Fanny Mendelssohn-Hensel: An Suleika


Fanny Mendelssohn-Hensel is, for many, one of the most celebrated female composers today. Her incredible catalogue of chamber music in particular has pleased many musicians and audiences alike over the last few decades. However, this has not always been the case. Hensel was often limited, in her lifetime, due to the attitudes towards women and music. Her father once wrote to her saying:


“Music will perhaps become a profession for your brother Felix, but for you it can, and must only be an ornament.”


Even though their father didn’t agree with Hensel’s obvious talent for music, her brother Felix published some of her works under his name. Their intensely close relationship makes it difficult to know whether that potentially hindered Fanny’s attempts to break into the Western canon properly. Fanny was always really bothered about what Felix’s opinion of her was. She was also his biggest critic, with the two often arguing over bars of music. 


The short vocal piece, An Suleika, was completed c.1825, and is based on a poem by Goethe:


Auch in der Ferne dir so nah!

Und unerwartet kommt die Qual.

Da hör ich wieder dich einmal.

Auf einmal bist du wieder da!

Even far away you feel so near!

And unexpectedly comes the pain.

When once again I hear your voice,

Suddenly you are there again!


The Music

Opening with a short piano introduction, the soaring soprano voice enters. The piano and voice move together through passages creating a neat unison between the two forces. As the climax is reached, the piano comes away and lets the voice push to the highest note of the song. The accompaniment is always movement, with a pulsating figure often leading the voice along. When the vocalist sings of the unexpected pain the atmosphere changes, but once the mysterious person returns, the music reverts back to the positive opening theme. The song finishes with a piano theme that concludes the song gently. 


Ⓒ Alex Burns

Happy Reading!

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