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Felix Mendelssohn:
Music Based on Shakespeare

Probably no playwright has had more music based on his work than William Shakespeare. Felix Mendelssohn, Henry Purcell, Hector Berlioz, Giuseppe Verdi are just a few of the composers who've been inspired by Shakespeare's plays.

Music heard in this episode:
Mendelssohn: A Midsummer Night’s Dream: Overture
Purcell: Fairy Queen
Korngold: Viel Lärmen um Nichts
Berlioz: Beatrice et Benedict
Nicolai: Merry Wives of Windsor Overture
Verdi: Falstaff
Vaughan Williams: Variations on Greensleeves
Verdi: Macbeth
Verdi: Otello
Elgar: Pomp and Circumstance
Mendelssohn: Midsummer Night’s Dream: Scherzo

Other shows about Felix Mendelssohn:
About Felix Mendelssohn
A Midsummer Night's Dream
Child Prodigy Composers
Women Composers

Download this month's activity sheet

About Felix Mendelssohn
2/3/1809 - 11/4/1847
Born in Germany

Felix Mendelssohn was lucky enough to be born into a rich family, with loving parents who encouraged him to be a musician. And he certainly had the right name. Felix is Latin for "happy."

Mendelssohn was born in Hamburg, Germany, and grew up in Berlin. His grandfather was the great Jewish philosopher Moses Mendelssohn, but Felix Mendelssohn lived at a time when it was very difficult to be Jewish in Germany -- there were all kinds of laws and taxes that applied only to Jews. Felix Mendelssohn's father Abraham was a banker who didn't want to deal with anti-Semitism -- people discriminating against him just because he was Jewish. So he converted to Christianity, and changed the family name to Mendelssohn-Bartholdy.

The Mendelssohn family held regular Sunday afternoon concerts at their house, so Felix grew up with music all around him. He was already a terrific pianist as a child, and started composing when he was ten. As a teenager, Mendelssohn had already written some of his greatest music. He was also a wonderful visual artist.

Mendelssohn was very close to his older sister, Fanny, who also played the piano and composed. The two of them not only made music together, they also put on plays -- like A Midsummer Night's Dream by William Shakespeare.

Mendelssohn loved to travel. His trips to other countries inspired some of his best music, like his Scottish and Italian Symphonies.

Mendelssohn also became well known as a conductor. When he was just 20, he put together and conducted the first concert of Johann Sebastian Bach's St. Matthew Passion since Bach's lifetime.

See other composers born in Germany


This Week's Quiz:

1. William Shakespeare was a






2.At what age did Mendelssohn compose his Overture to A Midsummer Night's Dream?






3. What other composer wrote music based on a Shakespeare play?







Felix Mendelssohn
“Scherzo” from A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Composed in 1843
Performed by Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra
Anthony Bramall, conductor

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