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Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel (1805-1847)

Born November 14, 1805
Hamburg, Germany
Died May 14, 1847
Berlin, Germany
Nationality German
Era Romantic

Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel was the oldest child in a well-known family of German-Jewish intellectuals. During her life, her family converted to Lutheranism, though she continued to identify as culturally Jewish. She was particularly close with her younger brother, Felix. They pushed each other to new musical heights, actively critiquing each other’s works and assisting with performance. However, Felix adamantly opposed the publication of Fanny’s music, believing it to be unacceptable for a woman to make money off her musical talent. She acquiesced for a time, but later in life, she did begin to publish her music. Fanny was quite influential in the development of German salon culture, frequently performing her own works alongside those by Mozart, Handel, and Bach. She rarely performed in public. While most of her extant output is petite in nature (lieder, piano character pieces, etc.), she did compose some large-scale dramatic works. Very little of her music was published during her lifetime and musicologists are now coming to discover that a number of works previously attributed to Felix might well have been penned by Fanny! Her music is known for its intense lyricism as well as the neo-baroque compositional procedures used throughout; like her brother, she was very interested in music history (particularly the music of Bach).

See Also:
Marcia Citron. Gender and the Musical Canon. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993.

Marcia Citron. “The Lieder of Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel.” Musical Quarterly 69 (1983): 570-93.

Marian Wilson Kimber. “The ‘Suppression’ of Fanny Mendelssohn: Rethinking Feminist Biography.” 19th-Century Music 26 (2002): 113-29.

Sarah Rothenberg. “‘Thus far, but not farther’: Fanny Mendelssohn-Hensel’s Unfinished Journey.” Musical Quarterly 77 (1993): 689-708

Françoise Tillard. Fanny Mendelssohn. Translated by Camille Naish. Portland, OR: Amadeus Press, 1996.

R. Larry Todd. Fanny Hensel: The Other Mendelssohn. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010.

“Fanny and Felix” article by Sheila Hayman