“It’s beautiful,” I heard someone whisper as I performed one of Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel’s songs for piano at The Trust Performing Arts Center. I had thought the same a few weeks earlier when I chose the piece.
The opening and closing section features a gradually expanding melody whose phrasing I practice by singing, although high A’s sound much better in trained operatic voices than in mine. Doing so helps me remember to breathe and reminds me to adjust my touch to play the piano as if I were a soprano because Fanny considered the piece a song.
Although I knew Fanny was the sister of Felix, I knew little about either of them besides their Jewish heritage before co-founding the Sisterhood of Composer/Performers. I noted some highlights from their biographies on the website of the Library of Congress. A thorough liberal arts education and musical salons filled their childhood, but their paths diverged as they entered adulthood. Felix went on to have a prominent career, but Fanny–as expected by her father and by societal norms–married and made music in her home. This included a salon she hosted and performed in and hundreds of works she composed for piano, voice, and chamber ensembles.
I am inspired by Fanny’s commitment to continuing her musical craft regardless of the limited context in which she shared it. Although my family and friends have encouraged my life-long pursuits of composing and performing, investing in my home and in my students and in my music are not as balanced as I would like them to be. Fanny’s story reminds me that music-making in the few hours each week during the semester and in the abundance of time on school breaks is valuable even though it seems a small amount noticed by few.