Moses and Abraham Mendelssohn

Today we continue to look at fathers of composers as we head towards Father’s Day this month. We are looking at the Mendelssohn family this week. Felix and Fanny are the two famous musical names from this family. Let’s look at their grandfather and father.

German Jewish philosopher Moses Mendelssohn was their grandfather. He was born Moses Ben Mendel Dessau in 1729. He was born into a poor family and due to an illness in childhood, Moses did much of his schooling at home and was self taught in several things over the years. In 1750, Moses met a wealthy silk merchant who hired him to teach his children. Eventually Moses became the book keeper and worked his way to partner in the business. It was in the textile industry that he built the base for his family fortune. At some point Moses decided to change his last name, feeling that his birth name could would hinder him. Moses’ father was named Mendel and Moses chose Mendelssohn (son of Mendel). He started on his path to becoming a known philosopher in 1756 with Friedrich Nicolai and became quite prominent before his death in 1786.

Abraham Mendelssohn was born in 1776. By the time he was born, the family was well off and it continued to flourish. Abraham studied banking and joined his brother Joseph as a partner in his banking company, which would later be renamed Mendelssohn & Co. Like their father, Moses, Abraham & Joseph also changed their last name. To fit in better with German society, Joseph had taken on the last name of Bartholdy, the name of a property he had purchased. Abraham did the same and encouraged his children to do likewise. While Abraham obviously did well in his life as a banker, history has overshadowed him with a famous father and two famous children.

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