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Fanny Mendelssohn, as sketched by her future husband Wilhelm Hensel (Wikimedia)

Correct the record

‘Masculine’ sonata believed to be composed by Felix Mendelssohn was actually written by his sister, Fanny

By WITW Staff on March 10, 2017

In honor of International Women’s Day on Wednesday, pianist Sofya Gulyak performed the “Easter Sonata” under the name of the piece’s actual composer, Fanny Mendelssohn, at the Royal College of Music in London. Long thought to have been the work of Fanny’s brother, legendary 19th century composer Felix Mendelssohn, the recital of the 188-year-old sonata marked the first time it had been performed under Fanny’s name in a public concert hall.

Described at times as “masculine,” “violent,” and “ambitious,” authorship of the “Easter Sonata” had been misattributed to Felix ever since the manuscript of the piece, bearing the signature of one “F Mendelssohn,” was discovered by a record collector in a French book shop in 1970.

It wasn’t until 2010 that the piece’s true authorship was confirmed. Angel Mace Christian, a Duke University graduate student, identified that the manuscript had not only been written in Fanny’s handwriting but also contained page numbers that were missing from another manuscript known to have been composed by Fanny.

Sheila Hayman, Fanny Mendelssohn’s great-great-great-granddaughter, was among those in attendance at the Royal College of Music performance. In an article written by Hayman for The Guardian, Hayman noted that Fanny had learned how to play all of Bach’s 48 preludes and fugues by heart before she turned 14. Fanny’s musical career would be stymied by her family, however, on the basis that it was indecent for a young women to be a musician.

On the same day that her brother left on a tour of Europe to pursue his musical career, Fanny would write in her diary that she had “played [her] Easter Sonata.” Before her death of a stroke in 1847 at the age of 41, Fanny wrote down an estimated 500 musical compositions.

Read the full story at The Washington Post and listen to the song deemed too “masculine” to have been written by a woman here.


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