1M: Paul Mendelssohn

2M: pianist and cellist OR pianist and singer

“Our parents thought by converting—using the name Bartholdy—Uncle Jakob had bought some land on the river Bartholdy, they thought it sounded what—Christian? Upper class. Bless dear Rebekka, she refused to answer at all to Bartholdy, she even signed her name in defiance as Rebecka Mendelssohn hypen nicht Bartholdy. Fanny didn’t like it. Felix dropped the hyphenization, one of the very few times Father grew intensely angry with him. Only I kept it, the good banker, guardian of my family’s fortunes.”

Paul Mendelssohn


Paul Mendelssohn, youngest sibling to brother Felix and sisters Rebekka and Fanny, has less than a year to live when he begins telling the remarkable saga of his youth amid unparalleled genius. He has outlived them by 20 years—all three dead before the age of 42—and as he cautiously reveals the past we discover that both Felix and Fanny wrote delightful early cello works for him. No slouch on the cello but not a genius; the banking trade was decided for him.

Felix and Fanny created the form Song Without Words—songs that need no words—and though the Mendelssohns wrote more letters than any other family in musical history, their primal connection was music. Music often composed for one another; circulated among them for criticism and approval; a language of which Felix wrote: The music I love does not express thoughts too indefinite to be put into words, but too definite.

Song Without Words is my very first portrait and I had great beginner’s luck. Many years earlier Sanda Schuldmann and I had premiered a Double Concerto by Benjamin Lees in Carnegie Hall. After the concert, Morton Gould brought Theodore BIkel backstage to meet us. Theodore Bikel handed us a card with his address and phone number: Maybe we can do something together someday, he said. That someday came 10 years later when I sent the script to the address, not knowing if it would arrive. A few days later I received a phone call: Harry Clark, Theo here. When do we do this piece?! We have done this piece many times with him and it’s always a pleasure and honor.

PS: As I am writing this news comes news of Mary Travers’ death—Mary of Peter, Paul and Mary. In her obit it was said that she suffered stage fright and was very reluctant to sing publically in her early day in Greenwich Village. Who was it that set her right? Theo Bikel.

Music: Felix and Fanny Hensel Mendelssohn

Recording: Chamber Music PLUS Presents, Theo Bikel