A new feature documentary about Fanny Mendelssohn is to be screened in UK cinemas from 27 October 2023. Dartmouth Films’ Fanny: The Other Mendelssohn from BAFTA-winning director Sheila Hayman and producer Mercury Studios will be shown in more than 100 locations throughout the UK.
The film reveals ‘the extraordinary story of Fanny, a composer long ignored by the classical music world in favour of her famous brother Felix, who despite being forbidden a musical career persevered, composing 450 works in her short life’.
The film also features pianist Isata Kanneh-Mason who performs Fanny’s Easter Sonata – a work that was lost for 150 years and when found attributed to Felix, before finally being recognised as hers. During the documentary Kanneh-Mason explores ‘the parallels between her life and Fanny’s – including the challenge of being a pioneer with few role models in classical music’.
Sheila Hayman, Fanny Mendelssohn’s three times great-granddaughter, writes and directs the film, shot with an all-female crew in Berlin, New York, London, Oxford and Buckingham Palace and featuring many of Fanny’s never-before-heard or recorded pieces.
Hayman writes: Some years ago, I made a film for the BBC called ‘Mendelssohn, The Nazis and Me’, about Felix Mendelssohn (my four times great uncle), his mixed Jewish/Christian identity, and its consequences for the family, his music and all ‘Jewish’ music under the Nazis. In the course of making it, I began to find out about Fanny, my direct ancestor, who immediately seemed to me a much more interesting character.
Then I heard the story of the ‘Easter Sonata’, which Fanny mentions once in her diary (not discovered or published until the 1990s). It resurfaced as a manuscript in 1970s Paris, and was recorded as an unknown masterpiece by Felix Mendelssohn: a barnstorming, adventurous, technically demanding work written in the year after Beethoven died. But nobody paid much attention until around 2010, when a young graduate student heard a bootleg recording of it, recognised it as being Fanny’s style, not Felix’s, and set out to prove her case.
The definitive critical edition of the work will be published by Bärenreiter next year; the first work of Fanny’s to get the imprimatur of a ‘serious’ music publisher, after eight years of labour by the American musicologist Marie Rolfe (whose husband, Robin Lehman, has the world’s largest private collection of music manuscripts).
My film interweaves the story of Fanny’s life, the excavation of that life, the uncovering of the ‘Easter Sonata’ during that excavation, and Isata Kanneh-Mason learning the Sonata and revealing what it shows her about Fanny.
Full screening information can be found at: dartmouthfilms.com/fannytheothermendelssohn