Cécile Mendelssohn-Bartholdy née Jeanrenaud / painting by E Magnus.
En route to Düsseldorf to conduct the Niederrheinisches Musikfest (Lower Rhine Music Festival) in late May 1836, Mendelssohn stopped in Frankfurt am Main in order to pay a visit to friends and family there. It was during this visit that he was introduced to the prosperous Souchay family, a daughter of which, Cécile Jeanrenaud, was also a member of the chorus of Frankfurt's Cäcilienverein. Mendelssohn recalled their first meeting with extraordinary detail: it was on May 4, he later wrote, when he met a woman with "most bewitching deep blue eyes." While Mendelssohn was obliged to leave Frankfurt for Düsseldorf two days later in order to prepare for the Festival concert, on which his oratorio Paulus (St. Paul) -- a work which would prove to be the most popular of the composer's works during his lifetime -- was to receive its première performance, his thoughts continued to return to Cécile during his absence. Within a matter of weeks he would return to pursue his courtship of her.
By June 7, Mendelssohn had returned to Frankfurt, spending his days revising Paulus, socializing with friends and family members, and of course becoming better acquainted with Cécile and her family. Accounts of her contemporaries describe Cécile as a woman of striking beauty, a petite woman with delicate features and a calm, quiet, gracious manner -- a counterbalance to Felix's typically gregarious manner. During Cécile's two-week absence from Frankfurt within that same month, Mendelssohn's growing esteem for her was both reinforced and revealed in the form of a lovely Duett ohne Worte ("Duet without words") for piano solo (op. 38, no. 6), described by biographer R. Larry Todd as an "instrumental love duet." At about this time he had also written to his family about a wunderschönes Mädchen ("very beautiful girl") with whom he admitted that he was "dreadfully in love." Their mutual love of art encouraged them to spend time drawing together during their early courtship. The couple became engaged on September 9 of that same year -- Mendelssohn proposed to Cécile during a day trip to the forested hills north of Frankfurt -- and were married on March 28 of the following year (1837). From all indications, their marriage was evidently a happy one, with the composer having rediscovered, by his own admission, a contentment that he hadn't known since childhood. Cécile, for her part, shared in her husband's personal joys and professional triumphs, and provided a degree of encouragement and stability for him that endured throughout his life.