German pianist and composer Fanny Cacilie Mendelssohn was later known as Fanny Hensel. She was the composer Felix Mendelssohn’s sister, and they were very close to each other and to music throughout their lives. It is said that Felix often asked Fanny for advice about his works, even when he and her father tried to discourage her. She had her works published, and she wrote more than 400 pieces, mostly piano works and songs. Her music was so melodic that it was played at their house in Berlin on Sunday mornings at “Musicales,” where many famous musicians would also be present. People think she had just as much talent as her genius brother. Even though her music is often compared to that of Felix, she had a completely different style that was more passionate. Now, her music is being brought to light and put out there. She was the philosopher Moses Mendelssohn’s granddaughter. She was also the grandmother of Paul Hensel, a philosopher, and Kurt Hensel, a mathematician.
Hensel’s Early Years and Childhood
Fanny Mendelssohn was the oldest of four children and was born into a Jewish family. Her father Abraham Mendelssohn was the son of the philosopher Moses Mendelssohn, and her mother Lea, whose maiden name was Salomon, was the granddaughter of the businessman Daniel Itzig.
But her Jewish parents didn’t raise her as a Jew, and she never practiced Judaism. She did, however, keep the liberal Jewish values that are important to her. Fanny’s musically talented mother helped her learn to play the piano quickly. Felix, who was born in 1809, learned to play.
He and Fanny became inseparable because they both loved playing, writing, and learning about music. Both of them were known as musical geniuses when they were young. Fanny and her brother Felix were both taught by Carl Friedrich Zelter, and they both learned and grew up with music at the same time.
Zelter liked Fanny better than Felix, and he said that she was unique and could be compared to Sebastian Bach. As a child, she was very good at music and started writing music, just like her brother. Fanny could play 24 Bach preludes from memory when she was 13.
By the time she was 19, she had written 32 fugues. Ignaz Moscheles and Sir George Smart, who were guests at the Mendelssohn home in the early 1820s, were impressed by both children. She was also influenced a lot by her great-aunts Fanny von Arnstein and Sarah Levy, who both loved music. Fanny von Arnstein ran a well-known salon, and Sarah Levy was a skilled keyboard player.
But unfortunately, the way people thought about women at the time-limited Fanny. It seems that her father thought the same way because he didn’t really support her work as a composer.
In a letter to her, he told her, “Music may become Felix’s job, but it can and must only be an ornament for you.” But her brother, who liked her as a composer and performer, didn’t quite like it when she published her works under her own name. After Felix moved away from home, he and Fanny wrote each other letters for many years.
These letters were full of their composition epiphanies. He showed her the wider world, and she helped him with his music by reading and giving feedback on his rough drafts. Surprisingly, Felix had 24 songs published early in his career, and six of them were written by Fanny.
Later, he did work with her to publish some of her songs under his name. The next embarrassing thing happened when Queen Victoria met Felix at Buckingham Palace and told him she was going to sing him her favorite of his songs. Then Felix said that Fanny had written it.
After dating for a few years, Fanny married the painter Wilhelm Hensel in 1829. The next year, she had her only child, a son named Sebastian Ludwig Felix Hensel. She named him after Johann Sebastian Bach, who was her favorite composer.
Her husband encouraged her to write music, and soon her music and that of her brother were often played at the family home in Berlin in a Sunday concert series (Sonntagskonzerte). She played the Piano Concerto No. 1 by her brother at her only known public performance, which was in 1838.
She played with the grace and simplicity of someone who loves making music. In 1846, she decided to put out a book of songs she had written. Fanny Mendelssohn Helson’s piano pieces are very creative and unique, with song-like qualities and striking juxtapositions of harmonies and color progressions that have nothing to do with each other.
The brilliant style of virtuosity that Fanny was known for is reflected in the fact that many musicians find her pieces hard to play technically.
Fanny Mendelssohn wrote 466 pieces of music, including more than 250 songs, 125 piano pieces, four cantatas, and a lot of instrumental and choral chamber music. There is also a piano trio and several books of songs and pieces for solo piano in these works of art. Some of her songs were first published in Felix’s opus 8 and opus 9 collections.
Her piano pieces often sound like songs, and many are called “Lied Ohne Worte” (Song without Words). She wrote over 100 pieces for piano, including bagatelles, fugues, preludes, and sonatas, as well as her most famous song, “Swan Song.” She wrote music for choirs, like the famous “Oratorium nach den Bildern der Bibel.”
She also wrote music for string instruments and piano, among other things. But only a few of her works were published, and most of them were lost for more than 100 years before they were found again. Even now, most of her music has never been published and is hidden away in libraries or private collections.
Das Jahr (“The Year”), written in 1841 on colored sheets of paper and illustrated by her husband Wilhelm, is her best-known work. It is a set of pieces that show each month of the year. It’s like a musical diary of the year she and her family spent living in Rome.
It is thought to be one of the best piano suites that didn’t get much attention in the 1800s. Now that it has been recorded, it should be part of the standard piano repertoire. Here’s what they were:
January: A Nightmare. Adagio, quasi una Fantasia; Presto
March. Agitato; Andante
April: Capriccioso. Allegretto; Allegro
May: Spring Song. Allegro vivace e gioioso
June: Serenade. Largo; Andante
July: Larghetto and Serenade
September: By the River. Andante con moto October. Allegro con spiritual November. Mesto; Allegro molto agitato
December. Allegro molto; Andante Postlude: Chorale “Das alteJahrvergangenist”
In 1847, Fanny Hensel died in Berlin from problems caused by a stroke she had while practicing one of her brother’s oratorios, The First Walpurgis Night. Unfortunately, Felix died less than six months later from the same illness that killed both of their parents and their grandfather Moses. The two were buried next to each other.
Estimated Net worth
Fanny is one of the wealthiest composers and is on the list of the most popular composers. Based on what we found on Wikipedia, Forbes, and Business Insider, Fanny Mendelssohn has a net worth of about $1.5 million.