CSU faculty member solves mystery of composer’s sister — 140 years later

For CSU Musicology Assistant Professor Angela Christian, years of study and passion have come to fruition as a century-and-a-half old art thriller has been solved. This week, her research culminates in London during International Women’s Week as Fanny Hensel, sister of Felix Mendelssohn, is publicly credited for composing the Easter Sonata.

Angela Christian

For decades, the manuscript for the ambitious piano sonata was assumed lost, and was even attributed to Fanny’s brother, Felix. In an upcoming article in the journal Musical Quarterly, Christian traces the history of the mysterious, long-lost manuscript, presenting the archival evidence to prove that the work was indeed by Fanny, and details how she was able to finally locate the manuscript in private ownership in France in 2010.

Based on details found in that manuscript, the CSU faculty member was able to clear up lingering questions about the authorship and programmatic elements of the work. An analysis of the work shows how Fanny drew on her compositional models of Bach, Beethoven and her brother Felix to create her ambitious piano sonata.

As part of BBC Radio 3’s International Women’s Day celebration, Christian is in London to talk about the sonata, and her rediscovery of the manuscript, during a live interview in London on Tuesday, March 7.

Fanny Mendelssohn

London film maker and Mendelssohn descendent, Sheila Hayman, and pianist Sofya Gulyak, a former winner of the Leeds International Piano Competition, will also be interviewed.

Tune in to the BBC Radio 3 website between 4-6 p.m. London time (9 a.m. MST) to hear the interviews: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b006tp0c

To properly credit Fanny’s musical genius, the gorgeous Easter Sonata will be performed by Sofya Gulyak at the Royal College of Music, as part of their Women in Music Series, on Wednesday, March 8.

The performance will be made available online as part of BBC Radio 3’s Lunchtime Concerts: Click here.

For Christian, it’s an incredible honor to be a part of BBC Radio 3’s International Women’s Day celebrating the accomplishments of Fanny Hensel. “The event has been mostly planned by women, led by Mendelssohn descendant Sheila Hayman, and the pianist, Sofya Gulyak, who was the first female prize winner in the Leeds International Piano Competition,” she said. “What a way to celebrate the achievements of women both past and present!”

Christian’s article “Authorship, Attribution, and the Historical Record: Solving the Mystery of the Easter Sonata by Fanny Hensel geb. Mendelssohn Bartholdy” will appear in an upcoming issue of Musical Quarterly, one of the top three journals in the musicology field. Submitted in June 2016, the article was peer reviewed and recently accepted by the journal, which has a broad international readership and represents a very high achievement in the field.

“I am thrilled,” Christian said during the BBC Radio 3 interview. “It has been quite an exciting story. Now I wish we could find the 32 lost fugues Fanny wrote!”

For more about this intriguing story, click here for an article from The Telegraph. For a complete list of International Women’s Day events held by BBC Radio 3 this week, click here.