Meet the other F:
What is the most well-known fact about Fanny Mendelssohn? If she had lived in another time, she would most likely be remembered as one of the great composers, and not just the sister of one.
Creator of over 456 pieces of music [source], Fanny was an excellent composer in her own right. She and her brother Felix were very close, but, as her father wrote her about Felix, “[m]usic will perhaps become his profession, whilst for you it can and must only be an ornament, never the root of your being and doing. We may therefore pardon him some ambition and desire to be acknowledged in a pursuit which appears very important to him, because he feels a vocation for it, whilst it does you credit that you have always shown yourself good and sensible in these matters; and your very joy at the praise he earns proves that you might, in his place, have merited equal applause. Remain true to these sentiments and to this line of conduct; they are feminine, and only what is truly feminine is an ornament to your sex.” [source]
Of course there are the pulpified rumors that perhaps the two F’s were too close as siblings, but I haven’t heard of any evidence to substantiate those claims.
Fanny wrote mostly piano pieces and lieder. [source]
I remember being so heartbroken for Fanny’s fate when we studied her in Music History. She was described as being humble and obedient, willingly settling into her proscribed societal role as sister and wife (to Hensel, the same artist who drew the portrait of Fanny above). She supported Felix and they remained close until death.
It is only very recently that many of her works are being commonly known, and that much time is given to her in history lessons.
This makes me very sad.
In all of history, few important artists, musicians, writers, and prominent figures are female. This does not mean that female artists did not exist, but that they either were not able to be successful in their time, or, they have been forgotten.
This is similar to pockets of time in which popular music was not written down because it was not considered important enough to waste parchment; and this led to me saying after a month of class that if I had to listen to one more mass I was going to do something drastic.
Of course, in her own time, Fanny did face some moderate success. She had Sunday morning concerts in her home at which prominent artists responded well to her pieces, her works were at times included in Felix’s and greeted well, and pieces that were published before her death all did rather well.
Thus it is with greater shame that Fanny was forgotten over time, when such pains were taken to remember the men of her era.
A great while ago I mentioned that I had purchased Singular Women:
This book features a running dialogue on if and how art historians (all types of art) must change the way they study and present women artists. This book really helped me put into focus a lot of the emotional duress I had been feeling in Music History about the fate of Fanny and other female composers, and how they had been lost to time.
I had, after doing some research on the subject, also written an essay on how underrepresented women are in conducting even today for the written portion of my conducting final.
There are still so many fields where it is much harder for women to gain prominence, or even make it, that I am trying to figure out what I can do to make a difference. It is one thing to recognize trends, it is another to change them.
I had not thought about dear Fanny in a couple of months, but last week I decided to listen to the Classical radio station on the way to work. When I got to work I was literally sobbing because the Fanny Mendelssohn piano trio playing was so beautiful. Then, the entire piece ended and all that the announcer had to say was, “many agree that had she been born in another era, she would probably be just as famous as her brother, Fehhhhhlix”.
Immediately all of the emotional investment I had had in Fanny during Music History tumbled back, and I realized something lovely:
Fanny Mendelssohn is the reason why I blog.
Not just Fanny, of course.
I blog for all of the women out there who, through time, have fallen into obscurity.
I write so that women no longer have to be the underdog, in history or in their own lives.
I am lucky to live in an era where the rights that women have so long campaigned for have been granted (mostly).
But now, we are in the next stage of the journey of female equality.
And this stage is much harder than the last.
Now, we have to convince ourselves.
I know that my blog, from a distance, can appear to be trivial. Yes, it is a lively account of my day to day activities. I review media and makeup and beauty products. I share my often-changing life goals. I share funny stories. I enthusiastically promote whatever I happen to be passionate about at the moment, whether it is kale, or exercise, or lipstick, or the Divacup. Sometimes I contradict myself.
I do all of the above, but all of the above also does other things: I know many women personally who have been inspired to take control of their own health because of my sharing my weight loss journey. I sparked a rash of women taking pride in their appearance for themselves because of my post a long while ago about why I dress up. Only a couple of women have purchased the Divacup because of me, but I have gotten a lot of women and men talking about female health and overcoming stigmas about their own bodies and conversation. There have been many times that a person has come up to me to tell me that they have been reading my blog and that some silly little post really changed their day, inspired them, or helped them through a difficult time.
There are days when I do feel that perhaps my blog is not doing anything except allowing me to prattle away. My stats, while they have been more than doubling every year, are lousy. Hardly anyone ever participates in my polls. Then, I sit and really think about all of the times I have heard back, perhaps months later, about how some post really affected someone, helped them. And that is all that I want. If I can make even one person love and respect themselves (and subsequently others), I have all of the reason in the world to continue blogging.
Music was not allowed to be Fanny’s career, but that did not stop her from composing. Fanny loved music as she loved her brother and husband and family and friends and life. It is tragic that she was forgotten, but who knows how many lives she changed with her Sunday Salons, or her intelligent letters, or masterful compositions?
Now, today, we must do our best not to forget. Not to forget what other women have done on the path to equality and respect, and, mostly, not to forget ourselves and what we can do every single day.
I may or may not be remembered after I am gone. That is not my concern.I must look to the past for inspiration, but I should not be tied up in my future. What I can do is make a difference every single day, even if it is just by telling you about a skincare system (Alaffia week one post to follow later today) or sharing a story about how I learned to love myself, or writing a play.
So, to all of the strong but underrepresented Fannys out there, this one’s for you!
P.S. Someone started a twitter for Fanny. It is satire. It is funny. But I am certain that the real Fanny (or, rather, my imagination’s version of the real Fanny) had far better things to do than make her #twatofabrother’s life miserable by scribbling on his compositions.