For Fanny Hensel it was not without obstacles publishing her music in a male dominated society in the 19. century.
Now the Israeli soprano Chen Reiss has dedicated her new album to the sister of Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy.
Hence, Chen Reiss illuminates a hidden corner of the music history and an interesting family history. Klassisk bureau has had a talk with Chen Reiss about the new album, women in music and the drama of Fanny Hensel.
She is known as a great fan of the Viennese classic repertoire. Also, she seems like an artificial romantic who easily smiles and fall into bubbling optimism.
Chen Reiss is born in Israel and now she lives in London with her family. Since 2007 she has been practicing as a freelance opera singer and teacher and this summer one can see and hear her with orchestras like Die Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen, Orchester Wiener Akademie and Orchestre philharmonique de Radio France. The concerts take place at different occasions in Europe.
Two women from different ages meet in music. Chen Reiss feels affinity to Fann Hensel in different ways.
During the corona pandemic Chen Reiss was somewhat less busy performing. In this period she found time and peace for recording. Many smiles are going through the video interview while talking about the recording, and the joy of the new album is clear. ”Fanny Hensel & Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy – Arias-Lider-Ouvertures” is published from Onyx Classics and Chen Reiss is singing with Jewish Chamber Orchestra Munich and conductor Daniel Grossman for her first time.
To Chen Reiss it is an album with a certain mission.
“It’s not just another CD. It is a very personal project for me”, she says. Both as jew and woman she feels strong affinity to Fanny Hensel. “I have a mission to promote her and bring her to the knowledge of the public”, she says. Talking about this mission it also comes into light that Fanny Hensel was working under hard conditions.
“She was a female composer and we must support female composers. The social conditions at that time didn’t allow Fanny Hensel to perform and therefor her music was often published in her brother’s name”, Chen Reiss explains.
That makes Chen Reiss a voice of the increasing attention on female composers. At the same time, she contributes to telling the story of a Jewish family that in the 19. century worked under strong pressure from the society because of their origin and religion. The family converted to Lutheran Christianity and it seems that Fanny Hensel felt more familiarity with Christianity. Also, her music doesn’t sound very Jewish, Chen Reiss assesses.
“The music is inspired by the Lied style of the romantism. Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy and Fanny Hensel knew J. S. Bach and Beethoven and Fanny is a romantic with classical characteristics. Also, she has more drama and sense of theater. “Hero and Leander” is in the style of the younger Wagner”, Chen Reiss says.
“Hero and Leander” is recorded on the album and is a drama describing the Greek love drama of the female priest Hero and the young man Leander.
Chen Reiss reflects on the history of music; with her latest CD she wants to give Fanny Hensel the attention she didn't get to experience.
Foto: Paul Marc Mitchell
As said before, Viennese classic repertoire is among Chen Reiss' favorites.
“I like Haydn, Mahler and Strauss”, she says. The romantic style is however also among her darlings, and here Fanny Hensel is somehow special.
“Fanny Hensel is different. Her music is moving and intimate. Her songs express deep feelings. She was very talented in creating a certain atmosphere, for example being in a gondola. She takes you somewhere”, Chen Reiss says and is here referring to “Gondellied” from the album.
Like a greater part of the recorded songs, “Gondollied” is not originally written for soprano and orchestra. The Israeli pianoplayer Tal Samnon has made the new arrangements of these songs, among them also “Meine Seele ist stille”. Eight of the songs by Fanny Hensel are recorded for the first time in this orchestra version.
Sadly, Fanny Hensel died at the age of 41 in 1847 and her brother passed away later the same year. Shortly after his death his music was pushed aside and during the Nazi regime he was banned. Having the new album from Chen Reiss there is more revealed in the history of music and to the story of the Mendelssohn-Bartholdy family.
What is left to tell this time is that Chen Reiss haven’t visited Denmark for a concert – yet.
“I’m just waiting for an invitation”, she says with one of her bright smiles. Until then and everything regardless Chen Reiss’ new album is available on Onyx.