The Price of Assimilation: Felix Mendelssohn and the Nineteenth-Century Anti-Semitic Tradition
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 did not convert 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.
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Abraham Adolf Bernhard Marx anti-Semitic appears aria Arioso Bach’s Bartholomew Berlin Bible biblical Birmingham score Botstein Briefwechsel Bunsen Carl Friedrich Zelter Carl Loewe chapter chorale chorus Christ Christological Christological program complete composer composer’s contemporary conversion deleted demonstrates Deneke Mendelssohn depiction despite Devrient Die erste Walpurgisnacht discussion draft Text Düsseldorf Elias Elijah Eric Werner erste Walpurgisnacht example Fanny father February Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy final Friedrich Friedrich Schleiermacher Fürst GB-Ob Gentiles German God’s Goethe Goethe’s gospel Gott Hensel History Ibid Jesus Jewish Jewish heritage Jewish image Jews Jezebel’s Judaism Julius Schubring July Klingemann libretto libretto drafts Loewe Lord Marx Marx’s Matthew Passion mention narrative Neuer Sicht Obadiah’s Old Testament oratorio passages Paul Paul’s Paulus Paulus’s performance premiere prose draft Psalm published score published version recitative scene Schleiermacher Schneider Schubring’s segment Singakademie Spohr suggests textual theological Todd transfiguration translation after Edwards Ward Jones Werner widow’s work’s Zelter