Fanny Mendelssohn (Fanny Hensel) 1805-1847, composer and pianist, was the sister of Felix Mendelssohn.

She was the eldest of a wealthy and extremely cultured family of four children.

As gifted for music as her brother Felix, she received the same musical education and shared the best teachers with him. However, at the age of 14, Fanny had to obey her father in order to devote herself to her home and family and to step aside in the face of her brother's (who was encouraged) public career. However, she remains very close to her brother, whom she continues to counsel.

Fanny married the painter and engraver Wilhelm Hensel in 1829 and continued to compose "for his pleasure", mainly soprano lieder and piano pieces.

She performed his works (published under her brother's name so as not to violate the family ban) at private concerts she organized in the family salon in Berlin (thus showing her talents as an organizer, composer, pianist, conductor and choirmaster).

At the end of 1839, Fanny, her husband Wilhelm Hensel and their only son Sebastian Ludwig Felix spent nine months in Rome, a period that was to prove decisive in the history of music.

She met Charles Gounod, 22 years old, a resident at the Villa Medici, and introduced him to the piano music of Bach, Beethoven and ... Mendelssohn (Felix).

Gounod, an admiring and exalted listener, encourages Mrs Hensel to publish her compositions despite her brother's opposition. It is only one year before her death that Fanny will decide to ignore the family prohibitions.

The discovery of German music is a shock for Gounod, and above all a source of inspiration. The French musician met Fanny Hensel again in Vienna in 1842 and then in Berlin in 1843 where she introduced him to her brother. Felix Mendelssohn's music then became a real model for Gounod.

In May 1847, just as her talent was beginning to be recognized and success was on the horizon, Fanny died suddenly during the rehearsal of one of his concerts. She is 41 years old. Very afflicted, Felix joined her in death six months later, on November 4, 1847, at the age of 38.

Fanny Hensel, considered by some to be the most important woman composer of the 19th century, leaves a considerable body of work: at least 460 pieces (250 lieder, about a hundred pieces for piano or organ, chamber music) of which only a small part has been published.

The texts of her lieder (soprano and piano) are taken from the works of contemporary poets, some of whom frequented the family salon: Goethe (46), Heine (27), etc. Her husband Wilhem Hensel is also the author of about twenty texts.

© Didier Chagnas


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