Today is Felix Mendelssohn’s 206th birthday.
(Although he’s not as famous as Beethoven or Handel, you’ve almost certainly heard his wedding march.)
Known as the “happy composer” of the Romantic Era, Mendelssohn kicked off his musical career in earnest at the age of 17 with his fabulous Midsummer Night’s Dream Overture.
In 1829 he launched the Bach Revival with a performance of St. Matthew’s Passion, which had not been performed since its composer’s death in 1750.
He was a devoted Christian and wrote two extremely famous oratorios, “Elijah” and “Saint Paul,” as well as five symphonies (the Italian and Reformation Symphonies being the best known). His music was cheerful and lighthearted, but was exceptionally beautiful and well-constructed.
Immediately after Mendelssohn’s death in 1847, anti-Semitic Richard Wagner began a smear campaign against Felix — who was Jewish — and as a result Mendelssohn too came close to obscurity. In the 20th century, Hitler banned Mendelssohn’s works.
But there’s one important question to be answered: why was Mendelssohn so happy relative to contemporary composers?
Probably a great deal of this happiness hinged on the fact that he lived a somewhat affluent life and never really had financial struggles, unlike the chronically depressed and death-obsessed likes of Hector Berlioz.
However, what truly distinguished Mendelssohn from other Romantic Era composers was his faith in God and purposefulness in life. He knew what he was living for, and rather like his hero Bach, he intended his music for the glory of God.
Mendelssohn’s best-known works: