Fanny Mendelssohn: 10 Interesting Facts You Might Not Know

Written by Dan Farrant
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Born in 1805, Fanny Mendelssohn was a German composer and pianist of the early Romantic era. The sister of Felix Mendelssohn, there are 466 compositions credited to her over her career.

As well as composing she was also known for her performances of works by Mozart, Bach, and Beethoven. Many that heard her perform praised her for her incredible piano playing style. However, she rarely performed beyond her family circles.

The famous German composer had several fantastic and exciting things that shaped her life and music career and propelled her talent through her lifetime. And in this post, we’re going to take a look at 10 interesting facts about Fanny Mendelssohn that you might not know.

1. Her mother had predicted her career

Lea Mendelssohn – Fanny’s Mother

Her mother, Lea, was a pianist and a dedicated composer, having learned the art from studying Bach.

When Lea gave birth to Fanny, she claimed that her daughter would take up her work after her and become a pianist. She even described the newborn as having “Bach fugal fingers.”

Interestingly, the daughter turned out to be very talented with the piano. Fanny was so good at music memory that she presented “The Well-Tempered Clavier” all from memory to her father as a birthday gift.

She got better with each passing day until she perfected her art. Her mother was, undoubtedly, proud of her.

2. She fell in love with Wilhelm Hensel

It seems that the stars were aligning in her favor when she fell in love with another artist, a painter named Wilhelm Hensel in 1821. She was only 16 and he was 17.

The family initially disapproved of the relationship due to the small age difference. She eventually married Hansel in 1829 and took his last name, which is why she is sometimes called Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel.

Her husband claimed that her unlimited practice in music was a precondition for their new union — during that time, societal expectations dictated women to focus solely on domestic roles. With her husband’s support, she was able to lead a prolific music career.

3. She composed her wedding song the night before the ceremony

Her brother Felix had promised to compose a song for her wedding day, but he had not done so.

Fanny, who was understandably upset by her brother, is said to have composed her wedding song hours before daybreak without revising her drafts.

Interestingly, the composition turned out great, and her husband loved it.

The rest of the family and close friends were amazed by the speedy composition that was flawless and relevant for the wedding ceremony.

4. Wilhelm Hensel used her as the model for his famous painting of Miriam from the Bible

One of the famous paintings made by Wilhelm Hensel called “Miriam’s Songs of Praise” depicted the Bible story of the Israelites as they were coming from Egypt.

In the painting, there was an image of Miriam as she played music after crossing the Red Sea. Wilhelm used his wife, Fanny, as a model for the image.

Later on, Hensel met Queen Victoria, who noticed the beauty of Miriam in the painting. The queen bought the painting and paid with an emerald ring and a diamond.

5. She held music events at her salons

Fanny did most of her musical events with family members.

She would have wanted to have a public performance. However, women were not allowed to perform in concerts because of the gender rules that had been put in place at the time.

Fortunately, Fanny had big rooms at her residence where she would perform her music. It is said that some of the rooms could hold more than 100 guests. This created an opportunity to make a performance without upsetting the social order at the time.

With time, she had an enthusiastic group of friends and family eager to listen to her music.

6. She started publishing her music under her name at the age of 40

For a while, her more-famous brother Felix was given credit for her music. Felix Mendelssohn was also a composer who followed in the steps of his mother.

However, at the age of 40, Fanny decided to compose music and publish it under her name.

She wrote a letter to communicate her intentions to her brother. Fanny was aware that her brother would object, but she pushed through her wishes nonetheless

Unfortunately, she died a year after writing the letter and did not publish many songs under her name.

7. She made Felix have an awkward encounter with Queen Victoria

Felix was an accomplished composer who made quality music like his sister Fanny.

At some point, Felix was invited to present some music to Queen Victoria, which he did. The queen selected one of the songs and said that the composition was excellent.

She then went ahead to ask Felix how he came up with the song. Unfortunately, the song that the queen had selected was not his composition but that of his sister Fanny.

Felix was forced to admit that his sister had created the piece, making for an awkward conversation.

8. Her only son was called Sebastian Ludwig Felix Hensel

She gave a very long name to her son, Sebastian Ludwig Felix Hensel. He turned out to be the only child of Fanny and Hensel.

When asked the reason for the name, Fanny explained that she wanted to remember the famous composers that had shaped her music career. These included her brother Felix, Beethoven, and Bach.

She played many of their compositions along with her music and was fond of all three until the time of her death. Unfortunately, the son did not become a pianist like her.

9. She made over 400 compositions in her lifetime

Fanny is said to have made over 400 compositions in her lifetime. This shows the amount of dedication that went into creating amazing songs with her piano.

She is said to have practiced all her songs carefully until she perfected them.

Unfortunately, most of her compositions were lost to the public eye for over a century after her demise.

In the late twentieth century, people began to recall her music and started to appreciate her work. Several of her pieces are still popular around the world to this day.

10. Her death was sudden

On May 14, 1847, Fanny assembled a chorus at her home to rehearse a piece composed by her brother.

She lost sensation in her fingers as she was directing the music. This is something that she had experienced before and recovered from.

She left the music room and went to the adjacent one to apply some vinegar to her hands to get back some sensation. Fanny even yelled that the chorus was great from the adjacent room.

However, moments later, she had a stroke and died before the end of the day. Her brother Felix passed away a few years later with the same condition.

Concluding Our List Of Interesting Facts About Fanny Mendelssohn

Fanny Mendelssohn was an accomplished composer, musician, and music director who made tons of music during her lifetime. It was sad that she passed on at a ripe age when she had matured in music.

Fanny had lived an eventful life where she interacted with the wealthy and mighty and entertained many more at her home.

She and her brother Felix had followed the steps of their mother and became accomplished musicians who had an audience, even with the queen.

Her accomplishments as a female composer resonate up to this day.

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Dan Farrant, the founder of Hello Music Theory, has been teaching music for over 15 years, helping hundreds of thousands of students unlock the joy of music. He graduated from The Royal Academy of Music in 2012 and then launched Hello Music Theory in 2014. He plays the guitar, piano, bass guitar and double bass and loves teaching music theory.