Moses Mendelssohn in the Bach Tradition

by Steven P. Meyer

Printed in the American Almanac, July, 1999

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Modern history is indebted to Moses Mendelssohn (1729-1786), the German philosopher and orthodox Jew, who, as Helga Zepp LaRouche documented in her keynote speech to a Schiller Institute conference Feb. 14 (see The New Federalist, March 1, 1998.), was the singular individual whose work in reviving the ideas of Plato and Leibniz made possible the great German Classical period of the 18th and 19th centuries.

In addition, although it is little known today, Moses Mendelssohn and his family played a crucial role in keeping alive the music of J.S. Bach, and in transmitting this music to Mozart and Beethoven. It is this role which lies behind the well-known 1829 performance of the ``lost'' ``St. Matthew Passion'' by Moses Mendelssohn's grandson, the composer Felix, which revived interest in Bach's music in Europe.

A true Renaissance individual, Mendelssohn played a pivotal role in keeping alive the Platonic tradition in philosophy, music, the natural sciences, and statecraft, which he inherited from Leibniz. As a young man, Mendelssohn and his lifelong collaborator Gotthold Ephraim Lessing entered the essay contest of the Berlin Royal Academy of Sciences to defend the ideas of Leibniz, which had been under attack for more than a decade by the academy's director, Maupertuis. Maupertuis' clear intent was to destroy continental science, by replacing the scientific authority and knowledge of Leibniz, with that of the untruthful, inferior Newton. Over the years, Mendelssohn wrote numerous essays promoting Leibniz's ideas.

Mendelssohn learned classical Hebrew as a child, and through the help of Jewish scholars associated with the Royal Academy, later taught himself Greek, German, French, English, Italian, and Latin.

He was a scholar of the Hebrew Pentateuch (the Torah, or Five Books of Moses), the book of law upon which he based his belief in Judaism. As a young boy, he mastered the Guide to the Perplexed by Moses Maimonides, and later the Theodicy of Leibniz.

Mendelssohn studied Homer and Plato, and translated the first three books of Plato's Republic into German. Several of his philosophical treatises are written in Platonic dialogue form, and his famous work, Phaedon, or On the Immortality of the Soul (1767), is based upon the Phaedo of Plato. It was this work which catapulted Mendelssohn into the role of preeminent philosopher of Europe, earning him the appellations the ``Berlin Plato'' and ``Jewish Socrates.''

Lastly, he studied and recited the works of Shakespeare, and took a keen interest in the American Revolution and the nascent United States of America.

Mendelssohn's life activity directly shaped what became the greatest republican minds of the day in Germany: the poets Gotthold Lessing, Heinrich Heine, Goethe, and Friedrich Schiller, the great poet of universal freedom, and the scientist-statesmen brothers Alexander and Wilhelm von Humboldt are among the most prominent.

During the last period of his life, he devoted himself to the emancipation, both civil and intellectual, of the ghettoized Jewish community. The condition of Europe's Jews, for the preceding several centuries, with few exceptions, had been horrendous. Jews were forced to live in squalid, crowded ghettoes; special taxes were levied upon them, including taxes for celebrating the holy Sabbath and congregating for religious prayer service; they were banned from the skilled trades and most professions and could not own land. There was little secular education. There were even laws enacted to reduce their total numbers--only first-born sons were allowed to marry and have children. In effect, through religious, social, and financial oppression, there were efforts to exterminate Judaism. Any Jew could step away from this nightmare only by converting to Christianity.

In Jerusalem--a work written for Christians, Moslems, and Jews alike--Mendelssohn detailed the separate roles of Church and State, and defined Mosaic law to be coherent with Reason as defined by Plato, a concept which was to revolutionize Judaism. He translated the Jewish Torah and other sacred writings, as well as the traditional daily prayer book, from Hebrew into German, so that Jews would learn Classical German as the gateway to other classical subjects. He helped found the Berlin Free School, a secular school for impoverished Jewish children to learn the natural sciences, languages, and philosophy.

Reason and Mosaic Law

Although Mendelssohn's secular, philosophical, and religious works were coherent with his conception of the orthodox Judaism he practiced, these ideas were rejected by the fundamentalist rabbis of the time, especially among the Hasidic Jews of Eastern Europe, who rejected the coherence of reason with Mosaic law. They dismissed Mendelssohn's notion that the marriage of religious training with the most advanced secular knowledge was not only natural, but essential to modern life. They also refused to accept the related idea, that man's obligation to the whole of civil society--regardless of his individual religious beliefs--be defined in a ecumenical way.

Mendelssohn's writings became the basis for the modernizing tendency within Judaism, known as the Reform Movement, which spread for several generations throughout Europe and Russia, and into the United States (it is known in the U.S. today as both Reform and Conservative Judaism).

Mendelssohn's Jewish collaborators and those that followed his teaching called themselves maskilim (intellectuals). Under the influence of Mendelssohn's legacy and the Humboldt education reforms of the early 1800s, young Jewish intellectuals who were studying to become rabbis, attended universities for the first time, and approximately sixty of these students received advanced degrees.

These rabbis were trained in philology, Platonic philosophy, astronomy, geometry, and other Classical subjects, a truly monumental accomplishment, as the traditional rabbinate which preceded them had little or no secular education! They used this university training in German Classical culture, to educate their Jewish congregants. Trained in the Greek classics and Platonic method, they sought to bring reason to a reinvigorated Judaism. It was these rabbis who led the Reform Movement, and were bitterly opposed by elements within the entrenched orthodox rabbinate.

In the tradition of Mendelssohn, these Reform leaders considered themselves, first, to be men and women who shared the universal gift of reason from God. They saw themselves as participants in the life of their nation, with obligations for its present and future, and Judaism served as their moral guide. This was a major break with the orthodox rabbinate, who believed that the Jews were a theocratic nation in exile, awaiting their return to Zion.

Several exceptional reform rabbis stepped outside the traditional role of theological and educational matters, to attempt to organize the entire population into republican forms of government throughout Europe.

One of the crowning achievements of the Reform Movement was the collaboration of Cantor Salomon Sulzer of Vienna and choirmaster Louis Lewandowski of Berlin with students of the Classical composers Bach, Beethoven, and Mozart, and with Felix Mendelssohn and Franz Schubert themselves, which led to their setting the entire Jewish prayer service, or liturgy, to Classical music composition.

Mendelssohn and numbers of leading rabbis and maskilim collaborated with the leading Christian intellectuals of the day to create a renaissance in science, music, and the arts. In the process they mobilized a culturally and educationally backward population of Jews, and made them leading participants in the life of their nation, by elevating them through the highest, most universal ideals of mankind--rather than pandering to any narrow, ethnic self-definitions.

Thus, the Jewish minority was brought to play an extraordinary role in the development of German culture of the 19th Century. This story should be the lesson to all oppressed minorities, that their mission of self-development, implies participating in the uplifting and development of their entire nation and the world overall.

The Bach Tradition

One of the most important, lasting contributions to modern civilization was the successful effort of Mendelssohn and his collaborators to keep alive the music of J.S.|Bach, and to further the work of the masters of German Classical music composition, including Beethoven.

Mendelssohn was a passionate lover of music all his life. He studied piano with Johann Philipp Kirnberger, one of Johann Sebastian Bach's close disciples, who was then the court musician of Princess Amalia of Prussia. Mendelssohn's work on Bach led, in 1761, to his anonymously publishing a treatise on the best method of constructing a well-tempered pianoforte. He included a treatise on ``divine musical art'' in his philosophical essay ``On the Sentiments.''

Mendelssohn's protégé and closest collaborator was the silk manufacturer David Friedlander, whose brother-in-law was the banker Isaak Daniel Itzig, who, along with Mendelssohn and Friedlander, founded the Berlin Free School.

The Itzigs were a prominent Berlin banking family. The scion of the family, Isaak's father Daniel Itzig, a financier to King Frederick II (the Great), was an elder statesman of the Berlin Jewish community, and a spokesman for the emancipation of Prussian Jews. He had 16 children. One of his granddaughters, Lea Itzig Solomon, married Moses Mendelssohn's son, Nathan. Their son was the composer Felix Mendelssohn.

Both Moses Mendelssohn and Daniel Itzig were direct descendants of the famous scholar, Rabbi Moses Isserles of Krakow (1520-1572). It was this extended family of Moses Mendelssohn and Daniel Itzig, along with two of J.S.|Bach's sons, Wilhelm Friedemann and Carl Philipp Emmanuel, who kept Bach's music alive, and provided the context for the famous 1829 revival of his ``St. Matthew Passion'' by Moses Mendelssohn's grandson Felix.

As a young girl, Daniel Itzig's daughter, Sara Itzig Levy (b. 1763) studied music with Wilhelm Friedemann Bach. She became his prize pupil and, later, his most significant financial patron. She also studied the music of C.P.E.|Bach, and, at his death, she became the patron of his widow. Sara commissioned a bust of C.P.E.|Bach which, years later, was placed in the concert hall of the Royal Theater in Berlin.

Other members of the Itzig family helped finance the Bachs as well. Four Itzigs were subscribers to the Bachs' music. (Music and literary compositions were, in this period, financed by individual subscriptions.)

Beginning in the 1780s, Sara hosted and directed family musikabends (house-concerts), where she championed the works of J.S. and C.P.E.|Bach. These musikabends were famous, and friends from leading intellectual and music circles would always attend. (The family was so committed to the Bachs, that they were accused of running a Bach cult!)

This is all the more remarkable, since at that time Bach's music was rarely performed in public, and his scores were not widely available. Very few of Bach's works had been printed during his lifetime. With the exception of ``A Musical Offering'' (1761), not one complete work of Bach was printed between 1750 and 1800. The few copies available were usually rented out, or copies were made of an individual work by hand. Wilhelm Friedemann and Carl Philipp Emanuel had divided between themselves, the scores of the five yearly cycles of their fathers's cantatas, which had otherwise never been published.

Felix Mendelssohn's mother, Lea Itzig Solomon, was Sara's niece. She received piano lessons from the same Kirnberger who trained Moses Mendelssohn, and it was she who trained young Felix and his siblings in the rudiments of the keyboard, basing her instruction upon Bach's ``Well-Tempered Clavier.'' (Felix's sister Fanny had memorized the ``Well-Tempered Clavier'' by age 13!)

In 1791, Karl Friedrich Christian Fasch, also a well-known disciple of J.S.|Bach and a collaborator of his son C.P.E.|Bach, founded the Berlin Choral Society. Fasch was then the accompanist to Frederick II.

The Choral Society served a crucial role, as did Sara Itzig Levy's musikabends, in keeping Bach's music alive. Not only did the Itzig and Mendelssohn families fund the Academy, Sara Itzig Levy was its first harpsichord soloist, often performing the works of Bach. Most importantly, she donated her entire music library to the Academy, including her original Bach manuscripts!

To honor the revered Moses Mendelssohn, director Fasch composed musical settings of Mendelssohn's texts and translations. He also set to music a Chanukah prayer for his Jewish friends, and there are indications that he may have written music for other Hebrew prayers as well.

Both Kirnberger and Fasch were the music teachers of Karl Friedrich Zelter. At Fasch's death in 1800, Zelter became the director of the Choral Society, where he, like Fasch, maintained a commitment to Bach by performing a significant number of his choral works.

Under Zelter's direction, the accomplished Sara Itzig Levy was the first soloist at the Choral Society; she frequently performed J.S.|Bach concerti on the harpsichord.

It was she who recommended to her niece, Lea Mendelssohn, that Zelter become Felix's music teacher. So, as the noted biographer of Felix Mendelssohn, Eric Werner notes, Felix was really a great-grand-pupil of J.S.|Bach!

The Mendelssohns and Itzigs were financial patrons of the Bach-centered Choral Society for several decades. In their early teens, both Felix and his sister, the composer Fanny Mendelssohn, were trained in voice at the Society, and were members of the choir. This training helped prepare young Felix to later conduct the ``St. Matthew Passion.''

In 1823, Felix learned that Zelter owned a complete manuscript of the ``St. Matthew Passion,'' and his grandmother Babette Itzig Solomon was able to secure a copy from Zelter, which she passed on to Felix. By 1829, when Felix was 20 years old, with urging from his friend and collaborator, singer Edward Devrient, Felix approached Zelter with the proposition that he allow him to conduct a performance of the ``Passion'' at the Choral Society. For Felix, not only was it the 100th anniversary of the premiere of Bach's work, it was also the 100th anniversary of the year in which his grandfather Moses, whom he revered, was born. Zelter finally agreed.

Mendelssohn, Zelter, and their circle knew the historical significance of reviving Bach's music. On March 11, 1829, Felix conducted a 400-person chorus, before a full concert hall. The event was so successful and historic, that 10 days later, on the anniversary of Bach's birthday, the ``Passion'' was performed once again. This time, not only was the concert hall full, but the extra seats which were placed in the lobby and rehearsal room behind the orchestra, were full as well.

Felix was responsible for the systematic publication and subsequent performance of Bach's church music resulting from his historic performance. Through the performance of Bach's works, he raised enough money to erect a statue of the great master. It was dedicated in 1841, and at Felix's insistence, his aunt Sarah was able to locate Wilhelm F.E.|Bach, the only surviving grandson of Johann Sebastian, who attended the statue's unveiling.

Felix also maintained a relationship to his grandfather's heirs in the Jewish community. He collaborated with Rabbi Abraham Geiger, one of the most important Reform rabbis, on the text of the oratorio ``Elijah.'' In 1844, Felix wrote a cantata based upon Psalm 100, set for four-voice choir and small orchestra, for the dedication service of the new Reform synagogue in Hamburg.

Support for Beethoven

The Itzig family was similarly active in Vienna in promoting Moses Mendelssohn and the great German Classical thinkers and composers in Vienna. [fn1]

Fanny Itzig, the sister of Bach patron Sara Itzig Levy, who was married to maskil Nathan Arnstein, gave Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart a copy of Mendelssohn's Phaedon while he was writing ``The Abduction from the Seraglio.'' At the time, Mozart was lodging in the same house in Vienna as the Arnsteins.

Fanny's sister Cecilia Itzig was married to Bernhard Eskeles, who originally was the suitor of Dorotea Mendelssohn (Schlegel), Moses's daughter, who also lived in Vienna. Cecilia, while residing in Vienna, maintained close friendship to the Humboldts and Goethe. The husbands of the two Itzig sisters were partners in the firm of Arnstein and Eskeles, one of the most prominent banking houses in Vienna.

Fanny Arnstein ran the most distinguished salon in Vienna, and her patrons included members of the nobility, government officials, and the intellectual and musical elite. Her salon was also provided a forum to discuss the hoped-for legal emancipation of Prussian Jewry.

Like her sister Sarah Itzig Levy, who promoted Bach in her Berlin salon, Fanny also promoted Classical music. In 1811, she was the creator of the ``Society of Music Lovers,'' a charitable organization which regularly sponsored public Classical music concerts. It was the first organization of its kind. The organization included the financial support and collaboration of several women members of the nobility, including Princess Esterhazy (in whose honor Beethoven was commissioned to write the ``Mass in C''), and Countess Dietrichstein.

The latter's husband, Count Moritz. v. Dietrichstein, was ``Music Count to the Court,'' the director of the imperial court musical organization, and a close friend of Count Moritz Lichnowsky, one of Beethoven's patrons. The two counts were both signers of the February 1824 letter to Beethoven urging that he give a public performance of the ``Ninth Symphony'' and ``Missa Solemnis'' in Vienna. That letter, signed by more than two dozen prominent individuals, was published as part of the political battle to allow the performance. Count Dietrichstein was also a prominent promoter of the legal emancipation of Vienna's Jews, explicitly calling for an end to all special Jewish taxes.

According to A.W. Thayer's biography of Beethoven, Bernhard Eskeles, who had the confidence of his sister-in-law Fanny Arnstein, was Beethoven's banker and financial advisor, and it is reported that the two maintained a close personal friendship as well. There is mention of two stories in the Thayer biography which provide some details. In 1819, Beethoven received a grant from the Congress of Vienna, which he earmarked for support of his nephew, and which he invested on the personal advice of Eskeles. In 1826, it was the Arnstein and Eskeles bank that handled the proceeds of the benefit concert held by the London Philharmonic Society to help pay Beethoven's medical and living expenses while he lay ill and dying.

Author Max Grunwald, who wrote about Jewish life in Vienna, noted that it was a leading Jewish banking house of Vienna that paid bills for Beethoven and his publisher, and it is likely that the reference is to Arnstein and Eskeles.

One of the fruits of their friendship was that, in 1823, Beethoven composed a lied (art song) for Cecilia Eskeles, which he wrote into her personal album. The composition for voice and pianoforte was set to the beginning of the last stanza of their mutual friend Goethe's ``Das Gottliche'' (``The Divine'')--``Edel sei der Mensch, Hulfreich und gut!'' (``Let man be noble, helpful, and good'').

It was lawful that the Jewish liturgy would be rewritten in the Classical musical mode developed by the genius of the great composers Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Mendelssohn, and Schubert, because the Jewish Reform Movement was an intellectual collaborator and heir of this Classical tradition. Moses Mendelssohn had been the father of them both. Lessing, Schiller, the Humboldt brothers, and other prominent individuals, had contributed to Jewish emancipation. The German Classical period and the Jewish reform movement were parts of the same whole.

Vienna's Salomon Sulzer

The Arnstein and Eskeles families played prominent roles in attempting to secure emancipation from legal and social discrimination for Vienna's Jewish community. In 1815, they and a handful of other prominent Jews petitioned Prince Metternich to fulfill his 1797 promise, and place Jews and Christians on an equal footing.

They were also financial patrons of Vienna's new reform synagogue. In 1825, Beethoven was asked by Rabbi Izaak Noah Mannheimer, the protégé of David Friedlander, Moses Mendelssohn's closest disciple, to write the dedication cantata for the opening of the new Vienna reform synagogue, which was then under construction.

It appears that Beethoven did not write the cantata, and there is a controversy as to what actually occurred. Some researchers believe he accepted the invitation, studied Handel's religious oratorios, but was ultimately forced to decline because his health and time did not permit completion of the project.

Instead, the composer Ignaz Ritter von Seyfried wrote the cantata, which was peformed at the innaugural service on April 9, 1826. Seyfried had been trained in piano by Mozart, was a friend of Haydn, and a close associate of Beethoven. Beethoven had personally called upon Seyfried to conduct the premiere of the last version of his opera Fidelio, whose theme is ``freiheit,'' universal freedom. It was therefore more than proper that he collaborate with the heirs of Moses Mendelssohn, who were fighting for the political, religious, and intellectual freedom of the Jews.

Beethoven subsequently used the musical theme from the centuries-old Hebrew prayer Kol Nidre, for the sixth movement of his ``Quartet in C-sharp Minor,'' which he composed the following year. Kol Nidre is the opening prayer on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, the holiest day of the year in the Jewish religion.

Rabbi Mannheimer, who preached in German and recited the poetry of Schiller, Lessing, and Goethe in his sermons, recruited as his cantor for the new synagogue, the 22-year-old Salomon Sulzer, who had trained as a cantor in Hohenems and studied music theory at the music school of Karlsruhe. (The cantor leads the Jewish prayer service through song.)

Sulzer, who was a close personal friend of Franz Schubert, set out to write the entire year's liturgy in Classical form, for cantor and choir, with the explicit purpose of dignifying man's relationship to God. The introduction of Classical music to the Jewish liturgy was to be the crowning glory for the ideas that Moses Mendelssohn had set into motion, and it proved to be a revolution in Judaism itself.

For centuries, the prayer service had been chanted, in an oriental manner, often with each individual singing separately, with a cacophonous effect. Before Sulzer (and Lewandowski's) accomplishments, no four-part music had been written for the synagogue; there was no book which contained the modes and melodies of the liturgy; there were no musical settings for the texts. The entire musical service was transmitted orally from generation to generation. Cantors were not required to have rigorous musical training, and most of them had none. Each generation would personally train its replacement. Playing of the organ, which Lewandowski uniquely wrote into his compositions, was unheard of, since it was contrary to tradition to allow musical instruments in the synagogue. Near the end of his life, even Sulzer endorsed the use of the organ, and many of his works were later revised for its inclusion.

David Friedlander had been daring enough to use Classical music and the organ during the prayer service in the synagogue which he organized with Rabbi Israel Jacobsohn. In 1808 Jacobsohn used J.S.|Bach's leading hymn, ``O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden,'' (``O head, covered with blood and wounds'') from the ``St. Matthew Passion,'' and other German hymns, in his song book for the synagogue in Seesen!

Sulzer was unique in maintaining Judaism's ties to its historic roots, by utilizing melodic themes from Hebrew prayers which were thousands of years old, setting them polyphonically. This was not unlike what Brahms would later do with the German folk song, or Dvorak did with the Negro spiritiual.

Sulzer published Schir Zion, his liturgical compositions for the services of an entire year, in 1839. (A revised edition appeared in 1865.) It was an ecumenical progject: For the first edition, Sulzer wrote 122 of the 159 pieces, and the remaining ones were written by Christian collaborators, including Joseph Drechsler, the choral director of St. Stephen's Church; the noted composer Franz Schubert, whose musical genius had a lasting influence on Sulzer; Joseph Fischoff, the music professor who collected Beethoven manuscripts and held 200 Bach cantatas; and Ignaz Ritter von Seyfried, who had been Sulzer's early composition teacher. Sulzer also used thematic lines from Beethoven, Mozart, and Schubert for his own compositions.

Sulzer was an intimate friend of Franz Schubert, who at the former's request wrote a cantata, using the Hebrew text of Psalm 92, for the Sabbath service. The two worked closely on the project, which required that Sulzer provide Schubert with the Hebrew text, transliterated into German, along with its German translation. The final composition, written a capella, was first performed in July 1828, shortly after the new synagogue was completed. In later years, Schubert set other psalms for voice and piano, using the German text of Moses Mendelssohn's translation of the Old Testament.

Sulzer brought decorum and dignity to the synagogue with his music, and he instilled those virtues in the cadre force of cantors who studied with him over decades. Training them in the Classical mode, he established the tradition that cantors be accomplished musicians, and that they be trained in voice and capable of artistic singing. It was this tradition of cantorial training, and the singing of these Classically composed Hebrew prayers, which produced some of the greatest bel canto opera singers, such as the German cantor Joseph Schmidt and the American cantor Richard Tucker.

From approximately 1836 through 1876, all modern (non-Orthodox) synagogues in Western and Eastern Europe reorganized their music according to Sulzer's service, which was known as the Vienna Ritual. It was also adopted in the United States by Reform and later Conservative synagogues. Numbers of his compositions were even included in the Orthodox service.

Sulzer's superb baritone-tenor voice brought royalty, leading composers such as his dear friends Schubert and Robert Schumann, the poet Nikolaus Lennau, and other leading intellectuals, to regularly attend Sabbath services in the Vienna reform synagogue just to hear him sing. He also performed secular songs in public, and was famous for his renditions of works by Schubert, who thought that Sulzer's voice was perfect for his lieder compositions. His favorite Schubert lied was ``Die Allmacht,'' (''The Almighty'')while Schubert most enjoyed hearing him sing ``Der Wanderer.'' As the author Eric Warner notes in his groundbreaking research on Sulzer's life: ``His magnificent voice, his imposing, indeed majestic figure, his innate dignity, reminded many of his listeners of Shakespeare's verse: ``Grace seated on his brow, a combination and a form indeed, where every god did seem to set his seal.'|''

Berlin's Louis Lewandowski

Choirmaster and composer Lewis Lewandowski was trained in the Mendelssohn-Bach tradition. Born in 1821, Lewandowski joined the choir of the Community Synagogue in Berlin at the age of 12. His musical aptitude was brought to the attention of Moses Mendelssohn's grandson (and Felix Mendelssohn's cousin), Alexander, who became the patron of young Lewandowski's musical education. (Alexander Mendelssohn's father, Joseph, lived until 1848. Joseph published a biography and the collected works of his father Moses, and played a critical role in furthering his father's ideas. He was also the financial patron of Alexander von Humboldt.)

In 1835, Alexander Mendelssohn sent Lewandowski to the Berlin Choral Society for his initial music training, where he won a competition prize. Alexander also sponsored Lewandowski's training at the University of Berlin under Adolph Bernhard Marx, who had been his cousin Felix Mendelssohn's first music teacher, and who was steeped in the works of Bach and Beethoven. Marx had helped Felix Mendelssohn get Bach's ``St. Matthew Passion'' published after the historic 1829 concert.

In 1838, the cantor and maskil Hirsch Weintraub was a guest at Lewandowski's synagogue. Weintraub and his choir travelled throughout Germany performing prayer services from Sulzer's yet unpublished Schir Zion. Lewandowski heard in Sulzer's chorales, the Classical music he was studying at the Choral Society, and this made a profound impression upon him.

Lewandowski became the music teacher at the Berlin Free School, the very school founded by Moses Mendelssohn, David Friedlander, and Isaac Daniel Itzig, as well as choirmaster of his synagogue. He composed secular music and, in 1846, published lieder that were deemed political in nature, for which the government launched an investigation of him.

In 1855, he and his cantor Abraham Lichetenstein went to Vienna to study with Sulzer. Cantor Lichtenstein was an accomplished musician who had studied music with Karl Leowe in Stettin. Loewe, a lieder composer and director of the music program in Stettin, was himself a friend of the Mendelssohns and, in 1827, he conducted an historic concert which included the world premiere of the ``Overture to A Midsummer Night's Dream'' and the ``Second Concerto for Two Pianos in A-flat,'' both by Felix Mendelssohn, and the first performance in Northern Europe of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. Lewandowski spent several decades in collaboration with Lichtenstein.

In 1871, Lewandowski published Kol Rinnah, which contained recitatives for cantor, and two-part choral pieces. His innovation was that he wrote compositions that expressly included the congregation, either alone, or together with the choir and/or cantor.

From 1876 through 1882, he published Todah W'simrah, an entire year's liturgy, which included four-part choral pieces (some for cantor and choir, others for choir alone) with organ accompaniment. This work established him as the leading German synagogue composer. He included musical ideas from Felix Mendelssohn in his compositions, including themes from the oratorio ``Elijah.'' His compositions dominated the German Reform synagogue until the Nazi onslaught. In the United States, Lewandowski's compositions were joined to Sulzer's, to dominate the Reform and Conservative liturgy.

Lewandowski composed secular music as well. At the celebration honoring his 70 years of service to the Berlin Jewish community in 1890, Joseph Joachim, the great violinist and closest friend of Johannes Brahms, performed Lewandowski's String Quartet #1 and String Trio #3, to everyone's delight, since these works, composed in his youth, were rarely performed.

Rabbis in the Republican Tradition

One of the most important aspects of this historical period, is that it produced a generation of individuals committed to the idea of freedom; a freedom defined by the Platonic idea of universal truth and justice, a freedom defined by the highest ideal of a benevolent, universal God, and a freedom to practice the religion of one's choice. Four rabbis who were followers of Mendelssohn and collaborators their entire lives, not only embodied these ideals, but chose to step beyond their traditional religious role, to actively campaign to make them a reality for all.

This century of German history shaped forever the outlook of modern Jewry. It was this tradition that was nearly exterminated in the Holocaust. If the world Jewish community--both of the Diaspora and of Israel--is to regain a sense of purpose in the mission of Moses, it will have to rely on the ideas and tradition of Moses Mendelssohn, and the ecumenical outlook he shared with the other geniuses of the German Classical tradition: Lessing, Schiller, and Alexander and Wilhelm von Humboldt.

Let Mendelssohn's Jerusalem serve as a guide for the development of all nations, and as the bedrock upon which a lasting Middle East peace may be built. Let the magnificent contributions of the Jews of Germany and the Diaspora to Classical culture serve as an inspiration. There could be no more appropriate memorial to those Jews who perished in the Holocaust.


  1. See David Shavin, ``Mozart and the American Revolutionary Upsurge,'' especially the section ``Lessing, Mendelssohn, and the Moral Purpose of Drama,'' Fidelio, Winter 1992.

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