Melbourne Conservatorium of Music - Theses

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    Fanny Hensel and virtuosity
    Goldsworthy, Anna Louise ( 2002)
    Fanny Hensel occupied a unique position in the history of music. She received an exceptional music education, and revealed a rare ability as performer and composer. In the early years of her life, she was often compared favourably to her brother, Felix Mendelssohn. However, Hensel was discouraged by her father, and later by her brother, Felix Mendelssohn, from practising her art in public, as composer or performer. Most of her musical life was enacted in the 'semi-public' space of her Sonntagsmusiken, the series of concerts she staged in the Mendelssohn family home. The thesis examines the results of these restrictions on Hensel's musical life, as performer and composer. It situates Hensel in relation to various public/private dichotomies: 'virtuosity' versus 'accomplishment'; 'public' versus 'private' genres of music; and the published as opposed to the amateur composer. Chapter 1 provides a background of the life of Fanny Hensel. Chapter 2 seeks a definition of 'virtuosity', and explores Fanny Hensel as a pianist in relation to this concept. It draws on contemporary records of her playing and her performance history, and explores her deep-seated ambivalence about virtuosity. It concludes that Fanny Hensel can indeed by labelled a 'virtuoso', albeit a conflicted one. Chapter 3 explores Fanny Hensel as a composer, and Felix Mendelssohn's impact on her compositional life. Felix Mendelssohn urged her to write, but discouraged publication: a restriction she was only able to overcome in the last year of her life. The effect of Hensel's enforced privacy on her compositions is explored. The last chapter takes Fanny Hensel's piano trio in D minor as a specific focus, and tabulates its virtuoso textures. Hensel's trio is situated in the context of its genre, which highlights the originality of her choices. This chapter draws on my own experience as pianist, as I examine the way the trio both celebrates and suppresses virtuosity.