In Felix Mendelssohn: His Life, His Family, His Music, Herbert Kupferberg has created a multigenerational biography that also embraces the cultural and intellectual history of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. In his first chapter, he portrays Felix’s eminent grandfather, the philosopher Moses Mendelssohn, and in the second Felix’s father, Abraham Mendelssohn—who in later life would wryly exclaim that he once was known as the son of his father, but now as the father of his son—and the composer Felix Mendelssohn, born on February 3, 1809, in Hamburg, Germany.
In a series of short chapters, Kupferberg portrays the young Felix Mendelssohn’s development and education in a sequential and narrative form that traces his career as a composer, pianist, and conductor. The reader soon becomes aware of Mendelssohn’s early and astonishing gifts as a composer, as he wrote his first major compositions, such as A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1826), while still a teenager. His experience in conducting musicians during the family’s musicales, held on alternate Sunday mornings, not only enabled him to hear his music in performance but also gave him podium skills that equipped him to conduct the revival of Johann Sebastian Bach’s St. Matthew Passion with the Berlin Choral Academy at the age of twenty.
His triumphs extended abroad, especially in England, which he visited ten times and which became almost a second homeland for...
(The entire section is 585 words.)