Fanny MendelssohnString Quartet in E flat major, arranged for string orchestra
Fanny Mendelssohn (1805–1847): String Quartet in E flat major (arranged for string orchestra)
The life of Fanny Mendelssohn (later Fanny Hensel) was bound up in many ways with that of her brother Felix, her junior by four years. It also serves as a sad example of how different the paths charted out for women and men were in the bourgeois society of the 19th century. Fanny and Felix were exceptionally close since childhood and were both taught music by composer Carl Friedrich Zelter. Both showed extraordinary talent at an early age, and they actively critiqued each other’s compositions. Yet Fanny was not allowed to develop her talent into a career like Felix; both Felix himself and their otherwise quite enlightened banker father opposed this.
Professional music-making not being an option, Fanny Mendelssohn focused her musical energies on Sunday concerts that she organised at her parents’ home in Berlin. Most of her own works were written for these occasions and are therefore limited to a small number of performers: solo songs, partsongs, piano works and chamber music. The true merits of Fanny Mendelssohn/Hensel as a composer remained unrecognised for a long time, and it was not until the late 20th century that her music became an object of real interest.
Fanny Mendelssohn’s only String Quartet (1834) is one of her major works along with the later Piano Trio (1846). It is cast in four movements in an unusual but balanced structure. Instead of the traditional opening allegro in sonata form, it has a free-form and intensely melodic slow movement in the first position. The second movement is a lively scherzo, with a dynamic fugato as its Trio section. The third movement is the song-like Romanza, which incorporates moments of lamentation and tension. The work concludes with an energetic finale that is not far removed from the musical realm of brother Felix, although it is impossible to determine which sibling influenced which.