Fanny Hensel – Biography

by William Reid

There is no question that Fanny Hensel belongs in the standard repertoire; he is one of the most well-known composers of the 19th century. Even the most devoted classical music enthusiasts are likely to be familiar with the works of his talented sister.

Fanny Hensel, the eldest child in the family, was also a superb pianist and composer; nonetheless, her body of work (which includes over 500 individual results) is rarely performed. Mendelssohn, the daughter of a wealthy German family, showed early promise as a musician.

Her family did not think music was an appropriate profession for a young woman, so although Felix toured Europe with his compositions, Fanny stayed at home and did not pursue it herself.

Fanny Hensel

Class and gender barriers

According to music historian Richard Taruskin, the existence of Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel provides compelling evidence that social prejudice and patriarchal mores—which in the nineteenth century allowed only men the option to decide on the choices in middle-class families—are to blame for women’s inability to “contend” with men on the battlefield of composition.

Fanny – the Unseen Composer

A song by fanny Mendelssohn german composer titled “Italien” was released under her brother Felix’s name. Queen Victoria embarrassed everyone when she started singing “Italiano” at a reception in Buckingham Palace after telling Felix Mendelssohn that it was her favorite song by him. Felix admitted that his sibling was responsible.

About Fanny Hensel and  Felix.

The passion the relatives shared for music served to strengthen their family ties. Her father organized a series of Sunday concerts (Sonntagskonzerte) at the house of relatives located in Berlin for Fanny and her siblings to enjoy, and then after 1831, Fanny continued the tradition.


Fanny stated this sentiment in the year 1822, and at that time she was 17 years old and Felix was just 13 years old “I have Felix’s absolute confidence regarding the latest time or moment. I have witnessed his steady improvement in skill and might perhaps take some credit for his recent group of events. I have always become his primary musical guide and structure, and he didn’t make a  record of anything without first asking my opinion.”

Fanny Hensel and Felix collaborated from 1826 to 1827 to have six of her compositions published under Felix’s name: its 8-option collection and 3 more in his Option 9 collection. And during 1842, this led to a bad moment when Victoria saw Felix and told him she wanted to sing her favorite of the songs collection, Italien, which he acknowledged was written by Fanny Hensel.

There was an innate musical connection between both of them. Fanny’s insightful critiques of the pieces and works Felix had previously deemed cautious extensively assisted him. Felix gave her Roman wisdom’s goddess name, Minerva, because he relied heavily on her ideas when rewriting.

Their 1840s and ’41s correspondence reveal that both of them were creating scenes for a performance about the Nibelungenlied: Fanny said, “The comparison, with Siegfried’s death, adds an amazing-inspiring finish to the succeeding demonstration.”

Union with Wilhelm Hensel as Husband

She became Fanny Hensel after marrying Wilhelm Hensel in 1829, and the following year gave birth to Sebastian Ludwig Felix Hensel. Wilhelm encouraged his wife’s artistic pursuits, and she regularly had her music performed in a Sunday concert series hosted by the Mendelssohn family.

Her demise

On May 14, 1847, Fanny hosted a rehearsal for a chorus performing a composition written by her brother. As she was conducting the music, she began to experience a loss of feeling in her fingers. She had been through this previously and managed to pull through.

After applying vinegar to her hands to restore feeling, she left the music room and walked to the one next to it. As the choir performed, Fanny exclaimed, “That was fantastic!” from the next room.

The music of Fanny Mendelssohn

Fanny Mendelssohn german composer composed approximately 460 musical works, including a piano trio and multiple volumes of solo piano works. She contributed extensively to the ‘Songs Without Words’ genre, which her brother would go on to make famous. However, some researchers in the field of musicology now credit Fanny with being the first to create this style.

Form and decoration

The influence of Felix’s work on Fanny Mendelssohn german composer has been much discussed, as has Fanny’s influence on Felix, but as R. Larry Todd has mentioned, both composers were profoundly influenced by the composition of Ludwig in that terms i.e. structure, creation, and fugal consequences. For instance, consider the combination of four strings that Fanny has. According to musicologist Stephen Rodgers, the prevalence of triple hypermeter melodies has mainly been overlooked due to a lack of investigation into Fanny Hensel’s music.

He zeroes in on how Mendelssohn adapted duple meter to change the tempo of the melody’s singers and express emotion. He also emphasizes the recurring lack of confidence throughout her lie, noting that this is done on purpose in the given Verlust to show the melody’s themes of variant music categories and the inability to find compassion.

Word painting, an approach to highlighting emotion in the song’s lyrics, is also understood as a usual part of Mendelssohn’s style. Like her teachers Zelter and Berger, she frequently employed a strophic structure in her music, and the piano accompaniments often amplified the audio line. While the foundation laid by her mentors would endure, Rodgers decided that, as her featured style developed and she responded to various aspects of the beautiful text, she moved toward through-created structures.


Half a year to his death, Felix worked to make sure that the sister of fanny received the verification she deserved most during her life by collecting many of the works and distributing them to the broader public with the help of his workers, Breitkopf, and Härtel. In 1850, the distributor started transporting Mendelssohn’s wife fanny Hensel’s previously unpublished works.

Show exhibitions and new accounts began at the end of the 1980s, leading to a greater realization of Fanny Mendelssohn’s music. Andrea Lam gave the world premiere of her Piano’s Easter Sonata on September 12, 2012; the piece had previously been saluted to Felix.

The Number One Album by Fanny Hensel Mendelssohn

At the ripe age of 41, in 1846, Fanny released her first book under her name.

Research into musical history and biography

Throughout that century nineteenth, Fanny had a secondary role in the creators and investigations of the brother Felix, often representing a purported “feminizing” effect that stunted his creativity. The ‘feminizing’ accusation against Fanny faded away, and the standard account shifted in the century twentieth to introduce Felix as asking questions about his sister’s melodic practices and attempting to limit them.

New evidence of an old masterpiece

Experts determined in 2010 that Fanny had written a piece that had been incorrectly assigned to Felix Mendelssohn since the 1970s. On March 8, 2017, for International Women’s Day, the first performance was under her name.


Not one of Fanny Mendelssohn’s compositions was published during her lifetime. Specific excerpts from letters and diaries were published in the nineteenth century, most notably by Sebastian Hensel in his writing on the Mendelssohn family. In 1987, Marcia Citron published an edited collection of her letters to Felix.

Legacy (Google Doodle Celebration of her birthday) 

Since the 1980s, new audiences have discovered Mendelssohn’s music. In Hamburg, Germany, on May 29, 2018, a museum honoring the lives and careers of Fanny and Felix Mendelssohn opened to the public.

On November 14, 2021, Google Doodles appeared across North America, Iceland, Germany, Greece, Ukraine, Israel, Armenia, Australia, and New Zealand in honor of Fanny Hensel’s 216th birthday.

She Also Hosts Salon Shows

The majority of fanny Hensel’s musical activities involved her relatives. She probably wished she could have performed in front of an audience. But at the time, gender norms prevented women from taking the stage as a result of concerts.

There were large rooms in Fanny’s house, which she used for her musical performances. Some of the rooms reportedly have capacities of over a hundred. This opened the possibility of putting on a show without disrupting the established social order. Over time, she amassed a devoted fan base of family and friends who were anxious to hear every new song.

A Look at Fanny Mendelssohn: Facts You Probably Didn’t Know

  1. Her mom foretold that she would become a famous scientist.

Lea’s mother was a pianist and composer who honed her skills by playing Bach’s music. It was surprising to learn that the daughter had exceptional piano skills. Fanny memorized all of “The Well-Tempered Clavier” and gave it to her father as a birthday present because she was so brilliant at it. She improved day by day till she reached her maximum potential. It’s safe to assume that her mom was pleased with her daughter’s accomplishments.

  1. The night before the wedding, she wrote a song.

Felix, her brother, had promised to write her a wedding song but had yet to do so. Although Fanny’s anger at her brother was understandable, legend has it that she wrote her wedding song in the wee hours of the morning without bothering to revise any of the drafts. Surprisingly, she could impress her husband with her composition, and he really liked it. Family and friends were astounded by the timely composition that was perfect and appropriate for the event.

  1. She posed for Wilhelm Hensel’s iconic picture of the biblical figure Miriam.

The biblical tale of the Israelites fleeing Egypt is shown in a well-known painting by Wilhelm Hensel titled “Miriam’s Songs of Praise.” After overcoming the dangers of the Red Sea, Miriam is depicted serenading with her musical instruments. The likeness was based on Wilhelm’s wife,  fanny Hensel. Afterwards, Hensel saw Queen Victoria, who praised Miriam’s likeness in the picture. The Queen purchased the painting for an emerald and diamond ring.

  1. She forced Felix to meet Queen Victoria in a humiliating situation.

Similar to his talented sibling fanny Mendelssohn german composer and, Felix composed music of high calibre. Felix was eventually asked to perform for Queen Victoria, which he duly did. The Queen herself chose one of the pieces and praised the composer. And then she asked Felix where he got the song’s inspiration from. However, the music the Queen had chosen was written by his sister, Fanny. An unpleasant exchange ensued after Felix revealed that his sister was the piece’s creator.

A few of Fanny Mendelssohn’s finest pieces

When listening to her music, I often wondered what she could have accomplished if she had been freed from the constraints of social norms. Even if she composed two cantatas, one wonders how an oratorio would have fared in comparison. She managed an overture for orchestra; could her work have evolved into an opera? Listed below are six pieces by Fanny Mendelssohn that are a testament to her quiet brilliance.

  1. Fanny Mendelssohn’s most personal work, the Notturno in G minor

Not because of a lack of desire on her part, but instead because of her social status, Mendelssohn often composed on a small scale. Fanny was supposed to stay at home and entertain people from the right social circle, while her brother was allowed to travel and perform his orchestral pieces at concert halls.

After marrying Prussian royal painter Wilhelm Hensel, she began hosting a series of successful Sunday salon performances, at which luminaries such as Franz Liszt and Clara Schumann frequently appeared. This contemplative Notturno would have been a frequent selection during those parties.

  1. Bergeslust

Shortly after fanny Mendelssohn german composer’s untimely death from a stroke while rehearsing one of her brother’s oratorios on May 14, 1847, the composer wrote this lied. Felix mourned her loss and worked with her bereaved husband to get several of Fanny’s works published after she passed away.

Felix paid tribute to his sister by naming his sixth String Quartet after her, but he passed away just six months after she did. Fanny’s final composition is a lighthearted song for soprano and piano based on a poem by German Romantic poet Joseph Freiherr von Eichendorff.

  1. Cantata on the Life of Job (Hiob)

Fanny Mendelssohn rarely composed large-scale choral pieces, and this is one of the few. The eloquent poem is drawn from the Book of Job in the Old Testament and was written by the composer in 1831. Mendelssohn’s mother noted that she was born with “Bach’s fingertips,” The composer’s influence may be heard in the piece’s contrapuntal vocal parts and upbeat strings.

Some extraordinary events greatly influenced the life and career of the well-known German composer.

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