Until recently, the songs of Felix and Fanny Hensel were subjected to threefold
diminishment or outright damnation: first, anti-Semitism did its best to decry the
originality of artists born Jewish, certain critics dismissed the songs as Victorian
parlour music without the depths of a Schubert or Schumann, and Fanny Hensel was
consigned to the special obscurity designated for 19th-century women who sought
composition as their vocation. In addition, her works were often wrongly described as
carbon copies of her brother�s style when in fact, she has a complex voice of her own
now being properly recognised. With the dark clouds of history in abeyance, both
scholarly and recording projects such as this one are paying homage to the many-
splendoured songs created by a brother�sister pair like none other.
SONGS OF JOURNEYS, DEPARTURES AND GREETINGS FROM AFAR
Given a cultivated, well-to-do family, the Mendelssohns, especially Felix, were able to
travel, and journeys are a frequent theme in the poetic texts they chose for songs. The
twelve songs of Op.9, like those of Op.8, were published in two Hefte, or little volumes,
the first entitled �The Youth� and songs 7-12 entitled �The Maiden�. Scheidend is the last
song in the first booklet; in this gentle barcarolle, the persona welcomes leaving home,
past sorrows, and youth behind in order to journey to �a distant land� � terrestrial or
celestial? After the calm beginning, tensions appear at the invocation of sorrow and
only dissolve back to tranquillity at the end of each stanza. The Op.19 setting of the
German-Bohemian poet Egon Ebert�s Reiselied is more agitated: the journeying persona
bids the waters carry his ardent messages back to the beloved. Mendelssohn
underscores the difference between present sorrows and past forgetfulness of pain with
near-savage accents and a high pitch on the word �Schmerzen� (sorrows) that we hear
as almost a shriek.
Both Felix and Fanny knew the great poet Heinrich Heine personally, and Fanny
distrusted him in any capacity not poetic. �Heine is here, and I do not like him at all, he is so affected�, she wrote to Karl Klingemann in 1829. And yet, � ... though for ten
times you may be inclined to despise him, the eleventh time you cannot help
confessing that he is a poet, a true poet!� Her brother�s Morgengruss tells us that Felix
understood Heine�s distinctive irony but sought to temper it. Here, Heine combines the
Romantic themes of a lover�s farewell and a morning serenade beneath her window in
order to stick pins in both traditions: she doesn�t hear him, and the lover consoles
himself by insisting that surely she dreams of him. Mendelssohn�s persona, sweeter than
the poet�s, repeats his farewell � to no avail � and insists over and over again on
himself as the subject of her dreams.
An die Entfernte is one of Felix�s final works, composed against the backdrop of his grief
over Fanny�s death on May 14, 1847. Lenau�s poetic imagery of withered roses and a
beloved woman far away, the poet�s exhortation not to journey away from love,
produced this tender gem, in which Mendelssohn lingers at the end on the �sweet sound�
of the nightingale�s song lingering on the west wind.
Fanny�s setting of her talented, beautiful friend Friederike Robert�s poem Das Heimweh is
our first song by her on this series. Fanny�s strophic setting of Friederike�s poem (Heine
called �Rike� �a cousin of the Venus de Milo�), part impassioned outcry, part diagnostic
manual on the physical effects of homesickness, already conveys a different approach to
song composition than her brother�s; witness the chromatic complexities of the initial
phrase, typical of her style.
One of the poets most beloved by 19th-century composers was Joseph von Eichendorff,
who held fast to Romanticism while history � the Industrial Revolution, the increasing
displacement of aristocratic power by modern bureaucracies � moved past him. In his
sonorous verse, a small repertory of recurring words � �Fr�hling� (spring), �Grund�
(ground), �Haus� (house), �Stimmen� (voices), �Wald� (forest), and more � act as mutable
ciphers for a cosmos made magical by the power of poetry. In the Wanderlied, a young
Romantic poet is lured into the wide world of poetic imagery, with no idea where the
journey will lead him: this is Romanticism in a nutshell, its ecstasy given sounding life
in Mendelssohn�s setting.
SONGS OF SPRING
Of all 19th-century composers, Felix Mendelssohn was perhaps the most addicted to
spring songs, and we hear six of them � there are more � on this first disc. The
Fr�hlingslied, Op.8, No.6, is a setting of a poem in Swabian dialect by Friederike Robert,
who was for a brief while tutored by the Romantic writer Justinus Kerner in Swabia. We
hear springtime delight in the exultant octave leaps at the end of the first phrase for
stanzas 1 and 2, also in the bird-song trills and flourishes for the piano throughout the
The bouquet of violets at the end of Fr�hlingslied is our link to Das erste Veilchen on a
poem by a prolific Bohemian writer named Egon Ebert. Time moves swiftly in this finely
wrought song: in the first half, the persona joyfully hails the first violet of spring, and
the music ascends in stages to springtime ecstasy. When the violet dies, surrounded by
summer�s blossoms, the narrator first calls for an evocative silence, then brings the
flower and its music back to life in a dream of spring.
Im Fr�hling from Op.9 on a poem by the Mendelssohns� tutor and friend Johann Gustav
Droysen (he was only a year older than Felix) has all the ingredients of a classic
Mendelssohn spring song: rustling motion; rising lines to tell of rising excitement;
throbbing chords to underscore springtime ecstasy; and key words prolonged in the
vocal line while the piano moves delightedly underneath (�s�ss�/sweet, �sehnt�/yearns).
Johann Heinrich Voss (the �German Homer�) was principally famed for his translations of
the Illiad and the Odyssey into German, but he wrote original poetry as well, including
the irresistible Im Gr�nen. Mendelssohn sets this paean to the outdoors as the essence
of Schwung (lilt) and thrumming springtime vitality, with a fanfare in the piano at the
start and the repeated vaults into the high treble for the singer that are one hallmark
of a Mendelssohnian spring song.
The diplomat�poet Karl Klingemann, who was both a better-than-average dilettante
composer and an amateur poet, was another friend who supplied Fanny and Felix with texts. May every springtime be announced by Mendelssohn�s irresistible dotted fanfares
in the bass line of this Fr�hlingslied; each of the three stanzas ends with the same
refrain about �an old, sweet dream�, and for that brief moment, springtime vivacity gives
way to hints of minor mode (to tell of distance in time) and a touch of soft solemnity.
With the Fr�hlingslied from Op.47, we again encounter Lenau, whose more characteristic
�Weltschmerz� (world-weariness) gives way to pulsating, utterly joyous love in spring.
Mendelssohn pairs stanzas 1 and 2 to make a musical strophe, repeated for stanzas 3�4
and 5�6; the rise to an ecstatic high pitch for �the full dance of life�, �a sweet song of
hope�, and �the power of spring� are made unforgettable in this, one of the most famous
of all spring songs.
THE BOY MENDELSSOHN
It was not until 2008 that many of the young Felix�s songs were first published,
including the charmingly na�ve Lied zum Geburtstage meines guten Varters, composed as
a gift for Abraham Mendelssohn on his birthday in December 1819: this is Felix�s first
extant song. The existence of Seltsam, Mutter, geht es mir only became known in 2007,
when it appeared for sale in a Sotheby�s catalogue; it was part of a manuscript inscribed
by its recipient Agnes Rauch (1804�1881), later godmother to Fanny�s son Sebastian.
The text comes from Johann Amadeus Wendt�s Taschenbuch zum geselligen Vergn�gen auf
das Jahr 1819 (Pocketbook for Companionable Pleasures for the Year 1819), where it was
entitled �Die B�uerin�/The Peasant Woman; a young woman cannot quite fully confess to
her mother the strange feelings � easily decoded as hints of first love � she has
harboured since the last year�s fair.
Sanft weh�n im Hauch der Abendluft is a setting of a characteristic poem by Friedrich
von Matthisson, whose single volume of poems � first published in 1787 and reprinted
many times thereafter � was praised by Schiller for its melancholy sweetness and tender
descriptions of Nature. At the beginning, Matthisson invokes grasses gently waving in
the soft springtime breeze and only then reveals that Nature thus caresses the grave of
a child. Near the end of Felix�s setting, we hear the influence of Baroque music (passed
from Johann Friedrich Fasch to Carl Friedrich Zelter to Felix) when the grief-stricken
parents sing of wandering without surcease through the world�s chaos. The vocal line is
like a chorale cantus firmus beneath which the piano sinks by degrees to a hymn-like
ending. We can also hear the enduring impress of 18th-century music on the
Weihnachtslied, which begins and ends with a Bach-like tolling pitch in the bass and
sounds different permutations of the opening melodic figure throughout different levels
of the texture.
ANTIQUE STRAINS AND VOICES FROM YESTERYEAR
Felix�s Erntelied is a darkly beautiful strophic song � chorale, folksong, and antique
church modes are all mimicked here � about Death the inexorable reaper who mows
down all the lovely flowers/people. At the end, dread becomes joy, with defiantly full
harmonization replacing the stark unison texture of earlier passages, but the darkness
of Mendelssohn�s music at the end tells us that the fear of death is not so easily
The great 17th-century physician�poet Paul Fleming was famed both for secular love
poetry and religious verse, with Pilgerspruch among the latter. In this cross between a
hymn and an art-song, Mendelssohn repeats and extends the final line of each stanza
in order to drive home the poet�s message: do not succumb to sorrow; stand fast, and
know that God�s will is best.
Four centuries before Fleming, the medieval Minnesinger (singer of courtly love) Jakob
von Wart, who appears in the Manesse Codex � a compendium of Minnesong � sang of
the contrast between springtime beauty and a lovelorn persona distant from his
sweetheart (an antique poetic theme) in Maienlied. Another Minnesinger, Heinrich der
tugendhafte Schreiber (Henry the Virtuous Scribe), who also appears in the Manesse
Codex, provided Mendelssohn with the text of his Altdeutsches Lied, a mostly gentle
lament, albeit with brief admixtures of passionate protest, by a persona who compares the futility of his complaints to his beloved with nightingales whose forest songs are
The �hunt or chase of love� is the subject of a famous folk poem from a famous
anthology: Jagdlied (�Mit Lust t�t ich ausreiten�) from Des Knaben Wunderhorn (The
Youth�s Magic Horn of 1805�1808, edited by Clemens Brentano and Achim von Arnim).
Mendelssohn fills the piano accompaniment to this song with traditional hunting horn
calls that echo and re-echo through the musical forest. A statesman and a poet, Ulrich
von Lichtenstein, famous for his Frauendienst (In the Service of Women), compares the
blossoming forth of spring in yet another Fr�hlingslied to the blossoming of his spirit
when he thinks of his lady�s goodness. In contrast, the persona of Andres Mailied warns
someone � himself? � of a pretty girl�s probable treachery to Mendelssohn�s humorous
music (note the brief drum-rolls in the piano to underscore the repeated warnings, �Don�t
trust her: she�ll make a fool of you!�).
6 DUETS OP.63
Felix in 1836 had fallen in love with C�cile Jeanrenaud, whom he would marry the
following year; the tremulous love duet Ich wollt� meine Lieb� erg�sse sich comes from
this period in his life. Eight years later in 1844, when the Op.63 set was published, he
added the newly composed Abschiedslied der Zugv�gel (No.2) whose melancholy
migratory birds are emblems of the homeless and sorrowful spirit; the tender and yet
animated vow of eternal love in Gruss (No.3); and the playful Maigl�ckchen und die
Bl�melein (No.6) in Mendelssohn�s scherzo manner. Herbstlied (No.4) had begun as a
�Duet without words� in 1836, but then Mendelssohn�s friend Karl Klingemann applied his
autumnal poem to the piano work in 1844; the result was a duet whose themes mirror
those in the other duets (memories of a round dance, spring turning to winter and joy to
sorrow). German song composers made something of a cult of Robert Burns�s poetry, and
the Volkslied (�O s�h� ich auf der Haide dort�/O wert thou in the cauld blast) signals its
Scottish origins via drone bass patterns.