sharp major
3. Marz. Agitato - Andante - Allegro ma con fuoco. F sharp minor
4. April: Capriccioso. Allegretto - Allegro. E major
5. Mai: Fruhlingslied. Allegro vivace e gioioso. A major
6. Juni: Serenade. Largo. D minor
7. Juli: Serenade. Larghetto. F major
8. August: (Fassung II). Allegro - Tempo di Marcia - Allegro assai. D major
9. September: Am Flusse. Andante con moto. B minor
10. Oktober. Allegro con spirito. A flat major
11. November. Mesto - Allegro molto agitato - Allegro molto. F minor
12. December. Allegro molto - Andante. C minor.
'Das Jahr' was the first work in history to depict all twelve months in music. It is also significant as an "a kind of second diary, or pleasant memoir" of Fanny's aesthetic and emotional experiences of her Italian tour 1839-40. This substantial cyle of twelve character pieces is a highly original creation. The pieces are very individual, evocative descriptions of her memories of the events and changing seasons of the tour. Some are technically challenging!
Published by Furore Verlag (nr 138), Kassel, Germany; and IMSLP. See video link above.

Allegro appassionato Op 5, No 4: solo piano piece of 1846, played by Diana Ambache on youtube

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Fanny Mendelssohn by Françoise Tillard
This book is the first and only authoritative biography of Fanny Mendelssohn. It is a vivid portrait of an exceptional artist, who could have held her own among the greatest of her generation had she not been prohibited from venturing into the professional world. It illustrates what a remarkable pianist she was, the importance in the Berlin musical scene of their house concerts, and the encourangement she recieved from her husband Wilhelm Hensel. It is altogether a fascinating story.
Published by Amadeus Press (USA)

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The Letter of Fanny Hensel to Felix Mendelssohn Collected, Edited and Translated by Marcia J. Citron
This wonderful collection of letters gives rich insight into the exceptional relationship between Fanny and her brother Felix. Not only were they almost inseparable as friends, they also had an extremely close musical relationship, with Felix often relying on Fanny for musical advice. I have created a programme depicting their familial and musical relationships by putting readings of some of these letters, with some by Felix, mixed with chamber music by both of them.
Published by Pendragon Press. 1987.

More piano pieces, songs and choral music are published by Edition Peters, Hildegard Publishing, Hal Leonard and Furore-Verlag.

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