German composer and conductor Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy (1809–47) was, with his sister Fanny, one of the greatest musical prodigies of his time. He later became a pre-eminent figure in German cultural life. His music has been frequently adapted for ballet, most popularly his incidental music for A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1826).
Mendelssohn was born in Hamburg to a prominent Jewish family and was baptized into the Protestant faith in 1816. He studied piano, violin and music theory in Berlin, making his first public appearance in 1818. The premiere of his first Singspiel, Die Soldatenliebschaft, was given on his 12th birthday. Thereafter he developed rapidly as a composer across a remarkable breadth of genres, while also becoming an accomplished Classicist and painter. He made his first visit to Britain in 1829, where he was inspired to write pieces such as Die Hebriden (1830) and forged links that would lead to major commissions throughout his career, including the oratorio Elijah (1846) for the Birmingham Festival. In Germany he was briefly music director in Düsseldorf 1833–4 before becoming music director in Leipzig 1834–46. In 1841 he was granted positions in the Prussian court in Berlin, and split his time between Berlin and Leipzig while continuing to work prolifically in Paris and around Britain. Fanny’s death in May 1847 preceded his own death in November that year after a series of strokes.
Mendelssohn’s extraordinary musical facility is evident in all his music. His greatest works exhibit a unique synthesis between Classicism and the developments of Romanticism.
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