The Music Corner for Piano Lovers

Unsung Siblings: The Story of Fanny Mendelssohn

21 Jul 2014 News

Reading about our musical predecessors can be extremely inspiring! I find myself returning to practice sessions with greater zeal when I finish a biography of one of my favorite composers. Even more inspiring, however, is the story of unsung composers like Fanny Mendelssohn. Four years older than her more famous brother, Felix, Fanny was unfortunate enough to live in a time when women, in particular those from a privileged background, were discouraged from taking up a profession.

Like Felix, Fanny was a gifted pianist and composer. Her story as told in Gifted Sister is especially poignant. She received the same training as her younger brother, but was told she could not pursue a career as a professional composer. Fanny, however, composed music all her life and held Sunday musicales where her works as well as her brother's along with other works were performed.

Although convinced she had talent, Fanny simply could not bring herself to publish her compositions without her brother's approval. Unfortunately, he never gave it. When she eventually accepted a publisher's offer to publish her compositions, she did it knowing her brother was probably not too happy about her decision. When she died quite suddenly in her early forties, a grief-stricken Felix did attempt to arrange a publication of some of her works.

 Gifted Sister is meant for young readers, and is a well-written and very readable account of Fanny Mendelssohn's life. Older readers will also enjoy this slim biography. Authors Sandra Shichtman and Dorothy Indenbaum write with sympathy and understanding of nineteenth century social mores and strictures, and are careful not to judge or read too much into the kind of expectations the men in Fanny's life - her father and brother, to be precise - had of her. These would have been no different from that other women faced, and, in truth, Fanny may have had a more liberal upbringing than most. Like her brother, she received training in both piano as well as music theory and composition.

The authors also never go too far from their historical sources in attempting to speculate, for instance, on Felix Mendelssohn's refusal to encourage his sister to publish her compositions, although he did write in a letter to his mother that if she ever chose to publish her music, he would support her in every way he could.

Fanny Mendelssohn was so passionate about her music, reading about her life, one can't help being inspired by her passion! If you sometimes find yourself chafing at practice sessions and all of the seemingly dull tasks you need to accomplish at the piano every day, I hope reading this wonderful book will renew your enthusiasm and help you make music!

The book is available on Amazon here: Gifted Sister: The Story of Fanny Mendelssohn



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