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“Judaism in Music” by Richard Wagner, 1869

“Judaism in Music” by Richard Wagner, 1869

It was the dead of night. A large marble statue of the Jewish composer Felix Mendelssohn was quietly dismantled to avoid attention. It was hurriedly moved into a nearby cellar and completely smashed to pieces!

Who was responsible for such an act? And why such extreme hatred?

It all started just three years after Mendelssohn’s death. In 1850 an article entitled “Judaism in Music” appeared in a music paper. The author’s identity was concealed but he later republished his article in 1869, this time boldly revealing his identity. It was Richard Wagner! In the article, Wagner fiercely attacked Mendelssohn’s music and the music of other Jewish German composers whom he had previously praised. “The life and works of Mendelssohn clearly demonstrates that no Jew, however gifted and cultural and honourable, was capable of creating art that moved the heart and soul.”

In 1881, Wagner truly revealed the extent of his anti-Semitic feelings in article in the Bayreuther Blätter entitled “Know Thyself!” In it he praises the massacres of Jews in Russia as “an example worthy of imitation.” He concludes with these impassioned words about the Jews: “Drive them out, German people-but not like the Egyptians, those Hamitic fools, who even gave them golden vessels for the journey. For they must go away empty-handed. Whither I know not, but I wish them all the same fate. May they find no shelter, no homeland; unhappier than Cain, may they seek and not find; may they descend into the

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Famous German Composer Felix Mendelssohn

Prelude

My journey of discovery into the extraordinary relationship that the famous German composer Felix Mendelssohn enjoyed with Queen Victoria and Prince Albert began back in 2009. Whilst researching his visit to North Wales, as outlined in my previous article (“Mendelssohn: Part 1 – In North Wales”), I discovered that he had made several visits to Buckingham Palace in London where he and the royals struck up a close friendship based on their mutual love of music and the arts.

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert as Musicians

Queen Victoria (1819-1901) and Prince Albert (1819-1861) were both very accomplished pianists and singers. Prince Albert was also a keen composer from an early age, writing many songs and choral pieces. It was their shared love of music that helped them form an attraction to each other. Victoria noted Albert’s skill at the piano when they first met in 1836. The day after the Queen’s proposal of marriage to Albert, she wrote, “…he sang to me some of his own compositions, which are beautiful, & he has a very fine voice. I also sang for him.” They enjoyed playing piano duets together and accompanying as the other sang, always taking their sheet music with them wherever they would travel. They were both keen followers of theatre and opera, Queen Victoria seeing up to 50 performances per year! Whilst in London as a youngster she would attend two or three performances in the West End each week!

Enter Mendelssohn: 14th and 15th of June, 1842

Prince Albert was an enthusiastic follower of Mendelssohn’s music and it was he who introduced the Queen to Felix’s works for piano and voice. The composer first met just the Prince on the morning of the 14th of June 1842 when he hand delivered a letter from Albert’s cousin, the King of Prussia (Frederick William IV). He was then invited to Buckingham Palace the following evening to meet the Queen. According to an account by Kupferberg, the royals were feeling quite nervous about meeting their musical hero; “for all their exalted station, [they] were quite fluttery!” Apparently, Mendelssohn felt the same way. [···]

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