Sechs Lieder, Op. 1 (1846)

In February of 1847, Fanny Mendelssohn wrote in her diary, “I cannot deny that the joy in publishing my music has elevated my positive mood . . . it is truly stimulating to experience this type of success first at an age by which it has usually ended for women, if indeed they ever experience it.” The “success” that Mendelssohn alluded to was the long-awaited publication of her compositions under her own name, a project which she had publicly undertaken for the first time in her life in 1846, at the age of 41, with Sechs Lieder, Op. 1 and Vier Lieder for piano, Op. 2. Before this time, the only musical works of Fanny’s that had been made public were several lieder, published under her brother’s name in his own collections of songs.

 

She was far from a stranger, however, in the world of musical composition, a métier that she had passionately honed since the age of 13. Born into an imminent German family, Mendelssohn received an extensive education, both musical and intellectual, alongside her brother, Felix. While acknowledged to be a virtuoso pianist and talented composer, it was deemed inappropriate and "unfeminine" for Fanny to pursue a professional career in music.

In 1821, her marriage to court painter Wilhelm Hensel solidified Fanny’s primary occupation as a homemaker, wife and mother. Despite these familial and societal expectations, she maintained a deep connection to music throughout her life, albeit in the private sphere, composing more than 450 works, advising Felix in his compositions, and hosting Sonntagsmusiken, or musical salons, on Sundays in her Berlin home. Her music was often premiered at these events, which were frequented by the European cultural and musical elite of the day.

 

Fanny cherished an intimate, life-long friendship with her brother Felix, who privately relied on her ideas and opinions to develop his own compositions, while maintaining stubborn reservations about her foray into the public sphere as a composer. Fanny herself often questioned her own abilities, internalizing the prejudices that were used to demean and diminish her ambition. In writing to a friend about her piece Faust in 1843, she wrote, “Please excuse and censure all the amateurish female snags within; a dilettante is a dreadful creature, a female author even more so, but when the two are joined into one person, of course the most dreadful being of all results. At least so far I have abstained from the printer’s ink; if someone suffers, it is my friends, and why is one in this world if not to be suffered by one’s friends?”

To experience Sechs Lieder, Op. 1 in this context, one sees that its publication was truly a personal triumph for Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel, who ultimately did not “abstain from the printer’s ink” as she had been advised to do all her life. Although she passed away suddenly from a stroke in 1847 after having published her work for only a year prior, she remains to this day, an overlooked, but nevertheless influential and prolific composer of her era, overcoming the pain of self-doubt and the debilitating effects of 19th –Century stereotypes about her identity as both a woman and an artist.

Sechs Lieder, Op. 1 (1846)

i.   Schwanenlied                                                  ii.  Wanderlied

iii. Warum sind denn die Rosen so blass

iv. Maienlied             

v.  Morgenständchen

vi. Gondelied                            

MorgenständchenNoelle McMurtry, soprano & Joseph Yungen, piano
00:00 / 01:55

v. Morgenständchen                              Morning Serenade

In den Wipfeln frische Lüfte,                     Fresh breezes in the treetops,

Fern melod’scher Quellen Fall                  A distant, melodious spring’s descent

Durch die Einsamkeit der Klüfte,             Through the solitude of the ravine,

Waldeslaut und Vogelschall.                      Forest sounds and birdcalls.

Scheuer Träume Spielgenossen                 Timid dream’s playmates

Steigen all beim Morgenschein,                 All rise with the morning light,

Auf des Weinlaubs schwanken Sprossen From the grapevine’s swaying buds

Dir zum Fenster aus und ein.                      In and out, to you at your window.

Und wir nah’n noch halb in Träumen     And we draw near, still half dreaming

Und wir tun in Klängen kund                     And we make known in sounds

Was da draußen in den Bäumen                That which outside in the trees

Singt der weite Frühlingsgrund.                The wide spring valley sings.

Regt der Tag erst laut die Schwingen        Once the day loudly moves its wings

Sind wir Alle wieder weit                             We are again far removed

Aber tief im Herzen klingen                        But deep in our hearts resound

Lange nach noch Lust und Leid.                Pleasure and pain long afterwards.

 

Text by Josef Karl Benedikt von Eichendorff (1788-1857)

Translation by Bard Suverkrop; additions by Noelle McMurtry

Fanny at the Mendelssohn Haus in Leipzig, Germany 

Photo: Caroline Miller

"...and where is Fanny?"

Fanny Mendelssohn Exhibit at Mendelssohn Haus, Leipzig

Photo: Caroline Miller

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