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Fanny Hensel: The Mendelssohn Sister 

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Many topics came to mind when I needed to choose a topic for Music History. One topic I found interesting was Fanny Hensel. As I was doing my research, I found myself digging deeper into her Fanny’s life because I wanting to know more about her. When I was reading something interesting, it peaked my interest and then I realized I was searching up something else about the Mrs. Hensel. My research is a little bit of everything, some in which include her history, her music and random interesting facts. As you read, I hope you will learn as much as I was able to, or at least something new from my research.

First and foremost, I will start off by giving you a little history lesson about Fanny Cacille Hensel. Fanny was born November 14, 1805 and died May 14, 1847 in Germany. Making her 41 years of age. You may also know her by a different famous last name. Mendelssohn. Fanny Mendelssohn. Hensel being the name she took when she married Wilhelm Hensel, who was a Prussian court painter. She is the older sister of four siblings, one of which being the other famous composer and musician in her family, Felix Mendelssohn. Both were well-off musicians because they had financial support from their parents. The big difference between the two is Felix was making a living with music, while Fanny was not, even though she was composing her own compositions. Their father, Abraham, stated in a letter “Music will perhaps become his profession, whilst for you, it can and must only be an ornament, never the root of your being and doing”. Even though Fanny Hensel turned out to be a wonderful musician, Abraham did not want her to make a career with music and make it more of a hobby than anything else. Their family standing was too important for her to make a living with music. At a young age, Fanny was a child prodigy being taught piano by her mother, Leah Solomon Mendelssohn. Fanny’s mom said that she had “Bach fugue fingers”. This comment reflects her passion and comparing her musical abilities to J.S. Bach. She also had J. S. Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier memorized at an early age of 13. Fanny had quite a bit of talent.

Fanny Hensel was a fabulous composer and musician for her time, especially being a woman. She had composed over 460 works for piano and song, but sadly most of them she did not have published herself. “A number of her works were originally published under Felix’s name”. One of these works was going to be performed by Queen Victoria, who sang a piece thinking it was composed by Felix. But Felix felt embarrassed and disclosed to the queen that he did not compose the piece, but his sister had. Shortly after, the queen decided to choose a different song to sing, one by Felix not Fanny. Even though Fanny was a fabulous composer, Felix was seen as a better composer and musician than Fanny. But Felix thought otherwise. Felix even “readily admitted that his sister played the piano better”. People most likely cherished him and his music over hers because he made a living with music and she did it as a hobby.

Now, Fanny and Felix’s music could easily be confused with one another. They are similar, but different. Also, it does not help that some of her compositions were published by Felix. Every composer has a certain way they compose music. She has a similar music style as her brother, Felix. Her music was filled with passion and emotion with wonderful melodic lines. She and her brother believed music could provide the same emotions and outcome as ones with words. Also, music could express what words could not. With this in mind, Fanny wrote multiple compositions in the style of a lied, which is just another name for a german song usually written during the romantic era, typically for a soloist with piano accompaniment. Lieds were starting to grow in popularity, especially during this time. She titled several of her lied’s “Songs without Words,” which these compositions “demonstrated the beautiful romantic qualities of her music”. People all over loved her compositions, and even today they continue to cherish her works.

We know Fanny Hensel was looked down on making money being a musician. But she was allowed to perform pieces in her performance hall in her house. With a performance hall, called Salons, in their house. The performance hall in their house was called Sonntagsmusiken, which they were first established around 1820. You would think the area would be small, but in fact, it was very big. It could sit 300 to 400 of her closest friends and family, which it is amazing she has enough people to fill that performance hall. To be able to attend these performances, you would need to receive an invitation, which means the audience was hand-picked. Over the years, they became more popular and increased in attendance. Some of the attendees, who often attended, were Clara Schumann and Franz Liszt, who are also well-known composers and musicians. In the Salons, she played her compositions and had her own little performance since she wasn’t professional. Her brother, Felix, performed at the Salons at a young age as well. It is where they both received their first musical performance activities. Pieces such as Notturno in G minor were often performed at the salon. Later on when Felix Mendelssohn left to pursue his own path, these concerts discontinued until Fanny started the concerts back up after she married Wilhelm Hensel. These concerts were phenomenal and adored by many. To be exact, a reporter stated they were “a musical festival of the most unusual sort, in in which meticulous interpretations of classical works of former and current times could be heard and the pleasure was enhanced by the performances or were presence of the very best Berlin musicians or those from elsewhere who visited our city”. They continued to grow and gained admiration year after year with her performing compositions of her own.

Composers, all around, have certain pieces they are remembered by. Just like everyone else, so does Fanny Hensel. She has a few selections that are her best compositions. Some of their titles include Das Jahr, Overture in C, Bergeslust, and String Quartet in E major. Each of their compositions are astonishing in their own little way and have some significance. Das Jahr, translating to “The Year,” was written while the Mendelssohn family spent time traveling all over Italy. They were a collection of pieces written about each month of the year. Each month having its own musical work. Overture in C is the only orchestral work known composed by Fanny. Bergeslust was a short lied written on May 13th, 1847. Sadly, this work has more significance than being a great composition during her lifetime. As you recall from her dates of life, this is a significant day. This was “just one day before Fanny Mendelssohn unexpectedly died of a stroke”. String Quartet in E major is another spectacular work Fanny had composed. In her string quartets, she put a lot of emotion into them. The sequencing is phenomenal, with it being passed from one instrument to another. When the second movement comes in, it is lively and has many characteristics of the Baroque composers had. But even though we are in a different time for composing, that does not mean we will not see similar qualities in the style of music being written.

Like all stories, they come to an end at some point. Fanny was a miraculous woman and world renowned composer. Sadly though, she died sooner than what everyone hoped. Her death was sudden, and during a rehearsal for one of her concerts performed at the Sonntagsmusiken. She died from a stroke on May 14th, 1847. And on the same year, Felix Mendelssohn’s death soon followed. Fanny lived a wonderful life, even though it was short, and to this day her music will be well-known.

The history and story of Fanny Hensel is quite outstanding! Fanny’s story is unique. She was just a small part of the music world and there are definitely more out there. Fanny will forever be “considered to be one of the most important composers of the romantic era”. It amazes me how much more there is to learn with musics history, especially with how many composers I have yet to learn about and how much the composition of music has developed over time. There were many more composers who are led interesting lives. Also, there is so much more history of music I would love to learn about. But doing research on Fanny Hensel, I got the opportunity to learn more about her. Not only did I learn about Fanny, I ended up gaining knowledge about Felix Mendelssohn and their family. Fanny Hensel has quite a bit of history and there is definitely more to learn about her.

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Fanny Hensel: The Mendelssohn Sister . (2020, October 10). GradesFixer. Retrieved June 27, 2022, from
“Fanny Hensel: The Mendelssohn Sister .” GradesFixer, 10 Oct. 2020,
Fanny Hensel: The Mendelssohn Sister . [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 27 Jun. 2022].
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