Fanny Hensel

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Fanny Hensel, oil painting by Moritz Daniel Oppenheim from 1842

Fanny Hensel (* 14. November 1805 in Hamburg , † 14. May 1847 in Berlin ; native Fanny Zippora Mendelssohn ; baptized Fanny Cecilia Mendelssohn Bartholdy ) was a German composer of the Romantic whose oeuvre - with few exceptions - in 1965 from the family collection of the Foundation of Prussian Cultural property was entrusted. A musical career and publications during her lifetime were largely forbidden by her family.


Fanny Mendelssohn Bartholdy in the year of her marriage (1829), idealizing portrait - drawing of her fiancé Wilhelm Hensel

Fanny Hensel was born on November 14, 1805 as the daughter of Lea , b. Salomon (1777–1842) and Abraham Mendelssohn (1776–1835) were born in Hamburg. She was the older sister of the composer Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy (1809–1847). Fanny Hensel was the granddaughter of the famous Jewish philosopher Moses Mendelssohn and came from a family of musicians on her mother's side. Fanny's mother Lea Mendelssohn, née Salomon, was the granddaughter of the entrepreneur Daniel Itzig . The women of the Itzig family gave concerts as pianists, were members of the Sing-Akademie zu Berlin and knew Ludwig van Beethoven .

Fanny spent the first years of her childhood in her native Hamburg. In 1811 the family moved back to Berlin to escape the repression of the French occupation under Marshal Louis-Nicolas Davout . The Jewish Mendelssohn family had their children baptized Protestants on March 21, 1816 by Johann Jakob Stegemann, the pastor of the Reformed Congregation of the Berlin Jerusalem and New Churches , in a house baptism. Fanny's middle name was changed to Cäcilie, and the addition Bartholdy was added to her family name, which the parents later also adopted. On February 23, 1823, the family received official approval to add the name Bartholdy to their surname Mendelssohn.

Fanny Mendelssohn Bartholdy was married on October 3, 1829 in the Parochialkirche (Berlin) to Wilhelm Hensel , a famous court painter at the Berlin Academy of the Arts . For this purpose she had composed the Prelude for Organ for October 3, 1829 in F major .

Their only son, Sebastian Hensel (1830–1898), was born on June 16.

Musical career

Brother Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy, with whom Fanny had a close relationship throughout his life. Detail from a watercolor by James Warren Childe 1829

Fanny received her first piano lessons from Franz Lauska (1813) and from her mother, who had been trained in the Berlin Bach tradition as a student of Johann Philipp Kirnberger , a student of Johann Sebastian Bach . In 1818, when she was thirteen, she was able to recite all 24 preludes from Johann Sebastian Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier by heart for her father's birthday . In addition, Fanny and Felix received composition lessons from Carl Friedrich Zelter (from 1819). The first known compositions by the siblings were two song settings that they gave to their father for his birthday on December 10, 1819.

In Paris the siblings studied for a short time with the pianist Marie Bigot and then with Ludwig Berger . On October 1, 1820, both entered the Sing-Akademie zu Berlin, headed by Carl Friedrich Zelter. At the end of 1824 they received a few weeks of piano lessons from the virtuoso Ignaz Moscheles on the occasion of his visit to Berlin.

Unlike her brother Felix, the father did not allow her daughter, who was also highly gifted in composing and pianism, to turn her talent into her profession. He put it this way: "Music may become a profession for him [Felix], while for you it can and should always only be an ornament, never the basic bass of your being and doing." Her teacher Zelter wrote to Goethe on February 18, 1831 about her skills as a pianist , in keeping with the zeitgeist of the time, she played “like a man”, which was the highest praise for a woman at the time. When Fanny later worried about the publication of her compositions, father and brother spoke out against printing. This attitude was based on the attitude of the bourgeois academic circles that it was not proper for a woman of her class to make money. It was allowed to give concerts, but not in public and not for money. The printing of notes was also primarily concerned with making money. Hensel wrote to a friend in England six years before her death:

“I didn't compose anything this winter. I don't even know how one feels who wants to make a song […] What is the matter, by the way? After all, no cock crows for it and no one dances to my tune. "

Sunday concerts

Fanny Hensel's music room , Leipziger Strasse 3, Berlin, opaque color painting by Julius Helfft , 1849

In 1823, the Mendelssohn family began the so-called "Sunday music". In the so-called garden hall of their property on Leipziger Straße, works by Bach, Gluck, Beethoven or contemporary masters as well as the Mendelssohn siblings themselves were performed in a semi-public setting - the number of guests occasionally exceeded 300. Among the guests were, for example, Robert and Clara Schumann , Franz Liszt , the violinist Joseph Joachim , the singer Henriette Sontag and the composer Johanna Kinkel . After her brother's two-year educational trip began in 1831, Fanny Hensel took over the sole responsibility for program design, rehearsals, choir and orchestra direction as well as her own solo participation and performance. a. her and her brother's compositions. She also performed Christoph Willibald Gluck's opera Orfeo ed Euridice or the oratorio Paulus by Felix Mendelssohn, the latter in front of over 300 guests. The composer Johanna Kinkel (1810–1858), who participated several times in the 1830s both as a listener and as an active participant in the Sunday concerts, described Fanny Hensel's musical personality:

“Almost all famous artists who visited Berlin appeared on Sundays, either participating or listening to Ms. Hensel. The elite of Berlin society also sought entry there, and the large rooms of the house were mostly overcrowded. Fanny Hensel's lecture was more important to me than the greatest virtuosos and the most beautiful voices I heard there, and especially the way in which she conducted. [...] A Sforzando of her little finger drove us through the soul like an electric shock and tore us away in a completely different way [...] "


Together with her brother Fanny Hensel had famous piano teachers: Marie Bigot , Ludwig Berger and Ignaz Moscheles . As a pianist, however, she rarely performed outside of Sunday concerts. Her few public appearances include the performance of her brother's Piano Concerto No. 1 in G minor op.25 (MWV O 7, 1831) in February 1838. Her outstanding pianistic skills are reflected in her piano pieces, for example in her Piano Trio op.11 in D minor. During her trip to Italy in 1839/1840, she had an artistic exchange with the young French composer Charles Gounod , whom she impressed with a recital of works by Beethoven and Bach and thus brought him closer to examples of German compositional art. Gounod visited her in May 1843 in Berlin.

Shortly before the end of her life, with the help of a new good friend, the young Robert von Keudell , she made the decision to publish some works without her brother's permission and contrary to the family dogma (op. 1–7). These consist largely of piano works, songs for the pianoforte , a piano genre that for a long time was considered exclusively in connection with her brother Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy's songs without words . Fanny Hensel coined the phrase "to sing with your fingers". In addition to her around 250 songs with piano accompaniment, she continuously composed music for her instrument, in which she allowed the vocal setting to flow into virtuosity. Her highly virtuoso piano trio also has a third movement entitled “Song”.


On the afternoon of May 14, 1847, Fanny suddenly died of a stroke. She was conducting the rehearsal for one of her Sunday music, and Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy's The First Walpurgis Night was being rehearsed.

Wilhelm Hensel , who had always promoted and supported his wife's talent for composing, then asked his brother-in-law to publish some of her works (op. Posthumous 8–11). Felix Mendelssohn outlived his sister by half a year. Throughout their lives they had been in close musical, written and personal exchange.


Fanny Hensel: January , composition from the cycle The Year , autograph with an illustration by her husband Wilhelm Hensel, created after her trip to Italy in 1839

She wrote the earliest compositions known by Fanny Hensel at the age of 15. Among her more than 450 works - without sketched or lost works - there are chamber music works, choirs, cantata compositions, scenic works, orchestral music and her songs, "Fanny Hensel's most important creative field alongside piano works", of which she wrote about 250. Only a fraction of it has been published so far; Felix Mendelssohn had the first printed under his name. In his song book Twelve Songs with Accompaniment of the Pianoforte Op. 8 (published 1827) the numbers 2 ( Das Heimweh ), 3 ( Italy ) and 12 ( duet: Suleika and Hatem ) come, in his second song book of Twelve Songs with Accompaniment of the Pianoforte op. 9 (published 1830) the numbers 7 ( longing ), 10 ( loss ) and 12 ( the nun ) come from Fanny Hensel, without her being named as a composer.

The first work printed under her own name appeared in 1834 in the London music magazine The Harmonicon . It is the song Ave Maria based on words by Sir Walter Scott and is named Mad.elle Mendelssohn Bartholdy, now Madame Hensel .

Musicological research has increasingly turned to Fanny Hensel since the 1970s. However, the complete discovery, processing, interpretation and historical-critical publication of their compositions and writings is still pending. Under the conductor and music journalist Elke Mascha Blankenburg , some of Hensel's large-scale works had their world premieres between 1984 and 1987. a. the Overture in C major by the Clara Schumann Orchestra conducted by Blankenburg on June 7, 1986 in the Frankfurt Alte Oper .

The autographs of her works are in the Mendelssohn archive of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation , Berlin and are privately owned.

Works with opus number

The editing of Fanny Hensel's complete works is only in its infancy. During her lifetime, the composer did not begin to add opus numbers to her work until - shortly before her death - she decided to publish it against the will of the family. She came up to opus number 7. Her husband Wilhelm Hensel took care of numbers 8 to 11 posthumously. An exception are six songs with piano accompaniment that appeared in her brother's song cycles in 1827: These are Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdi's songs, Op. 8 and Op. 9. The works Opus 1, which were independently published under their own name from 1846, shortly before her death -7 are also all songs , among them choral songs and for the most part songs without words for piano.

In detail:

  • 1827 [Fanny Hensel: 6 songs] at Breitkopf & Härtel , Leipzig under Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy : op. 8. Numbers 2, 3, 12 and op. 9, numbers 7, 10, 12.

Christmas 1846, Berlin publishing house Bote & Bock, three booklets with selected works

  • Six songs for a voice with accompaniment of the pianoforte , op.1
  • Four songs for the pianoforte, vol. 1 , op. 2
  • Garden songs. Six songs for soprano, alto, tenor and bass , op.3

In 1847 another four booklets were published by AM Schlesinger (op. 4 and 5) and Bote & Bock (op. 6 and 7):

  • Six Mélodies pour le Piano, vol. 1 , op.4
  • Six Mélodies pour le Piano, vol. 2 , op.5
  • Four songs for the pianoforte, vol. 2 , op. 6 with the final piece Il saltarello romano
  • Six songs for one voice with accompaniment of the pianoforte , op.7

After her sudden death, four volumes of posthumous works were published by Breitkopf & Härtel in Leipzig in 1850:

  • Four songs for the pianoforte , op.8
  • Songs with accompaniment of the pianoforte , op.9
  • Five songs with accompaniment of the pianoforte , op.10
  • Trio for pianoforte, violin and violoncello , op.11

Works without opus number

Vocal music: Numerous songs, duets and other solo ensembles. Choral works with and without accompaniment by piano or orchestra, especially cantatas ( hymn of praise , Job , oratorio based on pictures from the Bible: Cantata for the dead of the cholera epidemic 1831 ), dramatic scene Hero and Leander after Schiller, scene from Faust II for female choir and soprano solo with piano accompaniment.

Piano music: Numerous individual piano movements as well as two complete piano sonatas in C minor and G minor; Piano cycle The year .

Chamber music: some pieces for violin or cello with piano accompaniment, piano quartet in A flat major, string quartet in E flat major.

Orchestral Pieces: Overture for Orchestra in C major.

honors and awards


  • Franziska Arndt, Klaus Bechstein, Sigrid Fundheller, Daniel Krebs, Regina Steindl, Wolf Mankiewicz in: 300 Years of the Parochial Church. Contributions to history. Ev. Marien parish, Berlin 2003.
  • Aloysia Assenbaum: To the South, an exchange of letters and 11 songs. An audio book about the Hensel family. Original sound production, Berlin 2005, ISBN 3-9810256-1-X . (Text version)
  • Cornelia Bartsch : Fanny Hensel, née Mendelssohn Bartholdy. Music as correspondence. Furore-Verlag, Kassel 2007, ISBN 978-3-927327-60-3 .
  • Elke Mascha Blankenburg : Fanny Mendelssohn-Hensel. In: Helma Mirus, Erika Wisselinck (ed.): With courage and imagination. Women seek their lost history. Sophia Verlag Erika Wisselinck, Straßlach 1987, ISBN 3-925109-01-3 , p. 92f.
  • Beatrix Borchard and Monika Schwarz Danuser (eds.): Fanny Hensel. Composing between public and private, symposium report Berlin 1997 . Stuttgart 1999, 2nd edition Furore Verlag Kassel 2002, ISBN 978-3-927327-54-2 .
  • Ute Büchter-Römer : Fanny Mendelssohn-Hensel. Rowohlt, Reinbek near Hamburg 2001, ISBN 3-499-50619-X .
  • Thea Derado : Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel - From the brother's shadow. Novel biography. Kaufmann, Lahr 2005, ISBN 3-7806-5304-4 .
  • Margit Erfurt-Freund: Opera aesthetics and salon culture of the Goethe era: Fanny Hensel's Faust composition. In: Music and Scene. Festschrift for Werner Braun on his 75th birthday, Saarbrücken 2001, pp. 299–317, ISBN 3-930843-66-8 .
  • Peter Härtling : Dearest fennel! The life of Fanny Hensel-Mendelsohn in studies and interludes. Kiepenheuer and Witsch, Cologne 2011, ISBN 978-3-462-04312-9 .
  • Martina Helmig: Fanny Hensel, b. Mendelssohn Bartholdy. The work. edition text + kritik, Munich 1997, ISBN 3-88377-574-6 .
  • Sebastian Hensel (ed.): The Mendelssohn family. 1729 to 1847. According to letters and diaries. B. Behrs Buchhandlung, Berlin 1879. (Reprint: Insel-Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 2002, ISBN 3-458-33371-1 )
  • Karl August Horst (ed.), Sebastian Hensel: The Mendelssohn family 1729–1847. After letters and diaries. Alber, Freiburg, Munich 1959.
  • Annegret Huber: The 'song without words' as a cross-art experiment. A comparative study on the intermediality of the instrumental song. Schneider, Tutzing 2006, ISBN 3-7952-1191-3 .
  • Hans-Günter Klein , Rudolf Elvers (ed.): Fanny Hensel. Diaries. Breitkopf & Härtel, Wiesbaden 2002, ISBN 3-7651-0369-1 .
  • Hans-Günter Klein (Ed.): O happy, rich only days. Fanny and Wilhelm Hensel's Italian trip. With the facsimile of the picture pages from the “Travel Album 1839–1840”. Reichert, Wiesbaden 2006, ISBN 3-89500-482-0 .
  • Hans-Günter Klein (Ed.): Fanny Hensel. Letters from Paris. First published according to the sources. Reichert, Wiesbaden 2007, ISBN 978-3-89500-480-3 .
  • Hans-Günter Klein: Fanny Hensel in Rome. Experiences of self-discovery, departure and liberation from social shackles. In: Christina Ujma: Ways to Modernity - Travel literature by writers from the Vormärz. Aisthesis-Verlag, Bielefeld 2009, ISBN 978-3-89528-728-2 .
  • Thomas Lackmann : The luck of the Mendelssohns - story of a German family. Structure, Berlin 2005, ISBN 3-351-02600-5 .
  • Cécile Lowenthal-Hensel , Rudolf Elvers , Hans-Günter Klein, Christoph Schulte (eds.): Mendelssohn studies. Mendelssohn Society, Berlin 1972 to Hanover 2007.
  • Jutta Rebmann : Fanny Mendelssohn. Biographical novel. dtv, Munich 1997, ISBN 3-423-20081-2 .
  • Nancy B. Reich: The Power of Class - Fanny Hensel. In: R. Larry Todd: Mendelssohn and his World. University Press, Princeton 1991, ISBN 0-691-09143-9 .
  • Peter Schleuning: Fanny Hensel nee Mendelssohn. Romantic musician. Böhlau, Cologne et al. 2007, ISBN 978-3-412-04806-8 .
  • Danielle Roster: The great women composers. Life stories. Insel, Frankfurt am Main 1998, ISBN 3-458-33816-0 , pp. 181-200.
  • Monika Schwarz-Danuser: Fanny Hensel. In: Ludwig Finscher (Hrsg.): The music in past and present. Person part. Vol. 11. Bärenreiter, Kassel 2004. Sp. 1538–1540.
  • Sulamith Sparre: A woman beyond silence. The composer Fanny Mendelssohn-Hensel. Edition AV, Lich 2006, ISBN 3-936049-60-2 .
  • Françoise Tillard: The misunderstood sister. The late discovery of the composer Fanny Mendelssohn Bartholdy. Knaur, Munich 1996, ISBN 3-426-75095-3 .
  • R. Larry Todd: Fanny Hensel: The other Mendelssohn. Oxford University Press, Oxford 2010, ISBN 978-0-19-518080-0 .
  • Eva Weissweiler : Composers from 500 Years - A History of Culture and Impact in Biographies and Work Examples. Fischer-Taschenbuch-Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 1981, ISBN 3-596-23714-9 .
  • Eva Weissweiler:  Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, Fanny. In: New German Biography (NDB). Volume 17, Duncker & Humblot, Berlin 1994, ISBN 3-428-00198-2 , p. 52 f. ( Digitized version ).
  • Eva Weissweiler (Ed.): Fanny Mendelssohn. Italian diary. Societäts-Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 1983, ISBN 3-7973-0392-0 .
  • Eva Weissweiler (Ed.): Music doesn't want to slip without you: Correspondence from 1821 to 1846 Fanny and Felix Mendelssohn. Propylaea, Berlin 1997, ISBN 3-549-05528-5 .
  • Robert and Clara Schumann in correspondence with the Mendelssohn family , ed. by Kristin RM Krahe, Katrin Reyersbach and Thomas Synofzik (= Schumann-Briefedition , Series II, Volume 1), Cologne: Dohr 2009, pp. 309-316
Catalog raisonnés
  • Renate Hellwig-Unruh: Fanny Hensel born. Mendelssohn Bartholdy. Thematic index of the compositions. Dissertation TU Berlin 1999. Kunzelmann, Adliswil 2000, ISBN 3-9521049-3-0 .
  • Annette Maurer: Thematic index of Fanny Hensel's solo songs with piano accompaniment . Furore Verlag, Kassel 1997, ISBN 3-927327-40-9 .
  • Hans – Günther Klein: Fanny Hensel's compositions in autographs and copies from the holdings of the Berlin State Library – Prussian Cultural Heritage . (Music Bibliographical Works, Vol. 13). Hans Schneider, Tutzing 1995, ISBN 3-7952-0820-3 .


Music samples

Web links

Commons : Fanny Mendelssohn  - album with pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Peter Schleuning: Fanny Hensel nee Mendelssohn. Romantic musician. Böhlau, Cologne et al. 2007, p. 120 f.
  2. Peter Schleuning: Fanny Hensel nee Mendelssohn. Romantic musician. Böhlau, Cologne et al. 2007, p. 85.
  3. Renate Hellwig-Unruh, 2000, time table, p. 394–400, here p. 94.
  4. ^ Eva Weissweiler: Fanny Mendelssohn, Italian diary. Druck- und Verlagsgesellschaft, Darmstadt, ISBN 3-630-61607-0 , foreword, pp. 5–29.
  5. ^ Letter from the father to the 15-year-old in 1820, see Hellwig-Unruh 2000, p. 394.
  6. See also Women in Music: Sister of a Professional Composer
  7. ^ Eva Weissweiler: Female composers from the Middle Ages to the present . P. 204.
  8. Hellwig-Unruh 2000, p. 398.
  9. ^ Female composers in Berlin . Edited by B. Brand, M. Helmig, B. Kaiser, B. Salomom and A. Westerkamp in collaboration with the Senator for Cultural Affairs of the Berlin University of the Arts, the Sender Free Berlin and the Berlin Artists Program of the DAAD, Berlin 1987, Article Fanny Hensel, pp. 35–72, here p. 43.
  10. The original source for this quote is contained in Johanna Kinkel's diary and in the 2008 book by Monica Klaus: Johanna Kinkel. Romanticism and Revolution , Böhlau Verlag Cologne, etc. indicated under footnote 105. The same book also reveals the period in the 1830s for Johanna Kinkel's presence at the Sunday concerts (pp. 43/44), when Fanny was the sole director.
  11. Hellwig-Unruh 2000, p. 398.
  12. Fanny Hensel: Piano Trio in D minor, op. 11 played by the Claremont Trio on YouTube
  13. Audio sample of Saltarello Romano (1846) with a recording by the pianist Daniela Willimek on YouTube
  14. Hellwig-Unruh 2000, p. 246.
  15. Annette Maurer: Thematic index of the piano-accompanied solo songs by Fanny Hensels 1997.
  16. Renate Hellwig-Unruh: Sketches and Lost Sources and Works . In: Fanny Hensel, b. Mendelssohn Bartholdy. Thematic index of the compositions. 2000, pp. 36-39.
  17. The latter quoted from Annette Maurer, in: Thematic index of Fanny Hensel's solo songs with piano accompaniment . Furore 826, Kassel 1997, ISBN 3-927327-40-9 , p. 6.
  18. Renate Hellwig-Unruh, 2000, p. 397.
  19. 1805 1847 Fanny Cäcilie Mendelssohn Hensel. (PDF; 69 kB) University of Michigan , April 24, 2006, accessed April 5, 2019 (English, list of compositions in chronological order).
  20. Music department with Mendelssohn archive. (No longer available online.) Berlin State Library, February 5, 2004, archived from the original on April 13, 2004 ; accessed on April 5, 2019 .
  21. Renate Hellwig-Unruh 2000, pp. 48–67.
  22. Markus Bautsch: A cappella choirs by Fanny Hensel from 1846. (PDF; 93 kB) In: September 25, 2012, accessed September 11, 2012 .
  23. Renate Hellwig-Unruh 2000, pp. 68–76.
  24. Christoph U. Bellin: Monument to the Mendelssohn siblings. In: November 12, 2008, accessed February 10, 2011 .
  25. The film shows, among other things, stations in Hensel's biography, and Steckeweh plays her piano sonata in G minor.