Not that Felix Mendelssohn, as he is mostly known, is unknown – far from it -
any look through a major city orchestra’s seasonal programme will usually have at
least one piece by him. This is because the composer that Wagner and co
thought was too conservative, had a very nice touch as far as accessibility is
concerned. He made tunes that people liked. He was a favourite of Queen Victoria of England.
He is considered to be an Early Romantic.
Born in 1809 to a Jewish family in Hamburg who later renounced their faith and became
Lutherans, he was a considerable child prodigy. He performed his first concert at nine
and wrote his first symphony at fifteen. At sixteen he wrote his String Octet in E flat
Major which is considered to show the full extent of his genius. He met Goethe at this
time who was hugely impressed with Mendelssohn who later set some of Goethe’s
poems to music.
His family’s change of religion didn’t save him from anti-semitism. This was a factor
in Wagner’s critique as well as him missing a senior post in Berlin. Later, under the
nazis, his works would be banned. Berlin’s loss was Leipzig’s gain however but this was
after he began visiting England in 1829 and where he became hugely popular.
After being a conductor in Leipzig he founded the Leipzig Conservatory in 1843 despite
offers and promises, which weren’t honoured, which attempted to lure him to Prussia and
Berlin. He died in 1847 – composer, musician, artist and voluminous letter writer.
Finding Mendelssohn recordings is, of course, a snip – they are everywhere so, what I’ll
do is recommend some particular works …
String Octet in E flat Major
Oratorio – St. Paul
E minor Violin Concerto
The Italian Symphony
String Quartet No. 6
Piano Trio No. 1 in D minor
Die erste Walpurgisnacht (The First Walpurgis Night)
There is much, much, more.