Piano Street Magazine

Belated London Premiere for Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel on International Women’s Day

March 8th, 2017 in Piano News by | 5 comments

As part of its special day of programming for International Women’s Day (8 March 2017), BBC Radio 3 broadcasted a live performance of the Easter Sonata, a major piano work which until recently had been attributed to Felix Mendelssohn, but is now proved to be the work of his sister Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel.

Fanny Hensel

These days Fanny Mendelssohn is considered to be as worthy of study as Felix, but in her lifetime she was barred from composing by her father, who said a public career was unsuitable to her sex.
“She was an amazing woman, who persevered despite complete discouragement,” her great-great-great granddaughter Sheila Hayman told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
She explains to Mishal Husain how, “despite complete discouragement”, Fanny overcame the attitudes of the time to compose 500 pieces of music.
“When she was 14, she learnt all of Bach’s 48 preludes and fugues off by heart – which is quite a thing – and her father’s response was to say, ‘That’s all very well, dear but you’re a girl, so you can’t be a musician… You’ve got to stay at home and make the lives of men better.'”

Fanny_Mendelssohn Ostersonate

When The Easter Sonata was discovered, the manuscript was marked “F Mendelssohn,” and many concluded it was by Felix. American Mendelssohn scholar Dr Angela Mace Christian proved otherwise after gaining brief access to the original, privately-owned manuscript in 2010. By comparing the handwriting to Fanny’s, analyzing the notes and alterations, and matching the page numbers to a missing section in an album of Fanny’s music, she was able to prove that the sonata was her work.

Podcast by BBC 3: How Fanny Mendelssohn fought sexism with music

Listen to the Easter Sonata!

Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel’s piano sonata was performed in the “Women in Music” concert at the Royal College of Music in London by Sofya Gulyak – the first female winner of the Leeds Piano Competition.

Listen to a recording of the “Women in Music” concert – live broadcast earlier today by BBC (The sonata starts at 32:40.)

UPDATE (December 2017): Since the radio program is not available anymore, you can hear another recording here. As far as we know the score is not yet published.

More about the initial discovery of the piece:

What do you think of this piece?
Please post a comment below!


Article in The Guardian
Other Piano Scores and recording by Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel

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  • Beautiful! Powerful! Interesting. Having studied the vocal music by women composers from the Renaissance to the contemporary, including by Fanny Mendelssohn, I am particularly gratified to see that researchers now are unearthing yet more of her music, thus vindicating her place in music history! What a wonderful appropriate choice for International Women’s Day!

  • Connie Vellekoop says:

    Lovely, expressive piece — a wonderful example to follow. She didn’t allow prejudices and culture to hinder her composing in the midst of a male-dominated music world. She certainly is a better model of womanhood than some female entertainers who have thought they speak for all women. Thanks for sharing this!

  • Beautiful piano music portrayal of the Passion ! I’m happy to see this article acknowledging the extreme measures this gifted woman went to in order to express her musical ideas as piano compositions.

  • Marijana says:

    She wrote a massive, complex, energetic and adventurous piece.Womans power:)

  • Bravo for Dr. Angela Mace for pursuing this mystery. I think she is to be applauded for her perseverance. It takes courage to go out on a limb… going to another country and also securing a copy of the piece… Awesome. Thanks Angela Mace. Sonya Bennett / Fairhope, Alabama

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