In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Felix Mendelssohn

  • Introduction
  • Collected Editions
  • Catalogues and Bibliographies
  • Exhibitions
  • Iconographies
  • Diaries
  • Correspondence of Other Family Members
  • Memoirs, Recollections
  • Life and Works, Biographies

Music Felix Mendelssohn
R. Larry Todd
  • LAST REVIEWED: 29 June 2011
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 June 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199757824-0020


Of Western classical composers, Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy (b.1809–d. 1847) has occupied a most unusual position. Likened early on to Mozart, he was an extraordinary prodigy who quickly achieved international fame in Europe and England, and rose to preeminence in the 1830s and 1840s as a composer, pianist, organist, and conductor of the first rank. He revived the St. Matthew Passion of J. S. Bach in 1829, a signal event that launched the modern Bach revival, and was the moving force behind the founding of the Leipzig Conservatory in 1843. An accomplished violinist, Mendelssohn also edited the music of Bach and Handel, and researched music of the Renaissance and 17th centuries. He spoke or read German, French, English, Latin, and Greek, developed a distinctive literary style in his extensive correspondence, studied philosophy with Hegel, and was an accomplished draughtsman and painter. Nevertheless, the positive, meteoric trajectory of Mendelssohn’s career contrasted sharply with his posthumous reception. At mid-century Wagner attacked his memory in a notorious, racist essay (baptized as a Protestant at age seven, Mendelssohn was the grandson of the 18th-century Jewish philosopher Moses Mendelssohn). Mendelssohn’s identification with Queen Victoria and Prince Albert—the composer visited England ten times between 1829 and 1847—made him an easy mark for late-19th- and 20th-century critiques of Victorian culture. In the 1930s, the Nazis destroyed his statue in Leipzig and banned his music. The composer of the oratorio Elijah, performed at every Birmingham Musical Festival from 1846 until the outbreak of the First World War, and the composer of the Italian Symphony and Violin Concerto in E minor, works once regarded as flawless, was now dismissed as an overly sentimental composer whose music did not challenge the profundity of Bach, Beethoven, or Wagner. Efforts to rehabilitate Mendelssohn’s image began in the second half of the 20th century, and now, with the bicentenary of 2009, are in full force. Modern scholarship recognizes the composer’s remarkable versatility, and the critical roles he played as a civic-minded educator whose distinctive music made a rapprochement between classicism and romanticism and related in compelling ways the culture of his times to the musical past.

Collected Editions

There is still no complete edition of Mendelssohn’s music, although the first, woefully incomplete attempt, the Breitkopf & Härtel edition of the 1870s (Rietz 1874–1877), is finally being replaced by the new Leipziger Ausgabe, scheduled for completion in 2047, the bicentenary of the composer’s death. In Mendelssohn Bartholdy 2009 is the complete sacred works in practical study scores based on the primary sources.

  • Internationale Felix-Mendelssohn-Gesellschaft, ed. Leipziger Ausgabe der Werke von Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdys. Leipzig: Deutscher Verlag für Musik, 1960–1977, 1997–.

    The first attempt at a definitive, comprehensive Mendelssohn edition, begun in East Germany in 1960. Work on the edition ceased in 1977, and, after the reunification of Germany, resumed in 1997 during the Mendelssohn sesquicentenary. Some thirty volumes have appeared, including the first full catalogue of Mendelssohn’s music (see Catalogues and Bibliographies) Continuation edition: Sächsische Akademie der Wissenschaften zu Leipzig, Wiesbaden: Breitkopf & Härtel, 1997–.

  • Rietz, Julius, ed. Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy’s Werke: kritisch durchgesehene Ausgabe. Leipzig: Breitkopf & Härtel, 1874–1877.

    The first “collected” edition of Mendelssohn’s music, edited by the cellist/conductor Julius Rietz, a colleague of the composer. Omitted from the edition were a significant number of juvenilia and student works, and alternate versions of mature works.

  • Mendelssohn Bartholdy, Felix. Geistliche Musik für Chor und Orchester. 22 vols. Stuttgart: Carus Verlag, 2009.

    Urtext editions of the complete sacred music, released in twenty-two convenient study score volumes.

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