An introduction to… Mendelssohn

Felix Mendelssohn



Nationality German

Mendelssohn wrote two of his most enduring masterpieces – the Octet and the Overture to Midsummer Night's Dream – when he was just a teenager. He was, said Schumann, 'the Mozart of the 19th century', and his talents extended beyond composition to the piano, organ, conducting and even to painting. Mendelssohn's hallmarks include elfin scherzos and music full of vivid colour and atmosphere. He loved JS Bach and in 1829 revived the St Matthew Passion, giving this piece its first public performance since Bach's death in 1750.

Most notable works

Violin Concerto


String Quartet in F minor

Midsummer Night's Dream Overture

'Scottish' Symphony No. 3

Songs without words

A life in brief

1809 The son of a banker, he is born on 3 February in Hamburg, four years after his musically gifted sister, Fanny

1821 He is introduced to the German poet, dramatist and writer Goethe and stays with him several times in the 1820s. Goethe has a continuing influence on Mendelssohn, who sets a number of his poems to music.

1825 Aged 16, he composes his first masterpiece, the String Octet, Op. 20. The following August he finishes A Midsummer Night’s Dream Overture. ‘The most striking example,’ says George Bernard Shaw, ‘of a very young composer astonishing the world by a musical style at once fascinating… and perfectly new.’

1833 He takes up a post as Düsseldorf music director, conducting choral and orchestral societies. By 1835, disenchanted with the post, he becomes music director at the Leipzig Gewandhaus orchestra.

1843 Mendelssohn becomes an honorary citizen of Leipzig, an acknowledgement of the vital role he plays in the city’s musical life which includes helping to establish a new Conservatory.


1847 He hears Joseph Joachim perform his Violin Concerto in E minor on 3 October. But, after a series of strokes, he dies on 4 November. He is just 38 years old.