Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel – Fairmount Strings

Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel

by Mimi Morris Kim

The first time I performed the Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel (1805-1847) String Quartet in Eb with the Fairmount String Quartet, we performed it alongside her more famous brother Felix’s brilliant quartet in D major. I was a little worried that Hensel’s quartet would suffer by comparison. Felix’s is a virtuosic romp. The writing is facile and flashy and very idiomatic to the instruments, so easier to play than it sounds. Fanny’s is weirder. Emotionally fraught and almost grotesque at times it can seem unwieldy as a performer in both its emotional directness and its technical demands. Yet after the performance, audience member after audience member told us how they were affected by it, how it spoke to them.

Mendelssohn Hensel’s music was generally not written for publication. That would have been unseemly for a woman of her social stature. This quartet received only one performance in her lifetime in a private family salon concert. Unlike her brother, she was not writing for the musical world. She was not writing for the academy. Instead, this work is a more personal and direct expression of a remarkable woman. As I performed and recorded it, I could sense the volatile emotions that must have been very close to the surface in a woman whose monumental talent was always pushed aside in favor of her little brother. Fanny did not have to write to the tastes of the public. She wrote for herself and we, nearly 200 years later are the lucky beneficiaries of her expression. Interestingly, both of the Mendelssohns described their fascination with the late Beethoven quartets and cite them as the inspiration for their quartet writing. At least to me, it seems that Fanny gets closer to the interior and forceful world of Beethoven. But maybe we shouldn’t compare her to any male composers. She was enough. More than enough.

Kind Words

Friday evening’s performance…by the members of the Fairmount String Quartet was splendid…the playing was expert to the point of perfection.

Michael Caruso, Chestnut Hill Local

From more classical music to fun contemporary songs, Fairmount Strings knocked it out of the park.

Alison F., bride

We are so grateful that Fairmount Strings made our wedding day vision come to life. 

Jocelyn G., bride

The quartet was magnificent and so very professional. One guest said the setting and the quartet made the ceremony storybook!

Joanne F., Bride

Last night the audience told you so well what I am trying to put into words now. Thank you for an unbelievably beautiful concert!

Alice Nugent, Candlelight Concerts at Laurel Hill

The beautiful sound of your music will stay with me always. It was simply stunning and made our day feel like a fairy tale.

Julie & Tom B., Bride and Groom

Adding to their laurels — professionalism, intuition and timeliness, we look forward to many future musical endeavors with the Fairmount Chamber Ensemble.

Kevin O’Malia, Director of Music, First United Methodist Church of Germantown

I made a point of standing off to the side in the back of the church to listen. It was….well….perfection.

Chris C., Mother of the Bride

It is such a privilege to work with musicians of their caliber who are so genuinely committed to supporting the growth and development of our students.

Stephen Kushner, Director of Choral Music, Germantown Friends School

From the bottom of my heart, I thank you for your beautiful performance, which helped to make the vision and dream I had for my daughter’s wedding day come true.

Jeanne B., Mother of the Bride

They are wonderful musicians, easy to work with, and deliver performances of consistently high quality.

Clair Rozier, Director of Music, St. David’s Episcopal Church

Sheet music background image.