Also, I like this sonata more than Fanny’s brother’s sonatas...
She had a brother?
Felix Mendelssohn- sometimes not obvious from her name Fanny Hensel (Anna Shelest uses the maiden name in the video). In their youth, Fanny was described as the better player and musician of the two, and as the older sister, Felix trusted her musical opinion and would show everything he wrote to her for approval. But when she was only 15, "her wings were clipped by her father", in Donald Mcleod's words. He wrote to her, "Perhaps music will be Felix's profession, whereas for you it can and must be but an ornament, never the fundamental baseline of your existence and activity. That is why ambition and the desire to make the most of himself in circumstances he deems important are forgivable in Felix, for he experiences it as a vocation. It is, however, no less to your credit that you have always shown your good heart and good sense at these moments, and the joy you manifest when Felix wins applause shows that you would have deserved it equally had you been in his place. Persevere in these feelings and this attitude, for they are feminine, and femininity alone is becoming in a woman."
After her marriage, Fanny started hosting Sunday music salons in her home ("Sonntagsmusik"), where she would play and conduct her own music as well as others'- a revival of a tradition from her father's home. But the limitations posed on her as a woman and the early crushing of her musical ambition made her constantly doubt herself, and she always craved the approval and encouragement from her brother, now one the most esteemed composers and conductors in Germany. When she sent him a string quartet and he criticized the work's "tonal ambiguity" (although conceding that his own work is often guilty of such a fault), she grew depressed and didn't write anything more for ten years. She might have been secretly hoping for him to encourage her to publish, but this encouragement never came. It was Gounod, in Paris, who showed unfailing support to her work, and later the Berlin music enthusiast Robert Keudell, who looked at her work with great interest and offered constructive criticism. In 1846, she finally summoned the courage, without consulting Felix, to publish her music. She wrote to her brother, "I hope I shall not disgrace you all, for I am no femme libre
. If it [my publication] succeeds, I know it will be a great stimulus to me. If not, I shall be at the point where I have always been."
Felix replied, "I send you my professional blessing on becoming a member of our guild. May you know the pleasures of being a composer and none of the miseries. May the public only send you roses, and never sand." He signed, "the fellow tailor, Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy". Fanny wrote in her journal, "Felix has written, and has given me his professional blessing in the kindest manner. I know that he is not quite satisfied in his heart of hearts, but I am glad he has said a kind word to me about it." To her friend Angelica von Woringen, she wrote, "I can truthfully say that I let it happen more than made it happen, and it is this in particular which cheers me [...] If [the publishers] want more from me, it should act as a stimulus to achieve. If the matter comes to an end then, I also won't grieve, for I'm not ambitious." (It is curious and sad to see how much she struggled against the negative implications of publishing for a woman- being "ambitious" and a "femme-libre
Fanny died only one year later. Felix's sorrow was too great, and he, too, died within a few months. His string quartet in F minor
is dedicated to her memory; it might have been the darkest and most passionate work he ever wrote.
(More: BBC Composer of the Week