Music Professor Honored for Book

Study of Mendelssohn aims to reassess the contributions of German composer

Professor of Music R. Larry Todd's "Mendelssohn: A Life in Music" was named best biography of 2003 by the Association of American Publishers.

The book, published by Oxford University Press, is the first major English biography of the composer in several decades, and in it Todd said he sought to recognize Felix Mendelssohn's genius.

"He's a familiar composer - half the people have been married to the Wedding March - but he is often viewed as a composer who missed being truly great. My biography is an attempt to reassess that and really argue for a multifaceted genius," Todd said.

Mendelssohn was a pianist, organist, conductor, composer, painter, draftsmen, classical scholar, and speaker of five languages, he said.

Todd said he also wanted to shed some light on the life and work of Mendelssohn's sister, Fanny Hensel. Hensel was also a prodigy and a composer, who left 400 compositions, he said.

Todd said he was honored by the award, which "recognizes excellence and innovation in professional, scholarly and reference publishing."

"It's wonderful news," he said. "Whenever you write a book of this kind and send it out there, there's always going to be criticism. But it's always nice when there are positive critical affirmations as well."

Todd said Mendelssohn was revered during his lifetime, but after he died at 38, he fell out of favor, partly because of anti-Semitism (his grandfather was a Jewish philosopher, though his family converted to Christianity) and the 20th-century backlash against the Victorian era.