About her work
Fanny Hensel left behind around 450 compositions: Piano pieces, solo and choral songs, sacred and secular cantatas, chamber music, and an orchestral overture. Only a few works appeared during her lifetime or shortly after her death (op. 1-11). Almost all of these compositions have survived in autograph anthologies, autograph fair copies, album pages, and transcripts. Most of these manuscripts are kept in the Mendelssohn Archive of the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin-Preußischer Kulturbesitz.
For 130 years, no one was interested in Fanny Hensel’s works, which should not be a reason to suddenly hurry with their publication. But the question of forgotten cultural achievements by women was vehement in the late 1970s: unthinkable to exercise patience now, after so much time had already been lost. The fact that Fanny Hensel was inspired by the desire to publish was quickly recognized and understood as an appeal to fulfill her wish posthumously. And now many of her works have been published, which would certainly not have been the case if it had not been for pioneers such as Barbara Heller and Elke Mascha Blankenburg, and subsequently other editors, interpreters and publishers who brought Fanny Hensel into the public eye.
In the following catalog of works all works of Fanny Hensel are listed which are published by Furore. Furore began in 1987 with the first publication of her piano and chamber music as well as works with larger instrumentation. Later, songs, duets and tercets were added, as well as selected arrangements.
The complete catalog of Fanny Hensel’s works can be found in Renate Hellwig-Unruh: Fanny Hensel: Thematisches Verzeichnis der Kompositionen, Adliswil, 2000.
The compositions kept in the Mendelssohn Archive can be found in Hans-Günter Klein (ed.): Die Kompositionen Fanny Hensels in Autographen und Abschriften aus dem Besitz der Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin-Preußischer Kulturbesitz, Tutzing 1995
About the edition of Fanny Hensel’s works:
“The question of Fanny Hensel’s work triggers a plethora of considerations that go beyond the scope of usual edition problems and that hold an interesting challenge for scholars. For every posthumous publication is connected with the construction of a work form that is not authorized by the composer herself. This forces us, for example, to think anew about our concept of the work, about authorship, the meaning of conditions of creation and performance for her works, the addressing of her music, etc.”
B. Borchard, 1997, p. XII)
On Chamber Music:
Fanny Hensel’s chamber music works are spread throughout her creative period from 1822 to 1847. The first to be written in 1822 is the Piano Quartet, still in the stage of musical apprenticeship and possibly as a compositional task suggested by Zelter, piano-oriented (is there an allusion to Moscheles and other virtuosi?). In 1823 follows an Adagio for violin and piano, a short variation piece. Probably in 1829 she dedicates two cello compositions to her brother Paul (does she want to tease him, or why does she chase him sometimes high, sometimes low?). In the String Quartet of 1834, she is concerned with something great, she invests all her creative energy, it can still be felt today, the work succeeds; here she has gone her own way, established compositional principles and negated territorial laws (to write herself into compositional history as a woman with a chamber music work), fought with Felix. In the end, in 1847, she composed the Piano Trio op. 11 as one of her last works, in which the contradictions of her existence seem to be reconciled. Here she integrates the “Lied” model, which had by then become comprehensively her own, into chamber music and prepares the work for publication.
About the “Bagatelles”:
“‘Du schöne Hexe, immer bist du da, aber nie kann ich dich greifen’. With this image, the scientist and educator Diether de la Motte concludes his “Analysis of Musical Experience,” his personal approach to the first of the two Bagatelles, which precedes the edition. The ‘intangible’ here is the gently flowing melody that glides through different keys without beginning or end, as it were. The second piece also brings surprising melodic and harmonic turns.
The composer wrote both bagatelles for the students of the Schindelmeiser Music Institute, founded in 1835, and consequently for once she dispensed with virtuoso brilliance. The short, very transparently set pieces are therefore well suited for lessons, even if they are not entirely without pitfalls in clean voice leading (in the degree of difficulty they are roughly comparable to the easier ones of the Lieder ohne Worte by Bruder Felix).”
Swiss music journal Animato No.4, 1995
About the songs:
Fanny Hensel wrote 249 songs accompanied by piano. Not only because of the large number is it correct to regard her primarily as a song composer, but also because of the special importance she attached to text-bound music as well as the high rank her songs occupy within the Romantic song production as a whole. Felix Mendelssohn’s postulate that continuity belongs to the composer’s profession, namely constant work within a genre as a prerequisite for musical ‘personality development’, is fulfilled in Fanny Hensel’s song oeuvre.
Goethe gave Zelter the poem Wenn ich mir in stiller Seele for Fanny, after learning that Fanny had complained about the lack of composable texts, with the words: “Gieb das dem lieben Kinde.” (Karl Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, Goethe and Felix Mendelssohn, Leipzig (1871), p. 16)
No sooner is Felix on his way to Weimar than Fanny falls ill, as if by chance, and takes up her pen:
“… When you come to Goethe, open your eyes and ears, I advise you to do so, and when you return, do not tell me every word from his mouth again, we have been friends.” Francoise Tillard, The Misunderstood Sister, 1994, p. 137
In his collection of songs op. 8 Felix had included some songs by Fanny.
According to Victoria Sirota, “Of the three (Suleika and Hatem, Das Heimweh, Italy), Italy had the greatest success, and Felix wrote twice that he had to admit that Fanny was the author, while he had been praised for it.
He wrote to Fanny on June 11, 1830: “Yesterday a gracious countess praised me for my songs and asked if Grillparzer’s was not quite delightful? Yes, I said, and she already thought me immodest when I explained everything, named you as the author, and promised to immediately share the compositions that you would send me in the near future. If I do that, I will be a peppercorn, a brewer’s horse: but you will not send any in the end.”
Victoria Sirota, 1981, pp. 25-26
“… among a thousand things that ran through my mind, I also thought of Grillparzer’s example, which is impossible to set to music, which is why Fanny composed it beautifully.”
Felix to Rebecka from Naples, 1831/ Sutermeister, Briefe p. 138
“It is doubtful that Felix intended to receive praise for his sister’s works. It is more likely that since Abraham forbade Fanny to publish under her name, this was Felix’s way of reinforcing Fanny as a composer. On June 19, 1842, he wrote to Fanny regarding the song Queen Victoria chose to sing for him: …and what did she choose? ‘Schöner und schöner’, sang it quite lovely pure, strict in time and quite nice in performance; only when it goes down to d after ‘der Prosa Last und Müh’ and comes up harmonically, she got into dis both times, and because I pointed it out to her both times, she took the last time correctly d, where it should have been dis. But except for this mistake, it was really lovely and the last g I have never heard from a dilettante better, purer and more natural. Now I had to confess that Fanny had made the song (actually it seemed difficult to me, but Hoffahrt wants to suffer compulsion) and ask her to sing me one of the really mine, too.”
Victoria Sirota, 1981, p. 25f.
About the “Feast of St. Caecilia”:
Fanny Hensel reported to her brother Felix:
“I composed a verset from the Mass of St. Caecilia, of which your mother probably sent you a text sheet, in 2 days, in such haste that the accompanying part has not yet been written down to this day. The whole thing was arranged as a double surprise, because first one saw the Decker without her singing, then she sang some notes unseen, and finally she sang as a really living picture, of course by heart, which is said to have made a magically beautiful effect.”
Marcia J. Citron: The letters of Fanny Hensel to Felix Mendelssohn, 1987, Letter No. 48 from 23.11.1833