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Felix Mendelssohn & Bach
Part 1

Felix Mendelssohn

Mskahuna 2002 wrote (January 30, 2004):
Please forgive if this isn't the right forum to discuss this, and out me onto the right one. But I was wondering what motivated Felix Mendelssohn's championship of Bach? I know about the family tradition of Bach studies but was surprised when I read somewhere this statement : " I have often felt that the sufficient reason for their father's having baptized both Felix and Fanny can be found in Mendelssohn's revival of Bach (not to speak of his own oratorios)." I had thought if anyone was a sincere and devout convcert irt was Felix M. Is there anyone who can comment, including from a Mendelssohn perspective ?

David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote (January 31, 2004):
[To Mskahuna 2002] Your answer is a simple one: Zelter.

His teacher, Zleter, was at one point the custodian of the music library of the Berliner Singakademie. As such, he held custodianship over much of Karl Philipp Emanuel Bach's and Johann Christoph Altnikol's scores and manuscripts of Bach works that they gave to the institution or that the people who bought them from them gave to the institution. Unfortunately, due to the bombing in WWII, we will never know the entirety of the collection, since it was one of the heaviest bombing centers (along with Dresden and München). One example of the lost works thatt Zelter would have had custodianship over was the score and text to the so-called "Weimarer Passion". Another are the entire scores and texts to all four versions of the Johannespassion (BWV 245). The former came from the Altnikol estate, the latter from the Emanuel Bach estate.

Another influence in this direction on Zelter came from one of his friends, the preeminent German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.

Also, Zelter might have been influenced in this direction himself as a composer.

Carol wrote (January 31, 2003):
[To David Glenn Lebut Jr.] David, Thanks.

Do you know that Zlter believe Bach to be the genius Mendelssohn found him to be and thus encouragd him to look through the library, or did Mendelssohn discover this on his own after reading the scores? You said Zlter may have been influenced by his music in his composing, but didn't elaborate on whether he believed him outstanding. Also, do you know anything more on Goethe's opinion? I am a little confused by this statement:
< Another influence in this direction on Zelter came from one of his friends, the preeminent German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. >

Thomas Braatz wrote (February 1, 2003):
Bach, Goethe, Zelter, Mendelssohn

Philip Weller, in his article on Goethe in the New Grove (Oxford University Press, 2003) reports:
>>Goethe was passionate about musical experience, and he was in contact with practising musicians fairly regularly for most of his life. His close friendship with the Berlin composer C.F. Zelter produced, in addition to a quantity of lieder, a voluminous correspondence which included frequent discussion of musical topics. Zelter introduced his extraordinarily gifted student, Felix Mendelssohn, to the Goethe household in Weimar in 1821, and the young prodigy stayed there again several times during the 1820s On these visits he played Goethe's new Streicher piano to him almost daily, and occasionally performed before an invited audience (see illustration), covering a keyboard repertory from Bach through Mozart and Beethoven to recent compositions of his own and giving score-readings of orchestral works by Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and Weber. Other famous performers whom Goethe heard in Weimar included Hummel (who was appointed court Kapellmeister in 1819), Henriette Sontag, Clara Wieck, and, not least, Paganini, whose violin playing, accompanied by Hummel, Goethe compared to a ‘fiery, cloudy pillar’. He also heard such artists as the soprano Angelica Catalani (at Carlsbad, 1818) and the pianist Maria Szymanowska (in Weimar and elsewhere, 1822–3), and he was deeply moved by performances of Anna Milder-Hauptmann (Beethoven's first Leonore), whom he heard in the 1820s. Goethe's comments on music thus command interest, beyond the insight they offer into his inner world, as valuable eye-witness reports....

Goethe's musical taste was also founded on a veneration for both Mozart and J.S. Bach. In the case of Mozart (whom he heard perform only once, as early as 1763 in Frankfurt) it was above all the mature operas that interested him, but he also regarded the composer, along with Raphael and Shakespeare, as a pre-eminent example of an artist endowed with a ‘higher perception’ which informed not only his creative output but also, to an extent, his very existence. Goethe's interest in Bach was much less typical of his time, even though Bach had been in Weimar almost within living memory. He sought out a local musician, J.H.F. Schütz (1779–1828), to play Bach's preludes and fugues and chorale preludes to him, and he took a vicarious interest, through Zelter, in Mendelssohn's revival of the ‘St Matthew Passion’ (BWV 244) in Berlin in March 1829.<<

Friedrich Blume in the MGG article on Goethe states the following:
>>Forkels Büchlein (über Bach) von 1802 war nicht nur ein musikalischer Mahnruf, sondern auch ein politisches Manifest. Zelter, Rochlitz, nach ihnen Goethe und Mendelssohn fanden sich mit geheimer Gewalt angezogen.<< [“Forkel’s little book about Bach published 1802 was not only a ‚warning cry’ = ‚wake-up call’ but also a political manifesto. Zelter, Rochlitz, and after them, Goethe and Mendelssohn were drawn to it by an almost uncanny power.”]

>>Durch das »fast tägliche« Klavier-Spiel des Badeinspektors und Organisten J. H. F. Schütz in Bad Berka wurde Goethe im Sommer 1814 zum ersten Male die Bekanntschaft mit Werken J. S. Bachs vermittelt; sie wurde im Dezember 1815 in Berka vertieft.<< [“For the 1st time in the summer of 1814, Goethe became acquainted with some of Bach’s compositions through the ‚almost daily’ keyboard/organ performances given by the spa-inspector and organist J. H. F. Schütz in Bad Berka.”]

>>Zu seinen eindringlichsten musikalischen Alterserlebnissen gehörten die Besuche Felix Mendelssohns, der 12jährige 1821 von seinem Lehrer Zelter persönlich in Weimar eingeführt wurde und Goethe 1822, 1825 und 1830 wieder aufsuchte. Goethe ließ sich von ihm vorspielen, sich musiktechnisch und musikgeschichtlich belehren und legte eine zärtliche Liebe für ihn an den Tag (1822: »Ich bin Saul, und du bist mein David«; Anrede im letzten Brief vom 9. Sept. 1831: »Mein lieber Sohn)«. Mendelssohn widmete Goethe 1815 sein Kl.-Quartett h op. 3 und komponierte „Die erste Walpurgisnacht“ (1. Fassung 1832)….
Dem Instrumenten-Spiel war er aufgeschlossen; von Reichardt, Kayser, Zelter, Eberwein, Hummel, Spohr, Beethoven, dem Baron Oliva, der Szymanowska, von J. H. F. Schütz, zuletzt von Mendelssohn hat er sich immer, wieder vorspielen lassen.<< [„Among some of his (Goethe’s) most engaging/compelling musical experiences of his late maturity were the visits of Felix Mendelssohn, who was 12 years old in 1821 and had been introduced to Goethe personally in Weimar by his (Mendelssohn’s) teacher, Zelter. Further visits took place in 1822, 1825, and 1830. Goethe had Mendelssohn play for him and explain to him technical matters concerning music and music history. This relationship became one of tender devotion on the part of Goethe towards Mendelssohn: in 1822 Goethe said to Mendelssohn: “I am Saul and you are my David,” and in his last letter to Mendelssohn, Goethe began with “My dear son.” Mendelssohn dedicated his Piano Quartet in B minor, opus 3 to Goethe and composed music for “Die erste Walpurgisnacht” (1st version in 1832)…. Goethe was eager to hear instrumental music which was played by Reichardt, Kayser, Zelter, Eberwein, Hummel, Spohr, Beethoven, Baron Oliva, Szymanow(female pianist), J. H. F. Schütz, and finally by Mendelssohn whom he repeatedly asked to play something for him.”]

David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote (February 1, 2003):
[To Carol] From what I have read and heard, Goethe was a champion of Bach's music, and especially the Das Wohltemperierte Klavier and its successor volume and possibly the Passions. From what I have heard and read, the former appealed to him on the more scientific aspects while the latter were more on the religious aspects.

BTW, this was one of the main differences between him and another composer-friend of his, the Flemish/German/Viennese Pianist-Composer Ludwig van Beethoven. While he was well known (especially in the earlier stages of his performance career) to champion the Das Wohltemperierte Klavier, Beethoven was more drawn to Händel than Bach. Even if one looks at his contrapuntal output, it is more Haendelian than Bachian. In other words, it is looser and more able to be appreciated and understood than the Bachian mode, where it is so tight and rigid in the counterpoint writing.

The difference I think is in the background and experience of the two people involved. Händel was (firstly) born slightly earlier. He was not that exposed to or impressed into the Church (the Evangelical Church, that is) like Bach was. He was not born in Thueringen like Bach (and Luther) was (a region that took religion very seriously). He didn't come from a musical dynasty like Bach did. Although he did have instruction in Organ, he did not become an Orgelspieler or enter into Church service. He rather entered into the service of the State. He served under Princes and Electors far more than Bach did. He also travelled. With permission of his employers, he went to Luebeck, Italy, Hamburg, and England. His was not the world of the Church but of the Court and the Opera-House and Concert-Hall.

Therefore, as a result of his exposure to other styles of music, Händel's music is lighter and less compact and complex than Bach's. It is also more popular (not as in liked, but as in "of the people") than Bach's. This is also why (with very few exceptions [namely his Brockes-Passion, his Messiah, some of the Sinfonien and Ouvertueren to his Operas and Oratorios, and his Orgelkonzerte and Klavierwerke in minor keys,) I don't really like Händel's music. I like the more serious and emotionally expressive works (which usually for me involve minor-key works).

Carol wrote (February 1, 2003):
[To Thomas Braatz] Thanks for the well researched information. I have it in mind some day to get a copy of the New Grove Dictionary. Right now, all I have other than our encyclopedias, is Grout's "A History of Western Music", and I have good intentions of going back to the beginning of that book which describes hymns sung at Jewish Synagogue services, out of which Christian church hymns evolved; the first written example of which was found on papyrus in Egypt - to finally understand the Cantatas - all so I can maybe learn the difference between a chorus and a chorale, (there's no definition in this book) so I won't appear so completely ignorant -but I really have little time even to read everyone's posts. I know Goethe was discussed in the past, so maybe if I just found some of those posts I wouldn't have had to ask you. Also, maybe some of the questions I ask here could be answered if I only read more. But I found the following quote in your post interesting:
"Goethe had Mendelssohn ...explain to him technical matters concerning music and music history."

So even Goethe learned from conversation instead of reading about it all of the time. But I guess that's the real purpose of this website, and not just, "Which part of Cantata #24 do you find most beautiful? (I love the "Chorus" 3, Alles nun, das ihr wollet.." Really, I love it because it has what my family and I call the 'hurt notes', in the double fugue in G minor. But I'm also taken with the message, "Therefore all things ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them." How important that is. I'm paying more attention to the message now, since I've been a member.

I think I joined this group in hopes of understanding why one series of notes/chords, etc. appeals to one set of ears and not another. David Lebecause they

Further visits took place in 1822, 1825, and 1830. Goethe had Mendelssohn play for him and explain to him technical matters concerning music and music history.

Carol wrote (February 1, 2003):
[To Thomas Braatz & David Glenn Lebut Jr.] To continue - I didn't intend to send an unfinished message, but, that's what happened. I think one of the reasons I joined this group was in hopes of understanding why one series of notes/chords, etc. appeals to one set of ears and not another.

I guess I was going to finish by saying, David, that you said you prefer Bach to Händel, and I so agree. As you said, "I like the more serious and emotionally expressive works (which usually for me involve minor-key works)." David, your information was, as always, educational.

Anyway, I spend way too much time listening to Bach, which prevents me from doing the taxes on this Sunday, and most certainly distracts me from reading the Grout Music History book.

Listening to the Aria Duet between Soprano/Alto, "Gottes Wort, das truget nicht.." in (Suzuki) Cantata BWV 167 (and following that, the Chorale, "Sei Lob und Preis mit Ehren...") , is one more strange, astonishing, wonderful experience in my life today.

 

Bach and Mendelssohn

John Luther wrote (October 11, 2004):
I'm sure all of you know Bach was a major influence on Felix Mendelssohn. "Mendelssohn joined the Lutheran Church, and was attracted to the music of the Protestant Bach," (Kaufman, 87). In 1835, Mendelssohn was the conductor of the Gewandhaus Orchestra in Leipzig. He was commissioned as music director to King Frederick William IV of Prussia in 1841. In 1843 he helped to organize and found the Leipzig conservatory where with his friend Schumann, he taught composition.

Bach's influence on Mendelssohn seems to be most heard in Mendelssohn's "Reformation" symphony and his "Choral Works." Unfortunately I can't find Mendelssohn's words in English like I was able to find Bach's on the Bach website.

Can anyone help?

Uri Golomb wrote (October 12, 2004):
< Bach's influence on Mendelssohn seems to be most heard in Mendelssohn's "Reformation" symphony and his "Choral Works." >
Most notably, perhaps, in the chorale cantatas which Mendlesoshn around the period of his SMP revival. As I wrote before, all these works can be heard in excellent performances on a Brilliant Classics set conducted by Nicol Matt (see: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Performers/Matt-Gen.htm);

< Unfortunately I can't find Mendelssohn's words in English like I was able to find Bach's on the Bach website. >
Matt's set contains only originals, not translations. In the case of the psalm cantatas, finding the English versions is not that difficult -- it's just a matter of figuring out whether Mendlessohn has set the whole psalm or omitted some verses.

With other works, it's more difficult; although he often set chorale verses that also appear in BAch cantatas, for example, the texts for one Mendelssohn cantata might be distributed among several Bach works. If there is a good source for all his texts, I too would be interested in learning about it.

 

Bach-Mendelssohn-Schumann question

Aryeh Oron wrote (August 28, 2005):
Does anybody have detailed information about the ceremony in April 1843 at the unveiling of the Bach monument in Leipzig by Mendelsson. Wilhelm Friedrich Ernst Bach, a descent of J.S. Bach and Robert Schumann were also present. Did Schumann write anything about it?

Thanks,

Thomas Braatz wrote (August 28, 2005):
[To Aryeh Oron] I could not find much at all about the actual c, except that Mendelssohn selected the appropriate music for it.

Here are the selections from the music dictionaries, for what they are worth. (and a jpg as explained below)

From the Grove Music Online [Oxford University Press, 2005, acc. 8/28/05:

In April the new Bach monument was unveiled outside the Thomaskirche, an event witnessed by Bach's last surviving grandson, W.F.E. Bach.
R Larry Todd

On 23 April 1843, a year after a statue of Mozart had been placed in Salzburg, a monument to Bach was unveiled in Leipzig, with the performance of suitable music chosen by Mendelssohn. This occasion may be taken as the progenitor of all subsequent Bach festivals.
Percy M. Young

In view of the abundance of musical talent in over six generations of the Bach family, it may at first seem surprising, but is understandable if we look back at the circumstances in which they lived and worked, that at the unveiling of the Bach monument donated by Mendelssohn and erected outside the Thomaskirche in Leipzig in 1843 Wilhelm Friedrich Ernst Bach was the last and only representative of a family tradition that had lasted for over 250 years.
Christoph Wolff

From the MGG1 Bärenreiter, 1986

Bei der Enthüllung des Bachdenkmals in Leipzig am 23. April 1843 war er als einziger noch lebender männlicher Verwandter Joh. Sebastians anwesend.
Rolf Benecke

[W.F.E. Bach was the only living male relative alive who was present at the unveiling of the Bach statue in Leipzig on April 23, 1843.]

Die Verleger brachten wohl einzelne Werke auf den Markt, doch mangelte ihnen die Initiative zu einer G.A. Schelble brachte in einem Brief an Mendelssohns Freund Hauser zum Ausdruck, daß die Gemeinde der Bachverehrer die Ausführung des Gedankens selbst in die Hand nehmen müsse Seine eifrigsten Vorkämpfer wurden R. Schumann und F. Mendelssohn. Durch Aufführungen im Leipziger Gewandhauskonzert und durch Org.-Konzerte in der Thomaskirche suchte Mendelssohn die öffentliche Aufmerksamkeit zu fördern, die Mittel für das Leipziger Bach-Denkmal (1843) zu sammeln und den Boden für die Ausg. zu bereiten. Schumann setzte sich (seit 1837) schriftstellerisch in der Neuen Zs. f. Musik für den Plan ein.
Friedrich Blume

[The initiative on the part of publishers to publish a complete edition of Bach’s works was still lacking and as expressed in a letter by G.A.Schelble to Hauser, a friend of Mendelssohn, it would be necessary for Bach lovers to take matters into their own hands if anything at all would become of such a project. The most energetic, pioneering fighters for this cause were Robert Schumann and Felix Mendelssohn. By giving (charity) concerts in the Leipzig Gewandhaus and performing organ recitals in St. Thomas Church, Mendelssohn tried to attract public attention for this cause which involved collecting monies for the Leipzig Bach Monument (1843) and for establishing the basis for the complete edition of Bach’s works (BGA.) Schumann promoted this plan in his Neue Zeitschrift für Musik (of which he was editor.)]

This is Felix Mendelssohn’s own pencil drawing of the Bach Monument with a view of the St. Thomas School and Church (or is this statue and its dedication a different one?) that was paid for by Mendelssohn and unveiled on August 6, 1840 [sic]

Blick auf Thomasschule und Thomaskirche zu Leipzig. In den Anlagen das von Mendelssohn gestiftete und am 6. August 1840 enthüllte Bach-Denkmal. Bleistiftzeichnung von Felix Mendelssohn (um 1840). Basel, Internationale Felix- Mendelssohn-Gesellschaft.

[Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart: Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, Jakob Ludwig Felix, P. 87. Digitale Bibliothek Band 60: Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart, P. 50475 (cf. MGG Bd. 09, P. 0) (c) Bärenreiter-Verlag 1986]

Douglas Cowling wrote (August 28, 2005):
[To Aryeh Oron] I remember reading that the Mendelssohn statue was moved from the Thomashof to another location when it was replaced in 1903 by the present statue.

John Pike wrote (August 30, 2005):
[To Aryeh Oron] I don't have anything on the ceremony itself but I do have something about the concert that Mendelssohn gave on the St Thomas organ to raise money for the memorial. Would that be useful to anyone?

John Pike wrote (August 30, 2005):
[To Douglas Cowling] Correct. The Mendelssohn memorial was moved down to the main road. it is fairly small. The large statue of Bach now stands outside the St Thomas church.

 

Mendelssohn

Yoël. L. Arbeitman wrote (August 29, 2005):
Yesterday my local radio station did a program on Mendelssohn's Elijah. The blurb for the program all week promised more than the spinning of a few English and German CDs (both of which sets I own copies of). The blurb promised a serious discussion of Mendelssohn's relationship to his erstwhile Judaism. Instead inter alia the announcer informed us that the story of Elijah comes from both "Old and New Testament sources" and that the Book of Kings was in the New Testament whilst Psalms was in the Old Testament. I kid thee not. A service was performed however by her mentioning the following bio (which I guess she has not yet had time to read). I would appreciate informed opinions on the subject as the matter is of interest to me and to the Bach revival of course. Please do not respond with knee-jerk acrimony as such posts are of no value and I myself intend to refrain from responding to any such responses.

=============
The Price Of Assimilation: Felix Mendelssohn And The Nineteenth-century Anti-semitic Tradition (Hardcover)
by Jeffrey S. Sposato
Editorial Reviews
(Amazon.com)
Book Description
Most scholars since World War Two have assumed that composer Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy (1809-1847) maintained a strong attachment to Judaism throughout his lifetime. As these commentators have rightly noted, Mendelssohn was born Jewish and not converted to Protestantism until age seven, his grandfather was the famous Jewish reformer and philosopher Moses Mendelssohn, and his music was banned by the Nazis, who clearly viewed him as a Jew. Such facts tell only part of the story, however. Through a mix of cultural analysis, biographical study, and a close examination of the libretto drafts of Mendelssohn's sacred works, The Price of Assimilation provides dramatic new answers to the so-called "Mendelssohn Jewish question." Sposato demonstrates how Mendelssohn's father, Abraham, worked to distance the family from its Jewish past, and how Mendelssohn's reputation as a composer of Christian sacred music was threatened by the reverence with which German Jews viewed his family name. In order to prove the sincerity of his Christian faith to both his father and his audiences, Mendelssohn aligned his early sacred works with a nineteenth-century anti-Semitic musical tradition, and did so more fervently than even his Christian collaborators required. With the death of Mendelssohn's father and the near simultaneous establishment of the composer's career in Leipzig in 1835, however, Mendelssohn's fear of his background began to dissipate, and he began to explore ways in which he could prove the sincerity of his faith without having to publicly disparage his Jewish heritage.
=================

D. Kerr wrote (August 29, 2005):
[To Yoël L. Arbeitman] To anyone interested in various aspects of the "Mendelssohn question" I heartily commend Jiri Weil's novel MENDELSSOHN IS ON THE ROOF [(trans from Czech), Farrar Straus Grioux, 1991]--at once hilarious and very, very, sad.

Erik Bergerud wrote (August 29, 2005):
[To Yoël L. Arbeitman] There is an article on Mendelssohn's Jewishness in the The Cambridge Companion to Mendelssohn (ed. Peter Mercer-Taylor) by Michael Steinberg. A few weeks back there was also a conference on Mendelssohn at the Univ. of Dublin: "Mendelssohn in the Long 19th century" where the issue was discussed. There may be plans to publish a transcript: http://www.musicologie.org/Colloques/2005_07.html. On a topic that may be related, there's a recent book Disraeli's Jewishness, edited by Todd M. Endelman and Tony Kushner. There are several reviews of that work in journals on Jewish history but you have to either buy the article or penetrate the maze of internet access to scholarly journals.

The great German emigre historian Hajo Holborn (I still think his 3 volume history of Germany since the Reformation published in the 1960s has no peer for a detailed survey) addressed this issue several times. He noted that the generation of Jews after the French Revolution eagerly embraced the seemingly new atmosphere of emancipation. (Hardenberg and Humboldt had even crafted an edict in 1812 giving Jews full Prussian citizenship and equality under the law. Prussia for once was ahead of the time. Full Imperial emancipation was granted in 1871 without any official opposition.) The cultural "open door" in the Romantic era according to Holborn led to a "Germanization" of traditional Jewish intellectual life not only in Germany but also in Central Europe. It was during this period that German sermons and hymns began to become the norm in German Jewish worship.

Holborn also comments that emancipation no doubt encouraged the adoption of Christianity for reasons of social convenience. As this was a period of a kind of secularization in among many Protestant congregations, an agnostic or pantheist of Jewish background might find little to lose and something to gain - or avoid - through Baptism. (Indeed, this was the golden age in the bourgeois of the "social gospel": go through the motions, contribute to the Church charity of the moment and you're one of the blessed. More serious Protestant crusaders were involved in things like abolition in the US or trying to lessen the burdens of the urban destitute throughout the industrial world. This was quite a step theologically actually. Things looked rather different among broader society.) This was also the first era when it was socially acceptable to be openly a "free thinker": add a little political radicalism and you get folks like Karl Marx. Holborn remarks that this heady liberalization left the German Jewish community ill-prepared to face the "unexpected hatred" generated by the re politicization of anti-Semitism after the 1870s aimed at Jews socially (obviously) and their "ally" Otto Bismarck politically. (The term "anti-Semitism" was coined by a journalism Wilhelm Marr who wrote the widely read pamphlet "The Victory of Judaism over Teutonism" in 1873 which sought to blame the world depression of those years on the Jews. This claim was echoed by the early Populists in the USA. Oddly, with the exception of the Rothchilds, Jews were not at all prominent in finance anywhere in the industrial West. The days of the ghetto money lender were long passed.)

In Holborn's view Mendelssohn was a romantic and his conversion was quite genuine. (Holborn puts the famous anti-Hegelian philosopher Friedrich Stahl in the same category.) Holborn continued:

Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy (1809-47) had perhaps the greatest influence of any single person on the formation of nineteenth-century musical taste. He brought about the acceptance of Bach and Händel as the equals of the great classic Viennese school. His attempt to make religious music one of the major means for the revival of church life largely failed, however. Even his own oratorios made their greatest appeal in concert halls rather than in churches. The subjectivist character of this music interfered with its easy acceptance into general Christian worship. As with Robert Schumann modern German music had its centers essentially in the concert hall and opera and its public was the educated classes....Here musical culture, together with participation in dramatic art, assumed something of the role which church and religion had played in earlier centuries. While all over Germany, in cities large and small, citizens built temples dedicated to drama, opera, and music, it was not amiss to speak of the devotees of these arts as members of an "esthetic Church" or "Kulturkirche."

Douglas Cowling wrote (August 29, 2005):
Eric Bergerud wrote:
< As with Robert Schumann modern German music had its centers essentially in the concert hall and opera and its public was the educated classes....Here musical culture, together with participation in dramatic art, assumed something of the role which church and religion had played in earlier centuries. While all over Germany, in cities large and small, citizens built temples dedicated to drama, opera, and music, it was not amiss to speak of the devotees of these arts as members of an "esthetic Church" or "Kulturkirche." >
This Romantic struggle to free Bach's music from its Lutheran roots and present it for adoration in aesthetic temples called concert halls is still a strong impulse.

Yoël. L. Arbeitman wrote (August 30, 2005):
Eric Bergerud wrote:
< Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy (1809-47) had perhaps the greatest influence of any single person on the formation of nineteenth-century musical taste. He brought about the acceptance of Bach and Händel as the equals of the great classic Viennese school. >
Thank you for the most interesting details. Personally I don't much respond to Mendelssohn's music and therein I differ most extremely from Queen Victoria who adored Mendelssohn and abhorred Berlioz. Berlioz and I click but I do find Mendelssohn's music interesting and obviously his was a major voice. I do find his voice and that of Schumann to be quite distinct inasmuch as Mendelssohn seems the perfect non-neurotic to me whilst Schumann was ever the artist in agony and quest.

Yoël. L. Arbeitman wrote (August 30, 2005):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< This Romantic struggle to free Bach's music from its Lutheran roots and present it for adoration in aesthetic temples called concert halls is still a strong impulse. >
And is there something wrong with that? Obviously there is a place for Bach in aesthetic temples and there is a place for Sophocles in such temples freed from the Ancient Greek world which no longer exists. If you have your Bach in your church (Lutheran or otherwise), we others cannot take him away from that. But we others can have out Bach and our Sophocles, etc. in our aesthetic temples or would you have only non-Bach music in settings other than for which it was composed? Chamber music played outside of the chambers for which it was designed is also ripped from its proper setting. Opera played in houses unlike those for which it was designed is also in a wrong setting as is opera sung by singers who are not native to the language and so forth.

Douglas Cowling wrote (August 30, 2005):
Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote:
< Personally I don't much respond to Mendelssohn's music and therein I differ most extremely from Queen Victoria who adored Mendelssohn and abhorred Berlioz. >
Mendelssohn tells the tale of visiting the young Queen Victoria and Prince Albert who asked the composer to accompany their singing after dinner. Victoria first had her pet parrot removed, otherwise, as she said, it would make more noise than she.

Does anyone have a source for the story that Mendelssohn was taken to a Catholic church to hear Tomas Luis da Victoria's Renaissance setting of St. John Passion (BWV 245)? After working recently with the drama of Bach, Mendelssohn sniffed at Victoria's mellifluous crowd choruses, "Pretty tame Jews!"

Erik Bergerud wrote (August 30, 2005):
[To Yoël L. Arbeitman] True enough about Bach's music and the concert hall. But the question that perplexes me is why didn't the churches, at least in Germany, (or German speaking America which existed in the midwest for nearly 100 years) try to keep part of it for themselves? After all, the Bach cantatas never established a place in mainstream 18th century Lutheran service across Europe. I wonder if the melding of Calvinism and Lutheranism and the pietist revival 1800 might have played a role here. I'll stand correction, but I think the majority of the hymns (barring the occasional rendition of Mighty Fortress) I've heard in Lutheran services are 19th and early 20th century tunes from England. Pretty in their own way, I suppose, but nothing like the small scale works of religious composers like Praetorious, Bach's forbearers or JSB's own chorales. I can understand why a full scale Bach cantata would have been out of reach for most churches. Thomaskirche as I understand it was big enough to be considered today a "mega-church" (although I just read about one that serves 15,000 parishioners: wonder what St. Peter's does on a normal Sunday?). In any case, there was no particular reason that I can think of that church music could not have been shared with the concert hall. Obviously it didn't work out that way.

BTW: I will grant Mendelssohn doesn't rank with Berlioz. (Berlioz didn't help popularize Händel and Bach either.) In my humble book Berlioz ranks only slightly under Beethoven as the greatest composer of the 19th century. No coincidence that Berlioz was a Beethoven booster. That said, I really like both Mendelssohn and Schumann. The romantics, including Berlioz, to my ear really benefit from HIP. I've got really wonderful Mendelssohn pieces from Mackerras and Norrington, and Schumann from Gardiner. (Although I have to admit Gunter Wand's Schumann is just as good in its own way.) Gardiner's renditions of Berlioz with the ORR are some of my favorite discs.

Continue of this part of the discussion, see: Church Music Practice [General Topics]

Santu de Silva wrote (August 31, 2005):
Eric Bergerud wrote:
< As with Robert Schumann modern German music had its centers essentially in the concert hall and opera and its public was the educated classes....Here musical culture, together with participation in dramatic art, assumed something of the role which church and religion had played in earlier centuries. While all over Germany, in cities large and small, citizens built temples dedicated to drama, opera, and music, it was not amiss to speak of the devotees of these arts as members of an "esthetic Church" or "Kulturkirche." >
Doug Cowling wrote: < This Romantic struggle to free Bach's music from its Lutheran roots and present it for adoration in aesthetic temples called concert halls is still a strong impulse. >
Impulses are everywhere.

There is an equally strong impulse to move Bach firmly back into the Church, presumably where Bach would have wanted it. Is it particularly blessed to yield to this impulse, to once more let Bach strengthen and edify the faithful, rather than be wasted on the heathens who happened to have sneaked earfuls of Bach in secular recital-rooms and concert-halls in these recent years where the other 'impulse' was obeyed, and by so doing, started a lifelong Bach habit?
:D

It's a loaded word!

I have to live with the unhappy thought that our hero would not approve of the vast majority of us Bach-fanciers. To be honest, to paraphrase Groucho Marx, the vast majority of my heroes would not approve of me.

Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote (September 1, 2005):
Berlioz (was: Mendelssohn)

Eric Bergerud wrote:
< BTW: I will grant Mendelssohn doesn't rank with Berlioz. (Berlioz didn't help popularize Händel and Bach either.) In my humble book Berlioz ranks only slightly under Beethoven as the greatest composer of the 19th century. No coincidence that Berlioz was a Beethoven booster. That said, I really like both Mendelssohn and Schumann. >
It is always interesting to "observe" (so many years after the fact) when one great composer discovers another such as when Mozart discovers Bach and when Berlioz discovers Beethoven. Berlioz had three musical deities, Weber, Spontini, and Beethoven. The first two of course primarily opera composers, Beethoven obviously not so except for one amazing opera in two versions, both quite wonderful.

There is an article by Michael Austin on the Berlioz webpage (he and his wife are the site's creators) in which he challenges the accepted fact of Berlioz's great admiration for Spontini. Seems to me that it is just from our vantage point that it appears odd but I believe one must look at it from the vantage point of Berlioz to whom Spontini's operas were very important although largely forgotten today. One could say the same in regard to many other views of composers on their predecessors: http://www.hberlioz.com/Predecessors/spontini.htm

Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote (September 1, 2005):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< Does anyone have a source for the story that Mendelssohn was taken to a Catholic church to hear Tomas Luis da Victoria's Renaissance setting of St. John Passion (
BWV 245)? After working recently with the drama of Bach, Mendelssohn sniffed at Victoria's mellifluous crowd choruses, "Pretty tame Jews!" >
I love the story. Hope it is true. If not, ben trovato and such.

 

OT: Mendelssohn

Bradley Lehman wrote (February 7, 2006):
At 10:41 PM 2/6/2006, Eric Bergerud wrote:
< Point taken. I have a real soft spot for Mendelssohn and find it difficult to believe that his reputation (sky high in his prime) took a dramatic nose dive thanks the artistic food fights associated with Wagner vs Brahms. That said, young Mendelssohn only wrote the overture to MSN at a tender age. (...) >
Count me among the Mendelssohn fans. Most recently I've been working my way through his string quartets, with scores plus several recordings (including the lovely new boxed set by the Pacifica Quartet). Also the Brilliant Classics boxed set of all the choral music, remembering back to the enjoyment of singing some of it in choirs during high school and college. The octet, the string quintets, the piano trios/quartets/sextet, the various concertos, symphonies, oratorios, the vast batch of piano music: so much to enjoy. His music is so well-crafted in melody, harmony, and form; so full of elegance and passion and balance.

I remember years ago reading a perceptive remark in one of Glenn Gould's essays, about Mendelssohn: his music tends to have a "lower quirk quotient" than average. It goes along sounding so effortless and unsurprising, sometimes. Its very inevitability makes it less attention-grabbing, yet rewarding.

But what really hooked me on Mendelssohn, more than half a lifetime ago already, was hearing a visiting string quartet come through and play the A minor quartet Op 13 in a concert. That performance had me riveted to every moment, and then the way the first movement's theme comes back in the last....wow!

Douglas Cowling wrote (February 7, 2006):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
< But what really hooked me on Mendelssohn, more than half a lifetime ago already, was hearing a visiting string quartet come through and play the A minor quartet Op 13 in a concert. That performance had me riveted to every moment, and then the way the first movement's theme comes back in the last....wow! >
I remember as a child being riveted to the TV screen when that old Warner Bros. cartoon with a mynah bird came on. In the cartoon, the silent bird keeps marching on no matter what catastrophes hit him. It wasn't until I was in my 20s that I realized that the cartoon had used huge chunks of 'Fingal's Cave' for its score. But then those WB cartoons are FULL of classical music allusions.

Cara Emily Thornton wrote (February 7, 2006):
Eric Bergerud wrote:
< Point taken. I have a real soft spot for Mendelssohn and find it difficult to believe that his reputation (sky high in his prime) took a dramatic nose dive thanks the artistic food fights >
!!! Never heard it put quite that way before. Is this the latest in musicological jargon over the pond? ;-)

< associated with Wagner vs Brahms.
The remainder of the incidental music was composed at the request of the King of Prussia in 1843 and performed just months before the violin concerto. (That's my favorite along with the "Scotch" symphony.) >

Ah, yes, the violin concerto. I like Milstei's recording of it. But the piece is pretty fun to play too :> (Gosh, yours truly hasn't played in a while, gotta take action there....)

Eric Bergerud wrote (February 7, 2006):
[To Douglas Cowling] How about Disney? Mickey trying to conduct the local band during a tornado was one of Disney's greatest and it lacked dialogue. It could well be that the 60's - 70's classical sales boom was helped by a whole generation of baby boomers that grew up with these classical cartoon sound tracks kicking around in little brains and unknowingly in need of an adult fix. You won't find that on Sesame Street or South Park.

Cara Emily Thornton wrote (February 7, 2006):
[To Eric Bergerud] Oh, so that's what we have to do - get 'em while they're young, smuggle classical music onto Sesame Street! ;-) (Hey, why not? You should hear the fancy ad campaigns the Philadelphia Orchestra is doing (at least last time I checked) to draw in the post-baby boomers...)

Bradley Lehman wrote (February 7, 2006):
Eric Bergerud wrote:
< How about Disney? Mickey trying to conduct the local band during a tornado was one of Disney's greatest and it lacked dialogue. >
I like the one where Mickey is conducting the orchestra for a live radio broadcast, but Goofy accidentally destroys all the instruments in an elevator accident a few minutes before airtime. So they go ahead and play anyway, on scraps. The resulting performance gives Spike Jones a good run for his money, with that assortment of sounds.

John Pike wrote (February 8, 2006):
[To Bradley Lehman] That piece is very difficult. We had more problems sight-reading it than with any of the late Beethoven quartets, and the octet is notorious for being one of the hardest pieces in the chamber music repertoire.

I love the Op. 12 quartet as well.

John Pike wrote (February 8, 2006):
[To Cara Emily Thornton] The violin concerto is, indeed, great fun to play, especially the cadenza in the first movement. However, one of the joys of playing the symphonies as well is just how interesting the writing (the first violin part at any rate) is. There is plenty of interesting material throughout, and very little mere accompaniment. Compared to many other composers of symphonies, this is a real thrill. i have played through many other first violin parts in the past, where there was so much "chug.rest.chug.rest" stuff, it was extremely boring and, given, pressures of time anyway, discouraged me from playing in orchestras when I got involved in chamber music.

With Bach, whichever line you are playing, it is interesting. Perhaps this was one of the influences of Bach on Mendelssohn? i'd be interested to hear views of musicologists on the influence of Bach's counterpoint on Mendelssohn's own writing, if any!

Santu de Silva wrote (February 8, 2006):
This is really OT, but a few months (or years) ago, I heard in the early hours of Saturday morning (one of my favorite programs from Minnesota Public Radio, hosted by the sweet-voiced, er, gosh, what's her name?) anyway, it was a lovely piece, and I believe it was an early work by Mendelssohn, a wind symphony, or something. Does anyone know what I'm talking about?

Douglas Cowling wrote (February 8, 2006):
John Pike wrote:
< With Bach, whichever line you are playing, it is interesting. Perhaps this was one of the influences of Bach on Mendelssohn? i'd be interested to hear views of musicologists on the influence of Bach's counterpoint on Mendelssohn's own writing, if any! >
We see a lot of Baroque influence in the orartorios "Elijah" and "St. Paul", although arguably Mendelssohn sees his works more in the tradition of Händel than Bach. St. Paul has a brilliant chorale-prelude for choir and orchestra on "Wachet Auf".

Eric Bergerud wrote (February 9, 2006):
[To Santu de Silva] Nice station: I always listen to it when in St. Paul. Between 1821-23 young Felix composed twelve string symhonies. (All on Naxos unless they've sold out: they were in Archiv's bargain bin.) They're startling good for a youthful work, especially the last batch: quick learner I'd guess. They remind me a lot of the equally youthful Rossini's six string sonatas composed a few years before. Bet the suspect is one of them.

Santu de Silva wrote (February 9, 2006):
[To Eric Bergerud] The puzzle has been solved: it was the Harmoniemusik, an overture for winds in C major, Op 24. Thanks, anyway!

Julian Mincham wrote (February 9, 2006):
One of the points which I think connects Bach with Mendelssohn is that they both achieved an incredibly mature style at very early ages, and that this did not alter all that much over the years. (Whilst true that Bach seems to explore new avenues of harmoy and C/P in the Art of Fugue and Musical Offering, I challenge anyone to distinguish between the styles of an early or late recitative, for example).

This early development and continued consistency is not necessarily true of all composers. It is, for example, not too difficult to distinguish styles of late and early, Beethoven, Schubert and Mozart in a way that is much more difficult with Bach and Mendelssohn (NOT a criticism, but an observable fact--different composers matured in different ways)

Maybe the latter composer found something of a kindred spirit in the former.

Having said this, the late great Glenn Gould (whose ideas about music were often as stimulating as his performances) once said in an interview (I think, with Humphrey Burton) that Bach was not a natural contrapuntalist (shock, horror!) He quoted some of the very early organ works which, he said, any competent musical director of the time could have composed. He went on to say that what Bach did have, from his earliest years, was a gift for writing sublimely expressive melody. Through sheer hard work and practice he made himself into a great writer of counterpoint--and infused every line with his gift for superb melody.

Whether one agrees or not, this seems an interesting way in which to approach Bach's music.

Douglas Cowling wrote (February 9, 2006):
Julian Mincham wrote:
< One of the points which I think connects Bach with Mendelssohn is that they both achieved an incredibly mature style at very early ages, and that this did not alter all that much over the years. (Whilst true that Bach seems to explore new avenues of harmoy and C/P in the Art of Fugue and Musical Offering, I challenge anyone to distinguish between the styles of an early or late recitative, for example). >
I have to say that discussing the cantatas chronologically as we have been doing has been a real eye-opener for me. Some of the early cantatas are so different from the later Leipzig works that I have often been amazed: for instance, the preponderance of ensemble movements which are quite rare later. I don't this is a matter of "maturity" or "development" but rather changes in musical taste on Bach's part. "Christ Lag" and "Gottes Zeit" may be early, but they are among his finest creations.

Julian Mincham wrote (February 9, 2006):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< Some of the early cantatas are so different from the later Leipzig works that I have often been amazed: for instance, the preponderance of ensemble movements which are quite rare later. I don't this is a matter of "maturity" or "development" but rather changes in musical taste on Bach's part. >
This is undoubtably true, but cannot one also say that, of the first 40 choral cantatas of the second cycle (almost all of which seem to have been composed in under 10 months and all of which adhere to the structure which Bach set for himself) also show an astonishing degree of diversity of style and expression? A quick look the contrasting opening choruses of the first five (BWV 20, 2, 7, 135 and 10) alone helps make the point.

As you say it is not a matter of maturity: more, perhaps of constant experimentation and inventiveness. The guy seemed virtually incapable of repeating himself!

Eric Bergerud wrote (February 9, 2006):
Early Bach

Julian Mincham wrote:
< Having said this, the late great Glenn Gould (whose ideabout music were ften as stimulating as his performances) once said in an interview (I think, with Humphrey Burton) that Bach was not a natural contrapuntalist (shock, horror!) He quoted some of the very early organ works which, he said, any competent musical director of the time could have composed. He went on to say that what Bach did have, from his earliest years, was a gift for writing sublimely expressive melody. Through sheer hard work and practice he made himself into a great writer of counterpoint--and infused every line with his gift for superb melody. Whether one agrees or not, this seems an interesting way in which to approach Bach's music. >
Gould was indeed a live wire. One of my friends thinks he was better at making videos and giving interviews than playing the piano. (I can still remember one called, I think, "The Idea of North" that really impressed.) And maybe Gould's right about the early keyboard works - I wouldn't be the one to judge. But it strikes me that it is very difficult to identify Bach's "strong points" because I don't think he had any weak ones. I cannot think of any composer who was at such total command of all facets of his art, unless you'd consider stage management an essential. As for Bach not being quite the child prodigy as Mozart or Mendelssohn, let's not forget that while they grew up in the most nurturing possible atmosphere for a junior genius, Bach's brother wouldn't let him compose if the slight evidence we have on this period of his life is correct. Who knows: maybe Bach's brother was right making JSB start from the beginning. It certainly all worked out in the end.

C.T. Yale wrote (February 10, 2006):
Mendelssohn + Bach

Julian Mincham wrote:
< One of the points which I think connects Bach with Mendelssohn is that they both achieved an incredibly mature style at very early ages >
Clearly Mendelssohn (like Bach) had a love for German (Lutheran) hymnody: his use of the traditional chorale melodies, not only in his cantatas or chorale-motets, but organ works (Aus tiefer Not / Vater unser), 'Reformation' symphony, oratorios (Wachet auf in Paulus), etc.

Did his love for these melodies just grow from his knowledge of the repetoire from his Singakademie experiences? Or did he understand how his audience, listening to these compositions, would bring an added layer of interpretation based on their familiarity with not only the tune, but the text associated with the tune. People listening to the Organ Sonata in A could not help but think "Out of the depths, I cry to you, O Lord!" It becomes a "Song Without Words" with words.

Eric Bergerud wrote (February 11, 2006):
[To C.T. Yale] Mendelssohn was baptized at about age seven as I recall: a child whatever the precise age. His parents, champions of the secular Enlightenment, wanted to remove the whole "assimilation" issue from their son's future to the extent possible. However, the great German historian Hajo Holborn (an anti-Hitler emigre I might add) argued that Mendelssohn like many other Romantics embraced the spiritual revival taking place throughout northern Europe which was, naturally, a reaction against the Enlightenment. (The Gerlach circle was the most famous of the early 19th century German "born agains" among the upper crust. After boozing and wenching a few years, young Otto Bismarck joined them. Wonder if he and Mendelssohn ever crossed paths: it would have been possible.) In any case, Mendelssohn was nothing if not a Romantic. It may well be that his interest in Bach and old music from a simpler and more spiritually pure era (I'm using Romantic-sprache now: please no nasty cartoons) and his own spiritual beliefs went together. Now whether Mendelssohn's audiance could have been expected to receive religious content via prior knowledge of early Lutheran music is another question. Mendelssohn was not a cantor and Berlin, London or Leipzig with the Gewandhaus in the 1830's were a very different places than Bach's Leipzig of the 1730's.

 

Continue on Part 2

Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy: Short Biography | Felix Mendelssohn & Bach: Part 1 | Part 2

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