Fanny Mendelssohn's Clavichord

   Fanny Hensel nee Mendelssohn-Bartholdy (1805-1847) was a composer and a pianist. She was one of the most remarkable musical personalities of her day, and a member of a still more remarkable family. Her grandfather, Moses Mendelssohn, appeared an unlikely figure: he was a little hunchback with a severe stammer, from the Dessau ghetto, who became one of Europe's wisest philosophers. He was also known as the "Emancipator or the Jews," and his writings and influence did lead the Jewish population out of their medieval isolation, and into the mainstream of German/Prussian society. His daughters, Dorothea and Henrietta, were feminist leaders (after a fashion) of their day, and his son (who left the Jewish faith for Lutheranism and took the Gentile name Bartholdy) was the father of Felix and Fanny Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, two of the most gifted and precocious musical figures Europe has ever known. The name of Felix Mendelssohn is known today, and his musical legacy assured. That Fanny was less able to realize her gifts, and that her name remains largely unknown, is due to two main factors -- the restrictions on women in "decent" 19th century society, and the necessity, in that era, of an upper class Jewish family (convert or not) to be irreproachably "decent" in every sense. My intention is not to present her as a tragic or oppressed figure, though. My intention is simply to present her.

   The design for the room in this painting is based on the bedroom of the Emperor Augustus in a 15th century Nativity by the workshop of Rogier van der Weyden.


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