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The seeds of Felix Mendelssohn’s extraordinary ability were sewn by at least two generations of outstanding achievers, who between them combined learning at the highest level with considerable material wealth.
Most notable was his paternal grandfather Moses Mendelssohn (1729–1786), the celebrated German Jewish philosopher and reformist, whose 10 children included Joseph and Abraham (1776–1835, Felix’s father), who co-founded the Mendelssohn & Co. banking house in 1805.
The year before, Abraham had married Lea Solomon, granddaughter of Daniel Itzig, who had amassed a small fortune as court banker to Frederick the Great.
Culturally, intellectually and financially, Felix could therefore have hardly wished for a finer start in life. Yet the family was not particularly ostentatious with its wealth and encouraged industriousness and personal achievement in all matters.
One visitor to the Mendelssohn household noted that Abraham aspired to free thinking and believed in striving constantly towards making the best of one’s abilities.
Lea was of a similar mind-set; away from her wifely duties and domestic chores, she would invariably be found with her head in a book or in a whirlwind of creative activity. It was into this enlightened atmosphere that their first two children, Fanny and Felix, were born on November 14, 1805 and February 3, 1809 respectively.