Felix Mendelssohn

Felix Mendelssohn (Jakob Ludwig Felix Mendelssohn) (mĕn´dəlsən, Ger. yä´kôp lŏŏt´vĬkh fā´lĬks mĕn´dəls-zōn´), 1809–47, German composer; grandson of the Jewish philosopher Moses Mendelssohn. Mendelssohn was one of the major figures in 19th-century music. His father, Abraham, upon conversion to Christianity, changed his surname to Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, a seldom-used form. A prodigy, reared in a highly cultured atmosphere, the young Felix, who began composing at age 10, presented his orchestral compositions to illustrious audiences at the family estate. His first mature work, the Overture to A Midsummer Night's Dream, now a classical concert staple, was composed at 17, and he showed similar precocity at the piano.

In 1829, he conducted the St. Matthew Passion, stimulating a revival of interest in the music of J. S. Bach. He was musical director (1833–35) at Düsseldorf, became (1835) conductor of the Gewandhaus concerts, Leipzig, and helped found (1842–43) the Leipzig Conservatory. He was appointed (1841) director of the music section of the Academy of Arts, Berlin, and often conducted the London Philharmonic Orchestra. His music is characterized by emotional restraint, refinement, sensitivity, and a fastidious adherence to classical forms. Of his five symphonies, the Scottish (1842), Italian (1833), and Reformation (1832) are best known. Frequently performed are his Violin Concerto in E Minor (1845); The Hebrides Overture, or Fingal's Cave (1832); and two oratorios, St. Paul (1836) and Elijah (1846). Outstanding piano works include the Variations sérieuses (1841) and eight sets of Songs without Words (1832–45). He also composed chamber music, songs, choral music, and six organ sonatas.

See his letters (ed. by G. Selden-Goth, 1945); biographies by G. R. Marek (1972), W. Blunt (1974), P. Mercer-Taylor (2000), and R. L. Todd (2003); H. Kupferberg, The Mendelssohns (1972).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2014, The Columbia University Press.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

Mendelssohn: A Life in Music
R. Larry Todd.
Oxford University Press, 2003
Felix Mendelssohn and His Times
Heinrich Eduard Jacob; Richard Winston; Clara Winston.
Prentice-Hall, 1963
Mendelssohn and the Organ
Wm. A. Little.
Oxford University Press, 2009
Romanticism (1830-1890)
Gerald Abraham.
Oxford University Press, 1990
Librarian’s tip: Includes discussion of Mendelssohn and his works in multiple chapters
The Mendelssohns on Honeymoon: The 1837 Diary of Felix and Cecile Mendelssohn Bartholdy Together with Letters to Their Families
Peter Jones Ward; Peter Jones Ward; Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy.
Oxford University, 1997
Composers on Composers
John L. Holmes.
Greenwood Press, 1990
Librarian’s tip: "Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy (1809-1847)" begins on p. 94
The Concerto
Ralph Hill.
Penguin Books, 1952
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 7 "Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847)"
Man and His Music: The Story of Musical Experience in the West
Alec Harman; Anthony Milner; Wilfrid Mellers.
Oxford University Press, 1962
Librarian’s tip: "Chopin, Schumann, and Mendelssohn" begins on p. 805
The History of Pianoforte Music
Herbert Westerby.
Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner, 1924
Librarian’s tip: Part III, Chap. V "Mendelssohn (1809-1847)"
The Age of Beethoven, 1790-1830
Gerald Abraham.
Oxford University Press, 1982
Librarian’s tip: "Mendelssohn" begins on p. 253
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