He is seventeen years old, and it is summer. Summer of 1826. A glorious summer spent in the garden with friends. They play, flirt, read each other stories. Novels by Jean Paul and dramas by Shakespeare, which had just been published for the first time in German translation. As the Mendelssohn family chronicle later records: “By a singular coincidence, in that very year 1826, in their lovely garden, favored by the most beautiful weather, they themselves led a fantastic, dream-like life.
The whole life had undoubtedly a higher and loftier tendency, a more idyllic coloring, more poetry than is often met with.” During this summer in Berlin, seventeen-year-old Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy writes what would become one of his most enduringly famous orchestral works. Sun, colors, games, falling in love, Shakespeare. The young composer weaves this summer into his music. A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Incidental music to Shakespeare’s comedy. The composer’s orchestral tapestry sounds just as light-footed, playful, and magical as Shakespeare himself. And right in the middle, the teenage composer inserts a stroke of genius: the Wedding March.
Mendelssohn is thus a supremely talented musical early starter, whose brief lifetime earns him a chapter in musical history not only thanks to his genius as a composer - he also sets new standards as a conductor, pianist, and organist. Moreover, he brings the music of Handel and Bach, nearly forgotten at the time, before the public once again, and is thus one of the founding fathers of historical musical revival.
Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy is born on February 3, 1809.
The Mendelssohns are a wealthy middle-class Jewish family, but the children receive a Christian upbringing and are baptized as Protestants.
Felix has three siblings, including Fanny, highly musical herself and a composer, who was born in 1805 and known as Fanny Hensel after her marriage in 1829.
Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy makes his first public appearance as a nine-year-old pianist.
At the age of eleven he starts composing at a breakneck speed; in the year 1820 alone, he pens nearly 60 works.
The first of many concert tours takes the young musician to London in 1829. His concerts, where he also conducts his own works, meet with enthusiastic acclaim.
In 1829 Mendelssohn leads a public performance of an abridged version of Johann Sebastian Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, specially arranged for the occasion. It is the first revival of the Passion since Bach’s death.
In 1835 he conducts his first concert as Kapellmeister of the Leipzig Gewandhaus.
On March 28, 1837 he marries composer Cécile Charlotte Sophie Jeanrenaud, with whom he has five children.
In 1843 Mendelssohn founds Germany’s first conservatory in Leipzig.
On November 4, 1847 Mendelssohn dies after several strokes at the age of only 38.
Did you know?
In 1821 the 21-year-old Mendelssohn visits Johann Wolfgang von Goethe in Weimar. The poet is impressed with the young pianist’s improvisational skill.
Mendelssohn’s fans include French composer Hector Berlioz, who exchanges his conductor’s baton with Mendelssohn’s when he is invited to Leipzig in 1843.
Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy and his sister Fanny are buried at the Dreifaltigkeits-Kirchhof I cemetery in Berlin-Kreuzberg.
In 1892 a statue of Mendelssohn designed by Werner Stein is unveiled in front of the Leipzig Gewandhaus.
The Nazis remove this statue in 1936 while the city’s mayor Carl Goerdeler is travelling abroad. Upon returning, Goerdeler joins the German resistance.
In October 2008, a copy of the statue is erected in front of Leipzig’s St. Thomas Church.
In 2009 a new musicologically-based catalogue of works - the Mendelssohn-Werkverzeichnis (MWV) - is published by the Mendelssohn Research Center of the Saxon Academy of Sciences, with 750 compositions in 26 groups.