Monday, 6 March 2017


Fanny Mendelssohn (Hensel)
A live performance of ‘Ostersonate,’ penned by early 19th century composer and pianist Fanny Mendelssohn (sister of Felix) some 189 years ago in Berlin, is set to take place this Wednesday, March 8 at the Royal College of Music in London in celebration of International Women’s Day.

UPDATE: MARCH 8 2017: listen to the program on BBC3 RADIO now - available for the next 29 days:

The previously long ‘lost’ work – an Easter Sonata - first mentioned by Fanny in a private diary entry in 1829 (in which Fanny states she had performed it “at home” in April of that year), has only ‘resurfaced’ once before – in 1970 in France, when it was erroneously recorded under the authorship of the more famous of the siblings - in brother Felix, only to quietly disappear once more from the romantic era repertoire.

The sonata would be tracked down in 2010 by Duke University Graduate Student Dr. Angela Regina Mace in the possession of a private collector.[1] Mace immediately recognized the handwriting on the manuscript to have belonged to Fanny. She would go on to cite the appearance of multiple corrections to the score by the same hand as being indicative of live, on-the-fly edits by an original composer, rather than by the hand of one taking dictation.[2] Mace would also make note of the recurrence of several stylistic elements unique to the sister Mendelssohn scattered throughout the manuscript.

Armed with Mace’s recent discovery, Sheila Hayman, third great granddaughter to the Mendelssohn’s, urged London’s BBC3 Radio to be the first to première the Ostersonate – accredited with it’s original author – to Britain and the greater musical sphere – a request the radio station gladly took on to help celebrate Western Classical Music’s previously ‘unsung’ female composers. It is scheduled for a lunchtime performance, around 1 PM, and can be streamed live online for those listeners residing outside of Britain.

Watch the video below to hear a preview of Ostersonate, and a brief summary of the works’ history/authorship (Duke University):

Did You Know?

It was not uncommon for the era in which Fanny lived (early 19th century) for female composers and musicians of note to be suppressed by musical society and/or overshadowed by their immediate male kin. Whilst a woman of lower class was expected to be well read and well versed in the arts, literature, and particularly in music (all of which served as great boons to a potential husband), female musicians were routinely shunned from seeking public recognition or fame (the Mendelssohn’s father, Abraham, would famously inform his daughter in a private written exchange 
“Music will perhaps become (Felix's) profession, whilst for you it can and must only be an ornament…”
Muse-ical kin: Fanny would famously provide counsel for Felix on his
upcoming projects, and even published her own compositions under his name.
Many a female composer/musician would serve as ‘ghostwriter’ – even as a private consultant – to her male peer throughout his esteemed career, a historically un-thankful task for women in possession of such talents (examples of this can be found in Felix Mendelssohn’s 8th Opus (12 Gesänge, no.’s II, III & XII) and 9th Opus (12 Lieder, no.’s VII, X, XII), all of which were attributed to the composer, but in reality penned by Fanny, who had the works published under her brother’s name as a means to see her music in print - albeit vicariously -  though Felix.

Wish to learn more about the discovery of the Ostersonate, and the highly complex, allegedly quasi-incestuous relationship between Felix and Fanny Mendelssohn[3]?

Read Dr. Angela Mace’s Dissertation on the siblings Mendelssohn below (eternal link):
...and take a gander at UCLA Professor David Warren Sabean’s 1993 article in The Musical Quarterly (*subscription, external link):

BONUS CONTENT: More from Ms. Mendelssohn!  

Enjoy below Fanny's exquisite Notturno in G Minor, one of my favorite pieces by the composer.

This brief Nocturne would have likely served as a staple-piece at the private salon of Fanny and husband Wilhelm Hensel (a painter at the Prussian court). Together, they would host intimate musical gatherings each Sunday, attended by some of Europe's most well respected and accomplished composers. Such notable figures included Hungarian composer and pianist Franz Liszt, and wife to composer Robert Schumann, Clara - successful in her own right as a musician and composer - and whose middle class status allowed her to rise within the upper echelon of high musical society:

[1]The "private collector" would find the manuscript in a Paris bookshop back in 1970 - it had been considered lost for some 140 years prior to his purchase of the music. Fanny had mentioned completing an Easter Sonata in a letter to Felix in 1829 - this, in addition to a mention in her private diary of having performed the piece "at home" that same year.

[2]Apparently, the private collector of the Ostersonate was not at all convinced with Dr. Mace's findings, telling the grad student: "It can't be by's a masterpiece - very masculine, very violent."

[3] an assumption routinely made by music scholars due to the highly romanticized nature of the language employed by Fanny to her brother, which have been preserved in a slew of the pairs’ surviving written exchanges. Although not quite as sexual in tone as can be found in the private exchanges of 18th century Austrian composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart to his 'cozz buzz' (the maestro's nickname for his beloved first cousin) Maria Anna, Fanny's overzealous display of adulation for her brother and despair over her own wedding to Hensel has certainly raised the collective eyebrows of musical scholars studying the siblings Mendelssohn. 


  1. classical_music_fan6 March 2017 at 19:11

    Great! Thanks for this..I will be listening on Wednesday! I confess I am not too familiar with the music of fanny. Her notturno is beautiful..but also familiar to another video (piano) you posted a while back..I cant put my finger on the compser though..any thoughts??

    1. Hello again classical_music_fan,

      Perhaps you are thinking of Nietzche:



    2. classical_music_fan6 March 2017 at 19:22

      Yes!! That's it. The beginnings sound very similar. I wonder if fanny influenced nietszche?

    3. It's entirely possible - Nietzsche was a fan of Felix. There are records of his adulation in print - notably in the philosopher's Der Wanderer und sein Schatten (The Wanderer and His Shadow), in which he writes:

      "Felix Mendelssohn's music is the music of the good taste that enjoys all the good things that have ever existed...He possessed a virtue rare among artists, that of gratitude without arriere-pensee [ulterior motives];"

      and in his 1886 novel "Beyond Good and Evil," in which he states:

      "Felix Mendelssohn, that halcyon master, who, on account of his lighter, purer, happier soul, quickly acquired admiration, and was equally quickly forgotten: as the beautiful EPISODE of German music."

      Had Nietzsche been privy to Fanny publishing under her brothers name, it certainly would not be outside the realm of possibility that the budding philsopher-cum-composer would draw upon her works for influence.


  2. classical_music_fan6 March 2017 at 19:42

    Many thanks!!