Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, a German composer, born in Hamburg, Feb. 3, 1809, died in Leipsic, Nov. 4, 1847. He was a grandson of Moses Mendelssohn. His father, Abraham Mendelssohn, had added the name of Bartholdy to his own, out of regard to his wife, a lady of the Bartholdy family. He became a convert to Christianity, and Felix was brought up in the Lutheran faith in Berlin, where his father had founded with his brother Joseph the banking firm of Mendelssohn and co., still continued by the brothers of Felix. Goethe was foremost among the many distinguished persons who became interested in his precocious genius. He was not six years old when he displayed his skill on the piano. Zelter became his instructor in composition, the concert master Hemming on the violin, and Ludwig Berger on the piano. In his ninth year he gave his first public concert in Berlin, and a year afterward he gave one in Paris. From that time he began to write compositions for the piano, violin, viola, and violoncello; and three of his quartets published in 1824 still hold a place among classical musical works. In 1825 he made a second journey to Paris with his father, who at length determined to let his son devote himself exclusively to music.
He gave successful concerts in Paris in company with Baillot, and after his return to Berlin produced in 1827 his first opera, Die Hochzeit des Gamacho, in which the principal characters of Cervantes's Don Quixote " are introduced. But the music met with a cold reception, and the opera was immediately withdrawn. He now travelled several years in England, France, and Italy. His overture to Shakespeare's " Midsummer Night's Dream," composed in 1826, was received with unbounded admiration. The rest of the music for that play was written by him afterward as an accompaniment to its performance. He spent some time in Edinburgh, and immortalized the popular music of the Scotch bagpipers by his symphony in A minor, since called the Scottish symphony, which was first performed under his own direction by the London philharmonic society. Many other reminiscences of his tour through the highlands are to be found in his compositions and his orchestral pieces. His overture Die Hebridcn reproduces the impressions which the wild shores of the Hebrides had made upon him. He endeavored to establish, in concert with Immermann, musical and dramatic entertainments at Dusseldorf, to consist solely of the most select productions. This enterprise failed, but increased his reputation as a conscientious artist.
His residence at Berlin was embittered by the intrigues of his opponents, and in 1835he accepted the directorship of the famous Leipsic Gewandhaus concerts, which under his care attained to an unprecedented degree of perfection. He was more appreciated in England than in his own country, chiefly on account of his compositions of sacred music. His oratorio "St. Paul," after being produced at Dusseldorf and Leipsic, was performed under his own direction at the Birmingham festival of Sept. 20, 1837, where it was received with great enthusiasm. His fame rests in a great measure upon this oratorio and upon that of " Elijah," which was written for the Birmingham festival, the first performance taking place there Aug. 26, 1846. Mendelssohn had been engaged for nine years upon this composition, and had resigned the post of inspector of music in Berlin in order to superintend its performance in England; and shortly before his death he was again in London to attend the sacred harmonic society's concert at Exeter Hall. He had resumed his place at Leipsic since 1845; and shortly after his return there from his visit to England in 1847, his health was impaired by grief at the sudden death of his beloved sister Fanny Ilensel. A tour to Switzerland for the recovery of his strength brought only temporary relief; a relapse took place soon after his return to Leipsic, and he died in the prime of his manhood from an affection of the brain.
Many of his posthumous compositions have been published, including a fragment of an oratorio entitled "Christus," some scenes of '"Loreley," a romantic opera, the trumpet overture, the 8th book of his " Songs without Words," and the "Reformation " symphony. Among the most famous of his many published works are his music for Goethe's "Walpurgis Night," the "Antigone" and " CEdipus" of Sophocles, and Racine's Athalie, organ compositions, his symphonies, and a great number of admirable sonatas, concertos, trios, etc. In his " Songs without Words" for the pianoforte, Mendelssohn opened a new vein of beauty, and produced an indispensable work for pianists by throwing aside language and replacing it with musical sentiment, at the same time keeping in view the scope and character of the instrument, and inventing charming traits of accompaniment. Mendelssohn's appreciation of dramatic effect, so remarkably displayed in his music to the " Midsummer Night's Dream," led his friends to expect from him important contributions to the lyrical drama; but his admiration for Bach and Handel and the difficulty that his fastidious taste found in obtaining a satisfactory libretto led him to devote himself to other branches of musical composition.
In his oratorios he had the tact to write dramatically, and with freedom from too constant a use of fugue and from antiquated formalisms. Mendelssohn was as much beloved for the beauty of his character as for his genius. His life was comparatively free from struggles and cares, and from his earliest childhood he was permitted to indulge his tastes without hindrance. lie devoted himself exclusively to his profession, with severe study and a serene and dispassionate mind. - His life has been written by W. A. Lampadius (Leipsic, 1848; English translation, New York, 1865). See also " Recollections of F. Mendelssohn-Bartholdv," by Edward Devrient (English translation. London, 1869); Goethe und Mendehsohn, by Karl Mendelssohn (English translation, London, 1872); and Mendehsohn-Bartholdy, Briefe und Erin-nerungen, by Ferrdinand Hiller (Cologne, 1874-English translation, London, 1874).