Two Female Composers from the Victorian Era

Today I want to celebrate two female composers of the 1800’s, both of whom were related (sister and wife, respectively) to famous male composers: Fanny Mendelssohn (1805-1847) and Clara Schumann (1819-1896).

Fanny Mendelssohn was said to be equally talented as her brother, Felix, but her father did not want her to have a career. “Music will perhaps become his [i.e. Felix’s] profession, while for you it can and must be only an ornament”. Later, when she married, her husband had a different attitude and her own compositions were released first, under her brother’s name, and then later, under her own.

Listen to her composition, Trio op. 11. 4 Finale (above link) and tell me if she does not stand up against all the greats of that time, including her brother.

Unfortunately, neither Felix or Fanny lived long lives, both suffering strokes and leaving this world much too soon.

Clara Schumann lived a much longer, though maybe more tragic, life. Her husband, Robert Schumann, tried to commit suicide and ended the last two years of his life in an asylum, and four of her eight children died before she did and one also spent his life in an asylum. Yet, through it all, she was able to perform and compose and take her place as the main bread winner of the family.

She and Johannes Brahms (thirteen years her junior) had a very close relationship, though no one knows exactly how close. He was friend to both she and her husband and stood by her side during Robert Schumann’s hospitalization, helping her with their kids and somewhat taking on the role of the patriarch. They both had their personal letters between themselves destroyed after their deaths. Brahms D-Minor Piano Concerto represents his feelings about Schumann’s attempted suicide and his feelings for Clara.

She was a celebrated performing pianist in her lifetime and contributed largely to piano teaching techniques.

My favorite of her works–3 Romances for Violin & Piano Op. 22, wasn’t available to embed in this blogpost, so I added her Pianoconcerto in A minor, Op. 7, also beautiful. But if you go to youtube, you won’t be disappointed if you look for and listen to 3 Romances for Violin and Piano…and all her other pieces.

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3 responses to “Two Female Composers from the Victorian Era

  1. The second video wouldn’t play, but the first one did. I can’t even fathom writing a piece of music like Mendelssohn’s. It’s just beautiful, and really, a language unto itself, mastered by a genius mind. It’s such a poignant form of communication, she seems to be speaking directly to us somehow.

  2. emilydickinsonsgarden

    Thanks for the heads up, Joanne. You tube wouldn’t let me embed the 3 Romances for Violin and piano. I replaced it with one of her larger works–the clip has a pictorial from her life as well.

    I agree with you about Mendelssohn. I love to play her brother’s pieces on piano…his Songs Without Words collection, especially. I’m just discovering his sister’s work, but I don’t have any of it in sheet music yet. When I was reading about her I came across a story about Queen Victoria and Felix…she complimented him on one of her favorite of “his” songs. He had to admit to her that it wasn’t his, but his sister’s, written under his name. It makes me wonder how much she influenced his other writings.

  3. emilydickinsonsgarden

    http://imslp.org/wiki/Category:Hensel,_Fanny Here’s a link to free sheet music downloads for Fanny Mendelssohn.

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