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Classical music has a history of Composing… Women! So this Women’s History Month Tri States Public Radio and the WIU School of Music shines the spotlight… one every weekday… on over twenty great female composers. From baroque to romantic… to impressionist… to post-serialist. From the mystic Abbess who advised the Pope… to the Chicagoan whose works were rediscovered in an abandoned house. Listen in for Composing Women… Every weekday during March at 7:19 during Morning Edition, or at 5:48 during All Things Considered, as TSPR Music Director Ken Zahnle introduces you to our composer of the day… and at 11:00 a.m. during Ovation for a featured work by our featured classical master.

Fanny Mendelssohn-Hensel

Fanny Mendelssohn-Hensel

The Mendelssohn household was a hothouse of musical prodigy. Fanny Mendelssohn and her younger brother Felix soon outgrew their mother’s piano teaching abilities, entering the Berlin Singakademie in their teens. The two would be lifelong musical advisors to each other (creating their own Bach and Beethoven-influenced “Mendelssohnian” style) and Fanny would often serve as Felix’s surrogate, overseeing performances of his works.

Another life-long venture, a series of Sunday chamber concerts, began in 1823 in the Mendelssohn home to show off the children: by 14, Fanny could play all the preludes of Bach’s Well-Tempered Klavier by memory. She continued the gatherings in her own salon as an adult, and it was one of the most sought-after invitations in Berlin, featuring famed virtuosi such as Franz Liszt and Clara Schumann.

Even while brother Felix toured and became world-famous, though, Fanny was expected by her family to allow music to be, in her father’s words “only an ornament” in her life. Her creative output became sparse, though the works she composed were ambitious… including Das Jahr, a set of virtuosic miniatures, one highlighting each month, each accompanying a painting and a poem by her artist husband Wilhelm Hensel.

Hensel was supportive of her endeavors, so in 1846, following a lifetime of parental suppression of a musical career, when multiple publishers approached Fanny she finally decided to publish music under her own name. That spurred what turned out to be a remarkably prolific rally… composing over 50 pieces… as well as publishing earlier works. But she would die early the next year, aged 41, of a stroke… the same affliction that would fell her famous brother only months later.

Fanny Mendelssohn-Hensel… a Composing Woman.


1805 - Born November 14th to Lea Mendelssohn (Salomon) and Abraham Mendelssohn in Hamburg
1811 - Family relocates to Berlin to escape economic sanctions
1816 - begins piano lessons with her mother, outgrows her teaching; studies with Franz Lauksa and Marie Bigot
1817 - studies piano with Ludwig Berger until 1822
1819 - studies composition with Zelter
1820 - enrolls in Zelter’s Singakademie with Felix
1821 - meets artist William Hensel
1822 - sets Hensel’s text for the first time in Lebewohl
1821 - composes first piano sonata in F (not surviving)
1822 - begins composing chamber music with Piano Quartet in A-flat major
1823 - the Mendelssohns begin the ‘Sunday musicales’ in their home (continues through her lifetime); both she and Felix often performed virtuoso works at the programs, especially concerti; composed 30+ Lieder
1824 - composes 20 Lieder, continues this output until her marriage in 1829; 32 fugues
1826 - travels to Bad Doberan with her father; composes piano piece and Lieder; publishes 2 Lieder under Felix’s name
1827 - composes more Bach-inspired compositions; begins working with Heine’s texts
1828 - Easter Sonata - rediscovered in 2010, demonstrates the stylistic models of Bach and Beethoven, utilizes ‘Mendelssohnian’ style, utilizes counterpoint and advanced piano technique; William Hensel returns from Italy
1829 - engaged, married to William Hensel; deals with separation from Felix
1830 - only child who survived infancy, Sebastian Ludwig Felix Hensel born June 17th
1831 - Begins her Sonntagsmusiken, a venue for choral and piano performances that grew to be the most sought-after invitation in Berlin, she invited virtuosi like Clara Schumann and Franz Liszt, run like a concert-series not like a salon
1834 - String Quartet in E-flat, among the first surviving string quartets by a woman, Fanny’s only mature string quartet; Piano Trio in D minor, op. 11; six Lieder
1835 - travels to Paris, Cologne, Düsseldorf; composes more vocal works; father Abraham dies
1837 - ambitious season in Sonntagsmusiken, where she hosts Vieuxtemps, two large performances of Felix’s St Paul, and more oratorios than previous seasons; publishes her works under her own name in Schlesinger’s Neue Original-Compositionen für Gesang und Piano
1839 - travels to Italy, where she will compose 24 works over the year she is there (August 1839-August 1840)
1840 - returns to Berlin
1841 - composes Das Jahr, one of her most significant works as a collaboration with her husband William Hensel
1843 - depression following her mother’s death; composes Scenes from Faust, Part II, Scene 1 for 5 female voices (no male voice for the part of Faust), highlighting the ‘eternal feminine’; composes her G minor piano sonata (final piano sonata) after experiencing some weakness in her arms (related to her death)
1844 - copies Bach cantatas from memory, as well as her own work Abschied vom Rom
1845 - moves to Florence to help her sister Rebecka Mendelssohn with her illness and new daughter
1846 - decides to begin publishing her works, seeks out own publishing company independent of Felix, receives his blessing on her publications; one of her most prolific years as a composer, writes around 50 works
1847 - begins year with musical successes in publishing and performance, but loses compositional inspiration on April 26th; Fanny passes away on May 14th from a series of strokes


Piano Quartet in A-flat Major (H-U55), 1822
Sonata o Capriccio in F minor (H-U113), 1824
Piano Sonata in C minor (H-U128), 1824
Die Nonne (H-U46),1822 (published under Felix in 1830)
Lobgesang(H-U257), Hiob(H-U258), Choleramusik (H-U260), all 1831
String Quartet in E-flat major (H-U277), 1834
Piano Trio in D minor, op. 11 (H-U465), 1847
Die Schiffende (H-U199), 1827
Notturno in G minor (H-U337), 1838
Scenes from Faust, Part II, Scene 1 (H-U389), 1843
Das Jahr (H-U385), 1841
Sechs Lieder für eine Stimme mit Begleitung des Pianoforte, 1846 WHAT OPUS # - Op. 1 is the one directly mentioned in the Grove article!
Piano Sonata in G minor (H-U395), 1843
Easter Sonata (H-U235), 1828
Bergeslust (H-U466), 1847

Supporting Materials


Ken oversees all music programming for Tri States Public Radio, hosting the morning classical music program Ovation, the Saturday nigh jazz survey After Hours, and engineering recorded performances for TSPR. Ken is a native of Highland Park, IL, with degrees in music and broadcasting from Western Illinois University. Teenage years listening to Chicago's old-school fine arts and classical radio stations, coupled with a few months spinning discs on a college residence hall radio station, led him onto the primrose career path of radio. Ken has deep roots at TSPR, starting as a student staff announcer and host, before becoming news director for a group of local radio stations, then Program Director for Tri States Audio Information Services. When he's not deep within our studios and music library, he continues his over quarter-century of assisting Macomb High School's Marching Band.