Schumann, Chopin and later Brahms each shared some extramusical polemical agendas, but these agendas were relatively restricted. Mendelssohn and Wagner […] were convinced of the possibilities inherent in musical culture vis-a-vis society as a whole. They undertook grandiose plans as composers and performers to reform national standards and secure a place for music in creation of a self-image for the nation. For Mendelssohn, the project was largely conservative and classicist, if not historicist, characterized by a benign and admiring focus in active music making in the home, in public, and in church.
Some Mendelssohn performances served quite unusual audiences. At his uncle Nathan's foundry in Bad Reinerz he played a Mozart concerto to an audience of ironworkers. At Brandenburg in October 1828 he explained fugues to military officers and played music, including the Well-Tempered Clavier, on local church organs. Ar the Gutenberg festival in Leipzig in June 1840 Mendelssohn's Festgesang was performed in the town square while booksellers sold their wares.
If his reputation suffered from the heavier performing styles of the later 19th century, which tended to sentimentalise his music, and also from the current of anti-Semitism that led to his music being banned by the Nazis, a modern perspective can appreciate his freshness and directness of expression, as well as the perfect ear for colour and texture, that place him among the greatest composers of any age.
Though [Mendelssohn] was one of the most beloved composers of the Romantic period, 270 of his works remained unpublished until recent years. These lost compositions are now coming to light through The Mendelssohn Project.
Mendelssohn's music is firmly classical in form and romantic in nature. Like his contemporary Schumann, his music is largely pleasant and evocative, without the strong passions, opinions or inner turmoil of other composers. Although some of his works were clearly inspired by external events and bear highly descriptive titles, he shied away from any programmatic interpretations voicing the opinion that music was to be interpreted by the listener. Among the many works in traditional classical forms are symphonies, concertos, string quartets, etc. and he was also quite fond of the stand-alone concert overture which under other composers in later decades was to evolve into the tone poem.
Mendelssohn is one of the “Sunshine Composers” who, like Rossini and Saint-Saëns, wrote effortless, life-enhancing, optimistic music. “Felix” is the Latin for “happy” an auspicious choice for it reflects the character of the man and his music.
Felix Mendelssohn wrote one of his most brilliant pieces when he was only seventeen years old. The overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream, inspired by Shakespeare’s play of the same name, was successful enough that Mendelssohn revisited it several years later. In 1843, he wrote incidental music (songs, dances, and choruses) for the same play, including a processional to accompany the wedding of the Athenian ruler Theseus and the Amazon queen Hippolyta. This piece is, of course, Mendelssohn’s famous – and ubiquitous – Wedding March.
If Mendelssohn's early progress had been nothing short of phenomenal, no one could have predicted what was shortly to follow: an astonishingly accomplished String Octet in 1825 and, only a year later, the magical overture to A Midsummer Night's Dream, arguably two of the most stunning displays of youthful talent in western music.
Mendelssohn showed his musical ability beginning at a young age. Octet for Strings in E flat major, Op. 20, composed when he was 16, was significant not only because of his age, but because it is one of the first works of its kind.
Darkly handsome, with sensitive features and a sweet nature, [Mendelssohn] charmed Goethe, captivated young Queen Victoria and romanced Jenny Lind (along with some other women not his wife, Cécile). He popularized George Frideric Handel and revived a dormant Johann Sebastian Bach; led the renowned Gewandhaus Orchestra in Leipzig; wrote (and rewrote) the symphonies known as the ''Reformation,'' ''Scottish'' and ''Italian''; completed the incidental music to ''A Midsummer Night's Dream,'' with its famous wedding march; wrote chamber music and songs; composed the oratorios ''St. Paul'' and ''Elijah''; and painted and drew some 300 pictures.