January 4, 2022

“Without You, the Music Just Doesn't Glide”:
Fanny Hensel and Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy in Words and Music

A program marking the 175th memorial year of the two composers in 2022

Esther Schweins, recitation
Hanns Zischler, recitation
Hideyo Harada, piano

What an energetic personality she must have been! Fanny Mendelssohn Bartholdy, who later took the married name Hensel, was clearly spirited, intelligent, and musically gifted. A particularly vivid portrait of this musician is provided by the correspondence – stretching across three decades – she maintained until her death in 1847 with her far better-known brother Felix. Coming to expression in these letters is her tireless creative drive, her animated interest in the cultural life of her time, and her heartfelt sisterly affection – but also her irritation at the injustice of contemporary gender roles. For while her brother’s career was consistently encouraged, Fanny’s father was determined that she instead be trained “assiduously in the only profession available to a woman, that of housewife.”

Nevertheless, Fanny Hensel was not only a gifted pianist, but left behind a wide-ranging oeuvre of more than 460 musical compositions. Esther Schweins and Hanns Zischler have joined forces with the pianist Hideyo Harada to present a musical and literary evening that guides us into the heart of this music, and into Fanny’s mental world. Through letters and diary entries, flanked by texts by Zelter and Goethe, among others, Schweins and Zischler sketch a portrait of a powerful personality – of a woman condemned, seemingly, to live in the wrong century. Selected piano compositions by Fanny Hensel, supplemented by two compositions by her brother, testify to the extraordinary talent of this emotionally conflicted personality and provide insights into a lifework that still awaits full exploration.

Photo: Esther Schweins, Hanns Zischler © Jennifer Fey • Hideyo Harada © Uwe Arens