It was Mendelssohn’s aunt Sara who redicovered J S Bach

Absolutely fascinating essay by Christoph Wolff on a missing link in the chain of discovery that led Felix Mendelssohn to give the first performance of St Matthew Passion for a century, and thereby set in motion the great Bach revival.

Sara Itzig Levy, a sometime pupil of Wilhelm Friedemann Bach, had an extensive library of Bach manuscripts and encouraged her nephew to read them.

Read here.

sara itzig levy

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  • Fascinating story, showing what a context of Bildung, ethnic emancipation and cultural awareness of the past can achieve. In those Berlin decennia of early Aufklärung, cultivation of past culture was a form of being modern and progressive.

  • Quite a nonsensical article by Christoph Wolff. Too many trees, couldn’t see the woods…

    Bach was never forgotten, thus could not have been revived.
    Mendelssohn’s Bach performances meant something completely different.
    The beginning of an age if classical music performance that lasts until today: reperforming compositions that were composed a whike ago and were actually “out of fashion”.
    In short: today’s classical music world.

    • If read carefully and attentively, it could have been detected that Wolff clearly says that JSB was never forgotten, but had been a niche cult at private gatherings (Van Swieten in Vienna, and later the circle in Berlin). Everybody knows that a restricted number of works circulated among the professionals, especially composers (WTK). The interesting focus here is the role the Berlin circle played, the evidence of which had been shiopped-off to Kiev.

      • Indeed. Wolff has long spoken out against the false assumption that Bach was forgotten. He was not. In the later 1700s, as New Grove tells us, there was hardly a musical household in Germany that did not possess at least some manuscripts by J. S. Bach. And when cheaper printing became more widespread around the year 1800, the complete WTC cycle was one of the first things to be printed because the demand was so high. And within a few more years, more editions of the WTC were already on the market as well. This all happened before Mendelssohn performed the St. Matthew.

  • In “Women’s Voices across Musical Worlds” (2004) Nancy Reich already mentions the importance of Sara in the niche cult of J. S. Bach’s music.

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