Jakob Ludwig Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy was born on February 3, 1809, to Abraham and Lea Mendelssohn in Hamburg, Germany (Oxford Companion 1162). He was the second of four children, but he was closer to his older sister Fanny than any of his other siblings. The two of them studied music and played together for many years, and Fanny also composed. Several of the Songs Without Words were her works, published under Felix's name because of the family's feeling that it was unbecoming for a woman to engage in public life (Harris 1368).
The family moved to Berlin in 1812, where Felix, at the age of four, began to receive regular piano lessons from his mother. In 1816, Abraham Mendelssohn went ...view middle of the document...
He remained a member for many years, even after he became a tenor at age sixteen (Harris 1368).
On March 7, 1820, Felix's piano piece Recitativo was published. It is his oldest surviving work. From then until he was thirteen, Felix entered a phase of composing in which he mastered counterpoint and classical forms of music, especially in sonata form (Grove Dictionary 135-136).
In November of 1821, Zelter took Felix to Weimar to meet his friend Goethe. Between 1821 and 1830, Felix visited Goethe five more times. During one of these visits, Felix wrote home: “Every afternoon Goethe opens the piano with these words, ‘I have not heard you at all today, so you must make a little noise for me.'” Goethe's philosophical emphasis on the dynamic and productive aspects of art provided an enriching experience for Felix, while Felix increased Goethe's understanding of the music of the Classical period (Harris 1369).
In 1824, Ignaz Moscheles, one of the greatest pianists of his time, visited Berlin and formed a lifelong friendship with Felix. He gave piano lessons to Fanny and Felix during his stay, but he wrote that he never lost sight of the fact he was sitting beside a master, not a pupil. Abraham, not certain that a musical career was right for Felix, took him to Paris in March of 1825 to consult the great Cherubini, who was then the director of the Paris Conservatoire. Cherubini was so taken with the boy that not only did he approve of a career in music, he offered to undertake the boy's further training. Abraham, however, thought the home atmosphere was better suited, and so declined the offer (Harris 1369).
Felix composed the overture to Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream when he was only seventeen years old. From then on, he was composing constantly. He studied at the University of Berlin in 1826 after attending for three years. He did not earn a degree, but he received a far better general education than most musical composers of his time. It was only in 1829 that he definitely decided upon music as a profession (Grove Dictionary 137-139).
Starting in April of that year, Felix went on a three-year tour planned by his father. First he went to England, where he was greeted whole-heartedly, then to South Germany, Austria, Italy, Switzerland, France, then back to London, and finally back home (Harris 1369). He conducted a number of concerts and was the city music director for Düsseldorf for three years (Grove Dictionary 138).
In 1834 he was elected a member of the Berlin Academy of Fine Arts. He became conductor of the famous Gewandhaus Orchestra of Leipzig in June of 1835, and in 1836 he received an honorary Ph.D. from the University. That summer, he met Cecile Charlotte Sophie Jeanrenaud. They were engaged in September and married on March 28, 1837 (Harris 1370-1371).
In 1841, King Frederick William IV invited Felix back to Berlin to become director of a proposed music department of the Academy of Arts. When he finally...