Fanny Hensel

Feminale of Music

Portrait of the female composer Fanny Hensel 1842

Fanny Hensel is often called the most important composer of the 19th century. She is granddaughter of the philosopher Moses Mendelssohn. Her younger brother is the equally important composer Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy.

Fanny Hensel was born on November 14th, 1805 in Hamburg, Germany. Hensel's oeuvre includes over 500 compositions of the most diverse genres. One focus is on song compositions and piano works. She also composes several cantatas, an oratorio, an overture for orchestra and various chamber music works, such as a string quartet, a piano quartet and pieces for violin and piano. Together with her brother she develops the new genre »Song without words«. Among her most famous works today are the piano cycle »Das Jahr« and the piano trio op. 11.

Although Fanny, just like Felix, has all the prerequisites for a great musical career, her family does not grant her a public career. First and foremost, she is left with the private space of Sunday music, which she organizes and directs at her estate in Berlin every two weeks. But here too, as a composer, she withdraws from herself and performs her brother's works much more frequently than her own. Other composers she mainly includes in her program are Beethoven, J. S. Bach, Mozart, Haydn and Carl Maria von Weber. Fanny Hensel performs here as a pianist, choir and ensemble leader, in a private, but always large setting. In her diary she notes, for example, that about 300 people were present at a performance of Mendelssohn's oratorio »Paulus«.

Fanny Hensel's died on May 14, 1847 in Berlin, Germany. Her compositional work was rediscovered in the 1980s, largely through the work of the »International Working Group on Women and Music«. Founding member and first chairperson was Elke Mascha Blankenburg. It was under her direction, for example, that Fanny Hensel's »Oratorio after images from the Bible« was performed for the first time in 1984. The premiere of this composition thus took place more than 150 years after its creation in 1831 – Fanny Hensel never heard her own work.

Music pieces

Cholera Cantata, published by and sung by Cappella Clausura conducted by Amelia LeClair, recorded at Eliot Church, Newton, MA on March 31, 2019.

Gondellied, published by Gingerstaebchen and performed by Lan Rao (soprano) and Micaela Gelius (piano)

Sonata in G minor: 2nd scherzo, published by and played by Kyra Steckeweh (piano) to be found on the CD »Vita brevis ars longa«

Il Saltarello Romano op. 6/4, published by and performed by Daniela Willimek, lecturer for piano at the HfM Karlsruhe, CD »Faszination Frauenmusik« Vol. I, piano works by Fanny Hensel, Clara Schumann, Elisabeth von Herzogenberg, Margarete Schweikert, Lili Boulanger, Myriam Marbé, Violeta Dinescu, Grazyna Bacewicz

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