In his preface, Kupferberg states his intention to dig below the surface of Mendelssohn’s success story. The composer achieved fame while in his teens, was safe from financial worry, and was the preeminent composer of both Germany and England during his main years of musical activity, from 1829 to his death in 1847. Mendelssohn’s travels, his musical achievements, and his extraordinary family also merit discussion. Most of the material is discussed, in considerably more detail, in Kupferberg’s companion volume for adult readers, The Mendelssohns: Three Gener-ations of Genius, also published in 1972.

The introductory chapter on Moses Mendelssohn, Felix’s grandfather, portrays the philosopher and savant who overcame the disadvantages of a physical handicap (curvature of the spine that produced a hunchback) and a speech impediment to become one of the most respected scholars of the eighteenth century. His Judaism provides one of the starting points for the volume. Although an observant Jew himself, Moses Mendelssohn preached tolerance for all faiths, had enough influence with the ruler Frederick II of Prussia and other German princes to cause them to rescind many anti-Semitic laws, and helped to lay the foundations for the movement known as Reform Judaism. Only one of Moses’ children remained a Jew; the others converted to Christianity, including Felix’s father, Abraham.

Kupferberg explains the rationale for Felix’s being...

(The entire section is 518 words.)