Music

Nazi Counterpoint: Bach and Mendelssohn

In 1829, seventy-nine years after the death of Johann Sebastian Bach, a young Jew presented the composer’s St Matthew Passion at the Berlin Choral Society. It was the first time the work had been performed since Bach’s death; in fact, by that time, Bach’s music had all but faded into obscurity. Ironically, a century later, Bach would be upheld as “der Deutscheste der Deutschen”—the most German of all Germans—while his champion, Felix Mendelssohn, would be branded a “dangerous accident of music history” and his “degenerate” works expunged from the repertoire. As a Nazi imperative, the elimination of all things Jewish…

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