In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Fanny Hensel

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Facsimiles
  • Biographies
  • Cultural Studies
  • The Sonntagsmusiken, or “Sunday Musicales”
  • Musical Style
  • Lieder
  • Other Genres

Music Fanny Hensel
Laura Stokes
  • LAST MODIFIED: 11 January 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199757824-0235


Fanny Hensel (Fanny Cäcilie Mendelssohn Bartholdy, b. 1805–d. 1847) was one of the best-known and most prolific female composers of the 19th century. Educated alongside her brother Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy, she studied composition with Carl Friedrich Zelter and piano with Marie Bigot and Ludwig Berger. Upon maturity, her path diverged from Felix’s. Felix traveled throughout Europe, gaining musical exposure and experience, while Fanny remained at the family home in Berlin, married the court painter Wilhelm Hensel, and organized an important musical salon. She composed over 460 works, largely Lieder and solo piano pieces, but also choral music, organ music, chamber music, cantatas, and other genres. Despite her extensive and sophisticated output, Hensel was deeply conflicted about bringing her work into the public eye, and she began publishing only a year before her sudden death at the age of forty-one. Her posthumous reputation was established by family members. Subsequently, however, Hensel was virtually forgotten as a composer, and seen mainly as Mendelssohn’s sister. The shifting understanding of Hensel in both her personal and artistic identity is mirrored in the complex matter of her name. She was born “Fanny Mendelssohn”; became “Fanny Mendelssohn Bartholdy” when she was baptized in 1816; then “Fanny Hensel” when she married in 1829; and, beginning in 1846, published as “Fanny Hensel geb. Mendelssohn Bartholdy” (i.e., Fanny Hensel, née Mendelssohn Bartholdy). An earlier tendency to call her “Fanny Mendelssohn” or “Fanny Mendelssohn-Hensel” has given way more recently to a penchant to style her “Fanny Hensel,” or “Fanny Hensel geb. Mendelssohn Bartholdy,” reflecting the name that she used for most of her adult life and the reputation that her work is gaining in its own right, apart from her relationship to her brother. (This change in naming convention also helps to dispel the distressingly persistent popular misconception that Fanny Hensel was Felix Mendelssohn’s wife rather than his sister.) The rehabilitation of Mendelssohn studies and the flourishing of feminist scholarship in the second half of the 20th century led to a revival in Hensel scholarship, beginning with new biographical studies. In recent decades, many new primary source materials have been discovered or made accessible, ensuring that scholarship on and performance of Hensel’s work will continue to thrive.

General Overviews

The multifaceted nature of Hensel scholarship is visible in the varying perspectives found in article-length introductions in standard works. Citron 2007–2017 represents the strong feminist bent found in scholarship on Hensel in the late 20th century, whereas Cooper 2013 and Schwarz-Danuser 2016 speak to the more recent focus on Hensel’s works and compositional process. The biographical website Furore 2015 is indicative of the healthy relationship of scholarship and publishing in this area, as well as a desire to make information about Hensel available to the broader public outside of the scholarly community.

  • Citron, Marcia J. “Mendelssohn(-Bartholdy) [Hensel], Fanny (Cäcilie).” In Grove Music Online. Edited by Deane Root. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007–2017.

    Citron’s entry for Hensel in the standard English-language musicological reference work is taken from her article in the second edition of the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians (2001). The article focuses more on Hensel’s biography than on her musical style. It includes a useful but dated bibliography, with the most recent entry from 1993, and an abridged works list.

  • Cooper, John Michael. “Hensel (née Mendelssohn), Fanny (Cäcilie) (1805–1847).” In Historical Dictionary of Romantic Music. By John Michael Cooper, 275–276. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow, 2013.

    Cooper’s brief article focuses on Hensel’s compositional activities, including the range of genres in which she composed, and offers a new summary perspective on the issue of family support for her publications during her lifetime.

  • Furore Verlag. Fanny Hensel, née Mendelssohn, 2015.

    Hosted by the Furore Verlag (which has published more than a hundred Hensel works in scores and recordings, as well as scholarship related to Hensel), this website includes a biography, chronicle of her life, excerpts from letters and other texts (in German only), and an overview of Romanticism, as well as lists of scores, books, CDs, and performances. In English and German.

  • Schwarz-Danuser, Monika. “Mendelssohn: Fanny (Caecilie), verheiratet Hensel.” In MGG Online. Edited by Laurenz Lüttekin. Kassel, Germany: Bärenreiter, 2016.

    Based on Schwarz-Danuser’s article in the second edition of Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart (2004), this article treats both Hensel’s biography and her compositions in detail. The bibliography extends to 2002.

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