If you are married or have ever attended a wedding then you are very familiar with the Wedding March by Jakob Ludwig Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy, generally known in English-speaking countries as Felix Mendelssohn.
Felix was born February 3, 1809 into a Hamburg Jewish family and son of a prominent banker. At the time, Hamburg was an independent city-state and not yet part of what we know of as Germany.
As a child, Felix became recognized as a musical prodigy along with his older sister Fanny.
Felix and his family fled to Berlin in 1811, fearing French revenge for his father’s bank’s role in breaking Napoleon’s blockade.
Felix began taking piano lessons himself when he was six years old and one year later was being tutored in Paris.
He most likely made his first public concert at the age of nine. By the age of ten, he along with his sister Fanny studied under Ludwig Berger. His sister became a very good pianist and amateur composer, however at that time, it was not considered proper for a female to have a career in music.
His parents often hired a private orchestra for Felix and his sister to perform with for the entertainment of the intellectual elite of Berlin.
Felix’s first piano quartet was published when he was only 13 years old. He soon embarked on his musical career, composing symphonies under the name Mendelssohn Bartholdy by the age of 15.
At the age of 16, Felix wrote the first of his work that showed the full power of his genius.
He went on to compose the Overture to Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream in 1826 at the age of 17.
1827 brought the premiere and sole performance of his one and only opera Die Hochzeit des Camacho.
In 1829, with the assistance of actor Eduard Devrient, Felix Mendelssohn arranged and conducted a performance in Berlin of Bach’s St Matthew Passion. The success of this performance – the first since Bach’s death in 1750 – was an important element in the revival of J. S. Bach’s music in Germany and, eventually, throughout Europe.
It earned Felix widespread acclaim at the age of 20. It also led to one of the few references which he made to his origins:
“To think that it took an actor and a Jew’s son to revive the greatest Christian music for the world!”
Over the next few years Mendelssohn traveled widely, including making his first visit to England in 1829, and also visiting amongst other places Vienna, Florence, Milan, Rome and Naples, in all of which he met with local and visiting musicians and artists. These years proved the germination for some of his most famous works, including the Hebrides Overture and the Scottish and Italian symphonies.
On subsequent visits Felix met Queen Victoria and her musical husband Prince Albert, who both greatly admired his music.
He composed and performed, and edited for British publishers the first critical editions of oratorios of Handel and of the organ music of J.S. Bach.
Scotland inspired two of his most famous works: the Hebrides Overture, (also known as Fingal’s Cave); and the Scottish Symphony (Symphony No. 3).
In 1842 he wrote the famous Wedding March in C major.
Felix suffered from poor health in the final years of his life, probably aggravated by nervous problems and overwork. A final tour of England left him exhausted and ill from a hectic schedule. He was the soloist in Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4 and conducted his own Scottish Symphony with the Philharmonic Orchestra before the Queen and Prince Albert.
The death of his sister Fanny May 14, 1847 caused Felix great distress.
Less than six months later, on November 4, 1847 Felix Mendelssohn himself died in Leipzig after a series of strokes.
Felix was only 38.
The first time that Felix Mendelssohn’s “Wedding March” was used at a wedding was when Dorothy Carew married Tom Daniel at St Peter’s Church, Tiverton, England, on June 2, 1847. However, it did not become popular at weddings until it was selected by Queen Victoria’s daughter Victoria, The Princess Royal for her marriage to Prince Frederick William of Prussia on January 25, 1858.
Felix’s Wedding March is one of the most frequently used wedding marches. At weddings in Western countries, his piece is commonly used as a recessional.
An organ on which Felix Mendelssohn gave recitals of the “Wedding March”, among other works, is housed in St Ann’s Church in Tottenham.
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