Felix Mendelssohn-Bachtholdy

Mendelssohn’s revival of the St. Matthew Passion is a subject that attracts a large amount of scholarly writing, but most of that writing is so generic that it actually took a long time to sort through. Multiple books (both biographies and compilations) which I thought would be quite enlightening went no further than “…and then in 1829 he revived the St. Matthew Passion. In 1830…”

The two best sources I was able to find were actually secondary sources, despite the number of primary sources I had. They were Olga Termini’s article, “Bach Pupils and the Bach Tradition,” and a book written entirely on the subject of Mendelssohn’s 1829 accomplishment alone: Celia Applegate’s Bach in Berlin: Nation and Culture in Mendelssohn’s Revival of the St. Matthew Passion. Termini’s article focused on specifically how the performance was received, which is exactly what I was looking for, and Applegate’s book had so much pertinent information that I was surprised at how much of it I had to cut out for the sake of getting to the point. I hope to utilize her work more thoroughly in my final draft.

A surprising primary source was Elvers’ compilation of Mendelssohn’s various letters. I’m interested in what insights I would have been able to come across had Elvers decided to include important letters that Mendelssohn received as well as those he sent. The point of view of Zelter, Mendelssohn’s mentor, would have been invaluable, seeing as he initially opposed the Bach performance but changed his mind at the last minute.

It would be fantastic if I could find record of a review of that first performance, but there are two possible reasons for why I haven’t yet: 1 – I’m not looking hard enough, or 2 – they don’t exist. I can solve the first issue easily as we come closer to reaching the final draft, but the second one is more disappointing, if it’s true. Looking back from the vantage point of the 21st century, that event was such a momentous occasion that it would be sad if there weren’t any existing reviews of it. My goal is to determine the cultural impact of the revival and to place its importance into the category of either “religious event” or “secular renewal of a religious artifact.”

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