Excerpts from "Mendelssohn: The Greatest Jewish Composer?" (Jewish Standard, 10.23.09), and Leon Botstein's "Mendelssohn and His World,” edited by R. Larry Todd, 1991, Princeton University Press.


During the 19th century, Mendelssohn was considered on the same exalted level as Beethoven and Mozart. Composer Robert Schumann called him the Mozart of the 19th century.

But a reaction set in after Mendelssohn’s death – to a large extent thanks to the bilious efforts of Richard Wagner, who continually disdained Mendelssohn in his anti-Semitic writings. (More on Wagner's anti-Semitism here: http://jewishstandard.timesofisrael.com/richard-wagner/) Even though Mendelssohn had helped boost Wagner’s career, and even though the Iago-like Wagner once wrote to him, after meeting him in Berlin, “My dear, dear Mendelssohn: I am really happy that you like me. If I have come a little closer to you, it is the nicest thing about my Berlin expedition.”

When the Nazis came to power in Germany, in 1934 they forbade the playing of Mendelssohn’s music. At book-burnings, Mendelssohn’s music was thrown into the fires. His name was erased from the histories of music.

The Nazis also called upon German composers to write a new, non-Mendelssohnian version of “Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Carl Orff, the composer of “Carmina Burana,” agreed, but he never got around to it.

For many years Mendelssohn had conducted the Gewandhaus Orchestra in Leipzig, and the statue of him stood in front of the concert hall. The Nazis wanted to take it down and use it as scrap metal. The courageous mayor of Leipzig, Carl Goerdeler, wouldn’t allow it. But while he was out of town, the Nazis destroyed the statue. Enraged, Goerdeler resigned as mayor. (He was later executed for his role in the attempted assassination of Hitler in July 1944.).