As part of its special day of programming for International Women’s Day, 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.
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.’”
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.
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.)
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