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Fanny Mendelssohn, Felix Mendelssohn’s beloved older sister, died unexpectedly at the age of 41 in May of 1847. This was a devasting blow to Felix, who was unable to attend the funeral. With his wife, Cécile, and his brother, Paul, Felix went to Switzerland to recover. There, he hiked and painted, and forced himself to compose, “in the hope that later I may feel like working and enjoy it,” as he wrote to his younger sister, Rebecca.

Nonetheless, he had this F-minor Quartet finished by September. (It would be one of his last completed works; Mendelssohn himself died November 4, at the age of 38.) It is tough, powerful music. It begins soft and fleet, but with rising intensity. There are hints of contrasting consolation, but the struggles are serious and impassioned.

The ensuing Scherzo, while quick and energetic, has none of the moonlit fairy magic so characteristic of a Mendelssohn scherzo. More anguished yet is the Adagio, a deeply personal elegy as accomplished in craft as it is profound in expression.

Mendelssohn found scant solace in his finale, where the main contrast for anxiety is anger. It is tautly focused for the most part, but blazing with grief in the development section and concluding coda.

— John Henken