Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847) displayed extraordinary talent from a young age. As a boy he played the piano, organ, and violin and joined the choir of the Berlin Singakademie. By the age of 12 he had composed a Singspiel, Die Soldatenliebschaft, and shortly thereafter wrote further works for the stage along with string symphonies, choral music and chamber music. His paternal grandfather was Moses Mendelssohn, a philosopher of the German Enlightenment who argued for religious tolerance and advocated the assimilation of Germany’s Jewish population into the culture at large. Mendelssohn’s father, Abraham, converted to the Lutheran faith and had his children baptised. The Mendelssohns cultivated one of the most illustrious salons in Berlin. In addition to composing, Mendelssohn was active as a conductor and was a key figure in the 19th-century ‘Bach revival’. Mendelssohn enjoyed a devoted following in England thanks, in no small measure, to his large-scale works for chorus and orchestra including the oratorios St Paul (1836) and Elijah (1846). He died of a stroke a few months short of his 39th birthday. Among his most famous works are the Scottish and Italiansymphonies, the Violin Concerto and the overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
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