Felix Mendelssohn: The Beau Brummel of Composers

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On this edition of The Romantic Piano, David Dubal focuses on Felix Mendelssohn, the elfin spirit of Romanticism's wings. Robert Schumann deftly called him the Mozart of the 19th century; Franz Liszt called Mendelssohn Bach reborn; and that supreme cellist Pablo Casals said he was that rare romantic who felt as ease with the mold of classicism.

Felix Mendelssohn was born in Hamburg on February 23, 1809 and died in Leipzig in 1847 at age 38. In Latin, Felix means "happy man," and Mendelssohn's music often shines with a unique and shimmering glow of high spirits.

Among the great composers, Mendelssohn was the only one born to real wealth. He came from a prominent family. His grandfather, Moses, was a famous Jewish philosopher; his father, Abraham, was the head of a major Berlin banking firm. His mother, Leah, a sensitive and discriminating woman, was an excellent pianist. And his sister, Fanny, developed into an outstanding musician alongside their brother Paul and sister Rebecca.

As a boy, Mendelssohn was modest and amiable. He grew up in a fairy land of high culture. The family lived quite literally in a palace situated on a large estate in Berlin. Each morning, the Mendelssohn children rose at 5:00 to begin their arduous daily regimen of languages, literature, drawing, fencing and other skills. Mendelssohn himself became a polished dancer, a master of chess and billiards, a daring horseback rider, a tireless swimmer, a talented draftsman and watercolorist. He was also one of the most captivating letter-writers of the 19th century.

He had everything, including good looks, and the charm of a born courtier. All doors were open to him, and at the age of 12, he was the invited guest at Wiemar of Germany's greatest cultural hero, Johann Goethe. The beautiful and modest boy wrote home, "think of it, every morning I get a kiss from the author of Faust and Werther. I play to him for hours, many Bach fugues."  By the age of 14, he had entered a style that was already representative of his airy genius.

By Mendelssohn's adulthood, the piano had entered its full stage of maturity.


Fantasia for Piano in F sharp minor, Op. 28 'Sonate écossaise' / Shura Cherkassky

Lieder ohne Worte: Op.19 No.3 'Jagerlied' / Ignaz Friedman

Rondo capriccioso, for piano in E major, Op. 14 / David Bar-illan

Lieder ohne Worte, Op.102 - No. 5. Allegro Vivace In A 'The Joyous Peasant' / Myra Hess

Etudes (3) for Piano, Op. 104b: No. 3 in A minor / Vladimir Horowitz

Prelude And Fugue in E Minor, Op. 35 No. 1 / Julius Katchen

Sonata for Piano no 1 in E major, Op. 6; 4th movement / Karl Ulrich Schnabel

Three Etudes, Op. 104, B Flat minor / Constance Keene

Fanny Mendelssohn-Hensel: Prelude and Toccata / Joanne Polk

Fantasies or Caprices (3) for Piano, Op. 16: no 2 in E minor, Scherzo / Ignaz Friedman

Fantasies or Caprices (3) for Piano, Op. 16: no 2 in E minor, Scherzo / Benno Moiseiwitsch

Midsummer Night's Dream, Op. 61: Wedding March / Vladimir Horowitz