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Felix Mendelssohn was Queen Victoria’s favourite composer

Posted in Famous Composers, Historical articles, History, Music, Royalty on Monday, 30 September 2013

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This edited article about music originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 413 published on 13 December 1969.

Mendelssohn, picture, image, illustration

Felix Mendelssohn is applauded after conducting an orchestra at the age of twelve

Felix Mendelssohn’s first name is the Latin word for “happy” or “fortunate,” and no other classical composer had such a pampered and carefree upbringing. Born the son of a rich Hamburg banker, Felix was spoiled to an almost alarming extent. From an early age he displayed a fine gift for music, and by the time he was twelve, in 1821, he and his elder sister, Fanny, had written a short opera. For most children this might have been enough, but Felix wanted to have the opera performed before an audience of critics and professional musicians. His father listened sympathetically to his request, and allowed him to hire several musicians from the Court orchestra in Berlin, where the Mendelssohns were then living.

A short time later the opera was “staged” in the banker’s house. The orchestra was conducted by Felix – who stood on a footstool expertly wielding his baton – and at the end of the performance the youngster received a standing ovation. Soon Felix had composed some sixty songs and piano pieces, and his musical career was well under way. But despite his love of luxury he was not blind to the simpler joys of life. A trip to Lake Geneva in 1822 provided the inspiration for two songs and a piano quartet. And four years later he produced his melodious overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream – most of which he wrote while sunning himself in his family’s large garden.

In 1829 Mendelssohn paid his first visit to London, where his Symphony in C Minor was triumphantly performed. He later wrote to Fanny that, “The success was beyond all I had ever dreamed.” And he added that he was shortly going on a tour of Scotland. This journey to the Hebrides proved to be one of the highlights of the composer’s life. “I greatly prefer,” he said, “the cold sky and the pines of the north to charming scenes in the midst of landscapes bathed in the glowing rays of the sun.”

He expressed his emotion by writing his tuneful overture, Fingal’s Cave, or The Hebrides. If you would like to add this to your record library it is on Heliodor 89673. The work was first performed in 1832 by the London Philharmonic Society, and Mendelssohn afterwards composed an entire Scottish Symphony, which he dedicated to one of his greatest admirers, Queen Victoria. The composer’s oratorios, St. Paul, and Elijah, later added to his popularity in Britain. He conducted Elijah at Birmingham Town Hall in August 1846, and recorded that, “No work of mine ever went so admirably at the first performance, or was received with such enthusiasm both by musicians and the public.”

Mendelssohn was now happily married, but in 1846 he was prostrated by the sudden death of his beloved sister, Fanny. He never completely recovered from this blow, and died himself less than six months later at the age of only thirty-seven.

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