Spotlight on Great Classical Composers: Mendelssohn


It’s time for another Spotlight post ~!  This month, we take a look at Felix Mendelssohn (1809 – 1847) and his life experiences.

One of the most-celebrated figures of the early Romantic period, Mendelssohn grew up in an intellectually rich surrounding and received a well-rounded education as a child and a youth from the best teachers in Germany.  Since young, Mendelssohn and his sister Fanny proved themselves gifted musicians, with young Mendelssohn publishing his first composition at the age of 13, completing 12 String Symphonies by 14, a Symphony for a full orchestra by 15, and his first masterpiece ~ the String Octet in E flat major by 16. 

Beyond music, young Mendelssohn was also exposed to painting and literature.  Amongst the great literary works, Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream was young Mendelssohn’s favourite.  And in 1826 when a German translation of this play entered his family’s library, young Mendelssohn became inspired to compose an Overture to this play for two pianos as part of a home performance.  Coincidentally, 17 years after this Overture, the King of Prussia invited Mendelssohn to compose incidental music for a drama production of this same play, within which housed Mendelssohn’s well-known Wedding March.

an operatic adaptation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream by Benjamin Britten (also a Great Classical Composer ~!  Read about him here !)


Between 1829 and 1832, a youthful Mendelssohn travelled widely across the European continent – beginning first with his first trip to England where he conducted his Symphony No. 1 in c minor at the London Philharmonic Society.  After which, he visited Scotland with his childhood friend, Carl Klingemann, touring the land for over 3 weeks – when greatly impressed by the sights of Scotland, Mendelssohn and Klingemann recorded multiple poetic and visual accounts of their experiences.

Over the next years from 1830 to 1832, Mendelssohn travelled through Germany, Austria, Italy and Switzerland before returning to London, where he published the first book of his Lieder ohne Worte (Songs Without Words), a book of piano music.  Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 4 ‘Italian’ was also a product of this period of travels, drawing inspiration from his impressions of vibrant Italy.  Commissioned by the London Philharmonic Society, this work was later premiered to great success in 1833 under Mendelssohn’s own baton.

his well-loved Symphony No. 4 ‘Italian’ which was later presented by renowned orchestras all across the world


In this year, Mendelssohn also rose to the position of music director at Düsseldorf.  And in 1835, became the conductor of the Gewandhaus Orchestra in Leipzig.  Over the next decade, Mendelssohn completed multiple works, including his iconic Violin Concerto in e minor – a work that took him over 6 years to complete and which remains an elegant classic conveying a deepest sense of Romantic wonder.

Mendelssohn passed away at the young age of 38 in 1847, only a few years after he founded the Conservatory of music in Leipzig where he taught composition alongside Robert Schumann.  In spite of a brief life, Mendelssohn is remembered today as one of the most inspired composers of the early Romantic period.

To find out more about Mendelssohn’s experiences, and even about his endeavours into landscape painting, join us in The Glasshouse now ~!

*P.S. If you have dropped by our landing page of The Glasshouse, you would have seen our latest illustrated Story based on the 1819 Suite for chamber orchestra by Singaporean composer Jonathan Shin !  Commissioned by Resound Collective to bring to visual life the music of 1819 Suite, this special illustrated Story created to celebrate this National Day will be available for all to view until 19 September ~!  

Do drop by to enjoy the illustrations by Soh Fia, meaningful writings on Singapore’s history by Dr Loh Kah Seng, and this Story which is directed by Tang Tee Khoon, before this display expires ! (;

See you in September for our next Spotlight on Great Classical Composers !