Google has replaced its homepage logo with a Doodle celebrating the birthday of German composer and pianist Fanny Hensel.

Life of Fanny Hensel

Fanny Hensel was born Fanny Mendelssohn on November 14, 1805 – 216 years ago today – in Hamburg, Germany. Fanny’s mother had been taught in the traditional style of the great composer Johann Sebastian Bach, and Fanny followed suit, learning the piano at a young age.

At age 14, for a birthday party for her father, Fanny played all 24 preludes of Bach’s “The Well-Tempered Clavier” from memory. Along with her brother Felix – a talented pianist in his own right – Fanny went on to receive lessons in musical composition, including from Berliner Singakademie in Berlin.

Despite her undeniable talent, society was not yet welcoming of women – especially women of high society – in the world of music and composition, with her own father even being opposed to the idea of it becoming Fanny’s profession. As a daughter of an upper-class family, she had a predetermined role to play in society, and anything that would go against that role – such as publishing her compositions – would be considered an embarrassment to the family.

Instead, some of Fanny’s initially shared works were published under Felix’s name, to share her music broadly without embarrassing the family. As luck would have it, though, her song Italien caught the ears of Queen Victoria of England, who eventually expressed to Felix it was her favorite song of his. Felix, of course, confessed that it was written by his sister.

In 1829, Fanny married Wilhelm Hensel, and her husband was far more supportive of her potential to publish musical compositions. Despite this, it wasn’t until 1846 that Fanny Hensel published her first public work under her own name, “Opus 1.” As one of the first musical compositions published by a woman, this was a groundbreaking effort in letting women join the ranks of great composers of history.

Tragically, Fanny Hensel died just a year later, on May 14, 1847, from medical complications after a stroke. In her lifetime, Hensel wrote over 450 pieces of music, some of which went wrongfully attributed to Felix Mendelssohn for over a century.

Fanny Hensel Google Doodle

In the animated Google Doodle celebrating her 216th birthday, Fanny Hensel is sitting at a piano in the music room of her home. You can find a better picture of the room itself from an 1849 illustration over on Google Arts & Culture.

The animation has Fanny Hensel go through the motions of composing, playing a few quick notes with her left hand and writing them down with her right. In true Google Doodle fashion, the scene hides the letters of the word “Google” across four paintings, a plant, and a chair.

More Google Doodles

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About the Author

Kyle Bradshaw

Kyle is an author and researcher for 9to5Google, with special interests in Made by Google products, Fuchsia, and Stadia.

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