Grace Cathedral

Grace Cathedral

Article | August 4, 2020

Celebrating Women’s Suffrage: Fanny Hensel


In celebration of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, Grace Cathedral is proud to present the Music of Fanny Hensel, an online concert featuring Susan Jane Matthews on Friday, August 21st. Matthews will perform the amazing music of Fanny Hensel (1805-1847) from the 1934 Aeolian-Skinner pipe organ and Steinway D piano of Grace Cathedral in San Francisco.

The 19th Amendment, which granted and guaranteed suffrage regardless of sex, finally gave women a voice in American politics. Grace Cathedral marks the centennial of this momentous occasion by reflecting on the music of Fanny Hensel, a German composer whose work went unrecognized in her time due to the era’s politics surrounding gender.   

Fanny was the older sister of famed composer Felix Mendelssohn, and was by most accounts even more talented than her younger brother. Though Felix would often publish Fanny’s works under his own name, there was great mutual respect between the siblings, and they would often send each other notes and critiques on their compositions. When Queen Victoria chose to sing her favorite lieder by Felix, Schöner und schöner, he confessed to her that it had in fact been written by his sister. 

Fanny married Wilhelm Hansel, a painter and feminist, and wrote her only two organ pieces for their wedding mere hours before the occasion. Fanny would often perform her and her brother’s compositions at Sonntagsmusiken (Sunday musicales), which she hosted at the Hensel home in Berlin, where even Chopin was in attendance. While Fanny was able to publish her work in the last two years of her life, she did not receive proper recognition until the 1980s.

Soloist Susan Jane Matthews aims to shine a light on Fanny Hensel’s legacy and introduce her music to a larger global audience. Of the 450 compositions, Matthews’ program highlights the first musical calendar ever composed for piano and the organ processionals Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel composed for her own wedding. Matthews will also perform four of Fanny’s favorite songs for piano which she did publish just before her sudden death.

Susan Jane Matthews has performed throughout the United States and in Europe, including solo organ recitals at St. John the Divine Cathedral, New York City; La Madeleine and St.-Sulpice, Paris; St. Paul’s Cathedral, London; and the Himmerod Abbey, Germany. She is Director of Music at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Burlingame, California and former Principal Organist of Grace Cathedral, San Francisco. 

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