Fanny was not the other Mendelssohn

Fanny was not the other Mendelssohn


norman lebrecht

February 23, 2018

From the Lebrecht Album of the Week:

I’m uncomfortable with the title of this release. Rather than being ‘the other Mendelssohn’, Fanny was the heart of the Mendelssohn family and a fine composer in her own right – despite patriarchal suppression by her father and angry resentment from her brother, Felix. 

Fanny, married to a Berlin artist, kept her works in a drawer until her late 30s, when she went out and got them published, to Felix’s amazement ….

Read on here.

And here.


  • Phillip says:

    Utter, inane nonsense. Man bad, woman good. We get it.

    • B Bailey says:

      Toxic masculinity, right?
      Reality, Felix was devastated by her death and it hastened his own.

      • Sue says:

        A wonderful composer and his very interesting, talented sister. I’m waiting for the Jane Campion film!! (Come on, Jane.) I’m not sure of the extent to which his sister hastened his own demise, but 3 years ago in the Mendelssohn house in Leipzig all the information there suggested that Felix burned himself out with too many commitments and he succumbed to illness because of sheer exhaustion. It happens.

  • Cubs Fan says:

    Should be “Another Mendelssohn”, since in addition to Felix and Fanny, there’s also a Ludwig Mendelssohn and an Arnold Mendelssohn, probably not related to the more famous two.

  • Kelvin Grout says:

    Not the first recording of all her songs. We did a double CD with German label Troubadisc and I remember reading copies, during the recording, of her original manuscript as many songs were never published.

  • YoYo Mama says:

    The Macalester Trio did a recording back in the 1970s of trios by women who composed, including a Fanny Mendelssohn trio. It was slight, of minor talent, capable and in the style of the times, and not terribly special except for having a bit of the same flavor as her brother. This elevation of minor talents, of unequal talents for the sake of scoring political points is totally destructive to classical music. Shut up already. Felix Mendelssohn was one of the great geniuses of all time. Fanny was very talented. Period. No comparison. Gender does make a difference. Worry about Louise Talma, or Germaine Tailleferre, who could perhaps do with a bit more fame. If there’s any discrimination against women who compose, well, Jennifer Higdon and any number of minor, mediocre talents utterly disprove that. And in this, I am unanimous, to quote Mrs. Slocombe.

  • JoBe says:

    We may soon be treated to a new appreciation of the songs of Alma Mahler-Schindler-Werfel as well. The time is ripe, whatever their worth.

  • El Grillo says:

    I don’t know what would be left of music, the idea that it’s there for you (for everyone) when the world says that’s unrealistic, if it weren’t for Fanny Mendelssohn. In fact maybe what she taught me was not to try to make much sense out of the whole music “business,” to avoid the paranoia it otherwise might logically induce.
    Without Fanny Mendelssohn, without her intimate vulnerable and truly feminine sensitivity, without those intimate phrases where she gave the music room to be there for her: without that, there truly would be loss, despite that she wasn’t supposed to believe that as a woman there was any importance to her output other than pampering a woman who just wouldn’t understand the ways of the world, and in being protected was a possession rather than a human being that truly had something to say, when she dared to make herself vulnerable. And what she gave remains quietly beyond an idea of making one’s mark on the world like some sort of conquistador or corporate mogul.
    Well, this is in stark contrast to the pampering going on with what’s still somehow left of music, as if that’s what music is about….
    I also find it quite ridiculous, comical even, how there are umpteen celebrity virtuosos on instruments, or singers even, all who have a whole array of mostly romantic period renditions of big hits, in fact most of each of them have the same big hits that they record, as if this is what music is about, or the music business. All with statements about so and so is the most such and such, so one adores the adoration of it. In the meantime, if you take someone as important as say Rameau (or a whole list of others), there are more recordings, and then some more, from the latest performing sensation going back half a century or just about when the romantic and post romantic period was over and the scourge could start, more recordings of each sensation playing the big blockbuster concertos or singing the same operas (no insult to the music itself mind you) as there are of ANYTHING by Rameau etc.. Unsurprisingly there’s a whole array of institutions all over the planet interested in advertising their ability to create such wonders. More recordings of fill-in-the-blank-of-latest-performing-miracle-sensation-often-in-their-youth-compared-to-Mozart-although-they-will-never-compose-a-note-or-even-make-themselves-vulnerable-enough- to-have-something-to-say-at-a-creative-level, more of these wonders than you have of Rameau. I don’t think you can take Rameau out of classical music and have it remain the same, have classical music not suffer loss, given everything he gave to it, but you can take each and every new sensation making the round of concertoes, and mostly there would be hardly a wisp of difference at all for classical music. It might even be improved. And then for Fanny Mendelssohn there are maybe less recordings.
    I can remember only ONE performer, someone I wouldn’t bother by mentioning her, saying that who she performs will be remembered long after she’s gone, and that it’s not about her. Not that it’s necessarily about the composer either, it’s about music itself which gives a home to part of the human condition where anyone can find nurturing they wouldn’t have otherwise had in life, something I don’t see politics (the military industrial complex and jails) doing. And then someone (whoever that is, might exist might not) at the same level of celebrity as her, but not the same caliber, someone aggressively marketed, says things like: “I would like to become a little more famous”, makes remarks about wanting to leave his mark on the repertoire – I thought that bringing out the essence of the music and what it says about the human condition is a goal rather than leaving one’s mark on the repertoire as if it’s been branded, and I don’t really believe any “great” composer wanted to leave his mark on music rather than just experience it because where such output comes from is way more involuntary than that, like breathing, your heart beat or fascination – he says puzzling things like the man on the street knows Beethoven but doesn’t know who he is in some content of who knows what he’s going on about in regards that this is how you market something and he’s going about it and wants you to know he is considering such things because this is what life and joy is about showing how he’s interested in being famous or leaving his mark. It’s amazing he doesn’t go on about how the people on the street know what a dandelion is in comparison to his marks on the concertos. The very thought that Ludwig (or a dandelion or the color blue) would go around with the thought that: “you know, the man on the street knows who I am now.” As if marketing yourself is working with the association in regards to how much people know you in comparison to who knows what (the idea that such numbers add up: the mob going round in circles while the margin actually evolves). Beethoven perhaps has more to say about music itself, being that’s how he survived the trauma of his youth. And then said celebrity spices this up with an image that seems to be promoting that he’s really not into all of this advertising stuff, sort of like your average adolescent who just wants the “normal” things in life, which means a lifestyle whose comfort depends on the whole array of “underdeveloped” countries to sustain it for resources, the same way that he depends on composers and their creative vulnerabilities, while both resources being exploited are being depleted. You just go back in history to see actual creative involvement increase, or forwards from where it started to see how ending up where we are now there’s a spike in performers and what a mark (what a gauge, what a depth of a schism between the source and the exploit) they’ve made on the repertoire while, given the way media image goes, it’s difficult for anyone to make it that’s genuinely creative to honor creativity rather than who knows what that the man on the street will know more than whatever else doesn’t “make it.”. This while they advertise what a difficult life the composers they exploit might have had in not being understood (but now we have miracles drugs for this chimes in the wallstreet drug cartel bubble turning off people’s minds with chemical imbalances they say they are treating as guise for promoting that setting on a washing machine called normal as coming from the state of obliviousness). Anyone with true individuality, or the honesty that’s not playing game theory to make it in corporate media, would have extreme difficulty. And this is no insult to the music that by some miracle has survived, and is still there giving room for an innate part of the human condition otherwise left behind.

    • steven holloway says:

      A miracle of incoherence.

    • Dave says:

      They are called ‘paragraphs.’

    • John Borstlap says:

      Translated, this means: the music business is, most of the times, not about music.

    • Bruce says:


    • El Grillo says:

      In “our” society most people would be quite appalled of Fanny being told that being a woman it would be inappropriate of her to be published, and thus she was to spend her life being a possession of those that are part of the “working” world. But when this same “society” shows the same dismissal of creativity with it’s celebrity racket, as if creativity itself is just a produced commodity that’s to be exploited for the idea that such exploitation is happiness (I’m more famous than the people back in history that built up the whole creative output I’m exploiting, I’ve made my “mark”). On BOTH sides this negates AGAIN what music is in it’s natural state. Music is an innate part of the human condition, it’s where people can go with their emotions and gain perspective, and find nurturing they never got from “society.” A person who might otherwise fail to find their way in life gets the help they need, truly, and it doesn’t have to be part of a religion offering “salvation.” Fanny didn’t push that to the side. And whether she was part of the music “business” then or is even recognized like she logically should be now doesn’t destroy or change that. That’s part of a whole other world intangible to such “perception” or ego calculations.

  • Petros Linardos says:

    I once looked through a very edition of Fanny Mendelssohn’s piano works, edited by R Larry Todd, a world renowned authority on (Felix) Mendelssohn. To me it sounded like nice music, but nowhere as good as, say, the best of her brother.

    There is one 19th century artist whose work, to my taste, is possibly better than that of any of her contemporaries: sculptor Camille Claudel. Was there really any equivalent of Camille Claudel in composition before the 20th century?

  • Luigi Nonono says:

    Marie Antoinette composed a very decent and moving song.
    Pauline Viardot composed art songs, and I believe Maria Malibran did also.
    Sophia Dussek supposedly composed a number of harp pieces formerly attributed to her husband, the genius J. L. Dussek. To be professionally active as a composer does seem to bear some correlation to social position.
    But after Mrs. Beach, there have been a number of successful woman composers, and it is tiresome to see them ignored for the sake of a dishonest political argument. Who is advocating for Louise Talma? Does Tailleferre even need advocating? Anyone who loves classical music only cares about its quality. The fact is, ONLY WOMEN have gender-discriminating performing groups, funding programs and opportunities. There are NONE that are male only. I am sick of this dishonest hypocrisy. And, like anyone else, women need challenging in order to possibly become great. If they deny themselves challenges, they only weaken themselves.

  • Bruce says:

    I’m not sure where the angst about women composers comes from in this thread.

    Seeking out neglected/ lesser-known composers and recording their music is not exactly a new and shocking activity (even if they were talented but not great). What’s the big deal about another Fanny Mendelssohn CD?

  • David R Osborne says:

    Indeed a work of genius. Dare I say it El Grillo is a veritable literary Stockhausen!

  • El Grillo says:

    By the way, this is not how you argue anything to make sarcastic remarks that it’s incoherent or crazy, and then offer no refutation or counter point of things stated. What I think is incoherent is dismissing anything that goes against the grain of what’s considered normal, exactly how Fannyw as treated because she still wanted to have her music published as a woman.
    Although there still are countries and religions with the ideology that women should stay in the house and not be part of “the world,” that isn’t the case in the mainstream culture that would be called the music business (although women aren’t necessarily seen as equal to men still), but creativity is dismissed in a different manner, and perhaps overlooked as much as it was then regarding women.
    I still find if quite humerous how a new performer just about always makes his or her marks by recording the same array of concertos (or opera roles) that the majority of performers before them have recorded. It’s like walking through the grocery store isle where you have umpteen brands of potato chips or corn flakes. And most of the money goes into pampering the idea that that’s making your mark rather than promoting creativity. And the games the music business plays with making that out to be the glory of glories exploits a source of creativity that arguably wouldn’t be there if conditions were the same back when it did emerge by some miracle. This along with personality cults aggressive celebrity status promotions and taking over areas of marketing as if it’s about territories and the power of a corporation rather than about music. And then also promoting how great the music is that is exploited, and how little said composers were understood in their time, while promoting a celebrity culture and image game that would arguably prevent those said composers from ever being recognized at all was that how things were back then.
    For someone to say they want to be as famous as Beethoven, who the man on the street knows (as if Beethoven is about being famous), this is like saying you want to be as famous as air and in the process more famous than music itself, which seems to often then be the result. When music is treated as the consumption – the sensual exploit, the stimulant, the drug it’s made out to be the way the music industry promotes it currently – then it ceases to be what it is in it’s natural state, the same as so many other things turned into commodities in an age when probability theories are used to determine markets and turn people into commodities themselves as consumers. And music that’s simply music doesn’t have that addictive quality turning it into such a commodity.
    Fanny Mendelssohn seems to be right at the epox when such consumer oriented mania was beginning to take more hold, and she was less involved with it than the rest, leaving her music uinque, with an innate vulnerability that’s missing in much of the rest of the romantic period. And when the romantic and the post romantic period was over, the scourge started where the music business turned music into a consumption more than anything creative. And anyone that still honors music for what it is, something worth allowing to be a the resource that by it’s very nature nurtures the human condition for everyone, and does this despite what the business says or not caring to have anything to do with it, they’ve done more for music regardless if anyone ever knows who they were.