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What does Fanny Mendelssohn say about the transposition of songs?

The Viennese singer Franz Hauser (1794-1870) belonged to Felix Mendelssohn’s circle of friends, and through Felix he also became acquainted with and came to appreciate Fanny and her songs.

A letter of Fanny Mendelssohn’s, presumably written after 1840, provides information about songs she sent to Hauser, songs he had heard during his previous visit to Berlin:

"As you desired, I had some of the songs transposed. But if I were my husband, that is to say, a painter, I would have drawn for you the long face and the hanging lips of the sad composer. I, like Felix, consider transposition a great crime.... By the way, the selection you made would not have been the one I would have made. There are some songs among them that I almost reluctantly part with, because they do not really please me."

Quite obviously, the precisely specified compass, the relation-ship between the poem and the character of the key, and the interpretation of the text above a particular timbre in the tonal system were extremely important to the composer. Thinking in and with keys is a component of her composing, belongs to the substance of her music.   

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Fanny Mendelssohn

Painting by Wilhelm Hensel