Skip to Main Content

Felix Mendelssohn: A Guide to Resources at the Library of Congress

A prominent composer of the early 19th century, Felix Mendelssohn is well represented in the print, manuscript, and digital collections of the Library's Music Division.


Lithograph portrait of Felix Mendelssohn. Undated. Artist unknown. Gertrude Clarke Whittall Foundation Collection / Mendelssohn Collection. Library of Congress Music Division.

Jakob Ludwig Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy (1809–1847), commonly known as Felix Mendelssohn, was an influential composer, pianist, organist, and conductor in the first half of the 19th century. The Performing Arts Reading Room holds a significant collection of Mendelssohn materials, particularly through the contents of the William Thomas Freemantle Collection, itself part of the Gertrude Clarke Whittall Foundation Collection / Mendelssohn Collection. These materials include over 40 music manuscripts and sketches, over 300 letters, many first and early editions of music scores, artwork, portraits and other iconography, critical editions, scholarly literature on Mendelssohn, facsimiles, special collections, iconography, sound recordings, and access to a variety of subscription databases.

Mendelssohn spent the majority of his professional life working in Berlin and Leipzig, but took ten extended visits to Britain between 1829 and 1847. Among his most well-known compositions are his Violin Concerto, op. 64; the oratorios Paulus, op. 36 [St. Paul] and Elias, op. 70 [Elijah]; and his five symphonies. Equally well-known and beloved are his Lieder ohne Worte [Songs without Words], short lyrical works for solo piano with arguably programmatic subtexts. Mendelssohn wrote eight sets of these Lieder, with the last two books published posthumously. Mendelssohn's sister, Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel, was also a skilled composer and pianist; Felix published a handful of her songs under his own name.

In 1829 Mendelssohn led a performance of J.S. Bach's St. Matthew Passion, and the performance's success led to a revival of Bach's works throughout the European continent. Mendelssohn thereafter found great success as a conductor. His own oratorios are likewise indebted to Bach's music, and a sense of historicity—particularly through the lenses of religion and sacred music—colors much of Mendelssohn's musical style and identity. His grandfather was the renowned Jewish philosopher Moses Mendelssohn, but the composer was baptized at age seven and raised Protestant. The intersections of his Jewish and Protestant ties continue to shape both musicological research and performances of his music.

Contact the Recorded Sound Research Center or the Moving Image Research Center directly for information on recordings or film footage.

About the Performing Arts Reading Room

The Performing Arts Reading Room is the access point for the collections in the custody of the Music Division at the Library of Congress. Numbering approximately 20.5 million items and spanning more than 1000 years of Western music history and practice, these holdings include the classified music and book collections, music and literary manuscripts, iconography, microforms, periodicals, musical instruments, published and unpublished copyright deposits, and close to 500 special collections in music, theater, and dance.