Felix Mendelssohn: 10 Interesting Facts You Might Might Not Know

Written by Dan Farrant
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Born Jakob Ludwig Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy, Felix Mendelssohn was a renowned composer, conductor, pianist, and teacher who lived between 1809 and 1847. He was one of the most well-known musicians in the early Romantic period. He also loved classical models and used them in his own music.

Mendelssohn was born to Jewish parents who were Christian pianists. They took him through his first piano lessons and set the ball rolling. A lot happened during his short career. Let’s learn 10 exciting facts about Felix Mendelssohn that you might not know.

Related: The most famous German composers of all time.

1. He was a rich kid

Mendelssohn was born into a wealthy family. His wealth meant that he did not have many issues to deal with as he moved up his career ladder.

This was in deep contrast with the ideals of Romanticism, which appealed to those members of the society who were suffering. However, Felix was able to fit the bill and wear the Romantic cloak without any issues.

Historians are divided on how he could blend so well with the new style that was against the “nobles and elites” of the society at the time.

It is in this style that he made his most famous compositions.

Related: Read more famous romantic period composers.

2. He was the Queen’s favorite musician

In her words, Queen Victoria described Mendelssohn as “the greatest musical genius that ever lived since Mozart.” She also described him as the most amiable man she had ever met.

The queen considered him as someone who was worshiped by those who knew him intimately and said that she personally admired and appreciated his beautiful compositions.

The queen also described the musician as excellent and revered, a wonderful genius, and one with a great mind, although he had a frail body.

Despite all this, the queen said the musician was simple and modest.

3. Felix wore a coat of many colors

Mendelssohn’s family was predominantly made up of many artists and musicians who excelled in different art forms.

The young Felix was a talented child prodigy who excelled at many different types of art, such as linguistics, athletics, poetry, and painting, among other things.

During his young days, Felix excelled in most of the aforementioned areas. However, his true passion was the performing arts, which he pursued with dedication.

Unfortunately, his exploits in other fields were not well documented, so there is little that is available as a reference.

4. He led a clean, composed life

Cecile Mendelssohn Bartholdy

During the era, most musicians led carefree lives. They would often waste away on alcohol and prostitution.

However, this was not the case with Felix Mendelssohn. He was composed and led a straight, clean way of living.

Felix got married to Cecile Charlotte Sophie Jeanrenaud, a daughter of a French priest, in 1837. The couple had three children and lived a somewhat uneventful family life.

This couple had a short-lived marriage, described as happy and peaceful. Cecile died within a year of his demise.

5. He re-ignited interest in Bach’s music

At the age of 22, Felix Mendelssohn organized a concert that included the performance of Bach’s “St. Mathew Passion.” This piece had not been performed since the composer’s death in 1750.

His performance was a huge success, and the good news spread across the country. He even got requests to perform the song several other times in his career.

Many historians believe that this was the beginning of the resurgence of interest in Bach’s compositions. The fact that Felix led the way in playing the music also inspired other musicians to do the same, further increasing the awareness of Bach’s works.

Bach was a renowned musician of the later Baroque period and an inspiration to many composers over the centuries.

Related: Our list of facts about Bach.

6. Young Felix did not follow all the Jewish traditions

At a young age, Felix did not undergo the traditional Jewish rites of passage, such as circumcision, as any other Jewish boy would do. This was because his father had already denounced the faith.

At this time, the father added Ludwig and Jakob as forenames to his name. However, the musician did not use them at any point.

Felix’s sister Fanny, once wrote to her brother that the family did not like Bartholdy’s name added to his official name.

That is why he was always known as Felix Mendelssohn in all his official correspondence.

Related: 10 Interesting facts about Fanny Mendelssohn.

7. He loved Great Britain

Mendelssohn is said to have visited Great Britain a record ten times. His favorite locations were the islands off the coast of Scotland.

He also made music based on some trips he made to Staffa, which is off the island of Mull and is home to the Fingals Cave. The other location he wrote a song about was the Hebrides Group of Islands, located in the north of Scotland.

Both locations helped him make the “Hebrides Overture” the great composition it was.

In a letter, Felix said that these trips affected his outlook on life and raised his general morale for traveling.

8. Beethoven, Mozart, and Bach inspired Mendelssohn

Mendelssohn aged 12

Felix’s interest in music composition started at the tender age of 12.

It is believed that he had already created over 12 string symphonies by the time he was 14 years old. Most of the symphonies were inspired by Beethoven, Mozart, and Bach.

The young musician continued to refine his art throughout his youth, culminating in the performance of Bach’s “St. Matthew Passion.”

He used to play the songs of the three great musicians when practicing with his piano and other instruments at home under the guidance of his parents.

Related: Our list of facts about Mozart.

9. Antisemitism dulled his star

There was strong antisemitism that spread across the European countries during the period, and the Jewish people lost opportunities to expand.

Those who had already made their money continued to live well but could not progress in the hostile society. This predicament may have stalled Felix’s career at some point in his midlife.

On the other hand, historians believe that there was a revolution in music, with many people accepting later styles of Romanticism rather than a mix of classical and romantic music.

Fortunately, people got to appreciate his music later in the 20th century.

10. He foresaw his own death

Mendelssohn suffered from ill health during the final years of his life.

The music tours and visits across England and Scotland left him exhausted and ill. Without the medical interventions available today, he had gradually become frail.

He suffered a series of strokes, recovering from each of them until the last one that killed him at the age of 38. Interestingly, he had somehow foreseen his death beforehand.

He described death as a place where he hoped there would be music, no sorrow, and he would not have to part with the people he loved. He died not long after making the statement.

Wrapping Up Our List Of Lesser-Known Facts About Felix Mendelssohn

Felix Mendelssohn lived a short but beautiful, fun-filled life, dying in his prime.

During his 38 years of life, he indulged in various activities and his passion was music. Music opened doors for him and allowed him to visit different parts of Europe.

The musician was a Christian and made several sacred songs that drew people into his society and the nobility. A lot of high-ranking people mourned him after he died. Queen Victoria herself was one.

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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.