Lily E. Hirsch - Felix Mendelssohn’s Psalm 100 Reconsidered :: Philomusica on-line :: Rivista di musicologia dell'Università di Pavia

Contributo di Lily E. Hirsch


Felix Mendelssohn’s Psalm 100 Reconsidered*



In "Felix Mendelssohn’s Commissioned Composition for the Hamburg Temple: The 100th Psalm (1844)," Eric Werner maintains that Mendelssohn composed Psalm 100 in the Spring of 1844 for the consecration of the new building of the New Israelite Temple in Hamburg in a "somewhat modified version of Luther’s" for a four-part mixed choir plus small orchestra.[1] Werner bases his contention on excerpts from one letter (not two letters, as he holds) saved by the composer and preserved in the so-called Green Books, from the director of the Hamburg Temple, Dr. Maimon Fränkel, which he reproduces and translates in his article. However, in Mendelssohn: A Life in Music and "On Mendelssohn’s Sacred Music, Real and Imaginary", R. Larry Todd raises some serious doubts about Werner’s conclusion, and, after examining the existing setting of Psalm 100, which is a cappella and in an unmodified translation by Luther, Todd asserts, "The straightforward, popular style of the music and its Lutheran version indicates it was written for the Berlin cathedral."[2] In an effort to address the mysterious history of Psalm 100 and the opposing opinions about its fate in the Mendelssohn literature, this article presents the complete existing correspondence between Mendelssohn and Dr. Maimon Fränkel—a total of five letters from the director (November 14, 1843-April 12, 1844, see appendix 1 and 2)—and, based on both the letters and the music, ultimately proves that Mendelssohn’s Psalm 100 was not intended for the Hamburg Temple.

The Hamburg Temple, situated in the former Erste Brunnenstraβe, was built by the architect H. G. Krug and dedicated on October 18, 1818. According to the statutes of the "New Israelite Temple Association in Hamburg," the new Temple was founded in order to revive interest in Judaism and to restore meaning to Jewish worship.[3] Among the new additions were a women’s gallery with no grill, a pulpit, and an organ on the western side; the latter two changes were partially inspired by the Catholic Church.[4] In traditional Jewish worship, music was minimal and synagogues often employed only a cantor assisted by a bass and a boy soprano. Thus the organ was a noteworthy feature of the new Temple and represented a significant step toward the development of a modern liturgical Jewish music. However, music’s new role in the Temple’s service forced its leaders to commission new music from outside its community—mostly from Gentile composers.[5]

Mendelssohn was contacted in this way on November 14, 1843, with a request from Fränkel for a composition for the celebration of the Temple’s 25th anniversary. Although Mendelssohn’s response does not survive, in his letter of January 8, 1844, Fränkel thanked Mendelssohn for considering his request, recommended that Mendelssohn set psalms 24, 84, and 100, and forwarded a copy of the Temple Society’s Gesangbuch. He also suggested that Mendelssohn use the translation of his grandfather and resolutely restricted the psalm setting’s accompaniment to the organ alone. As Fränkel’s third communication indicates, on January 21, 1844, Mendelssohn evidently requested in a letter of January 12 to set the Lutheran translation instead of Moses Mendelssohn’s and to compose a larger work—a cantata—with orchestral accompaniment. Fränkel replied that he was not against the use of the Lutheran translation of the psalms so long as its "harshness and errors" were avoided. In spite of his restrictive remarks regarding orchestral accompaniment in the letter of January 8, he also acquiesced to Mendelssohn’s desire to compose a cantata with orchestra and referred him to Sigismund Neukomm’s Der Ostermorgen[6] as a model. Mendelssohn apparently found this response satisfactory, and, in a letter of the first of February, promised to set Psalm 24, not Psalm 100. On March 29, Fränkel was still expecting Psalm 24 and hoped that Mendelssohn would set additional psalms that could together create an entire performance. He was, however, at this point confident enough about Mendelssohn’s musical involvement in the Temple’s upcoming festivities to take the opportunity to inquire about Emil Naumann, a student at the Leipzig conservatory and grandson of Johann Gottlieb Naumann.[7] In the final letter from the correspondence of April 12, 1844, after Mendelssohn had announced in a letter of April 8 that he would not be able to compose additional psalm settings, Fränkel expressed his regret that Mendelssohn could not complete the "entire intended gift." He still expected Psalm 24, though, and gave Mendelssohn a deadline of mid May.[8] Whether or not Mendelssohn completed this psalm setting is unclear given the surviving correspondence and the fact that no score of Psalm 24 has yet been discovered. It is apparent, though, that Mendelssohn did not intend to compose Psalm 100 for the Temple as Werner maintained and that Mendelssohn’s existing setting of Psalm 100 had a different destination: the Berlin Cathedral.

Mendelssohn’s setting of Psalm 100 appeared posthumously in the eighth volume of Musica Sacra (1855), a collection of sacred music published by E. Bote and G. Bock and intended for the Berlin Cathedral, with the instructive heading "Am ersten Sonntage nach Epiphanias: Der 100ste Psalm." The autograph score of Psalm 100, held in Kraków, Poland, is dated January 1, 1844, i.e., shortly before Fränkel recommended that Mendelssohn set Psalm 100 for the Temple, but just in time for the first Sunday after Epiphany, traditionally celebrated on January 6 as the climax of the Christmas Season and the end of the Twelve Days of Christmas. This date, thus, suggests Mendelssohn’s Psalm 100 could have been prepared for a performance on Sunday after Epiphany at the Berlin Cathedral. Mendelssohn’s employment at the time as Generalmusikdirektor für kirchliche und geistliche Musik to the court of King Frederick William IV further corroborates this theory.

Friedrich Wilhelm IV, who was crowned King of Prussia in June 1840, sought to revitalize cultural life in Berlin and summoned Mendelssohn to help in the sacred sphere as director of sacred music in Berlin. From the outset, Mendelssohn was hesitant to assume a position in Berlin. In a letter from Leipzig to Carl Klingemann, March 1841, he wrote of his reluctance: ". . . I am really not concerned with what people call honorable distinction, which is what the invitation to Berlin actually signifies; I feel like composing many different new things, and, not well, I know that an annoying external situation . . . can very much disturb me in this ..."[9] Although Mendelssohn intended to withdraw from his impending obligations in Berlin, during a meeting with the King on October 26, 1842, which Ludwig von Massow, the Under Secretary for the Royal Household, was able to arrange, Mendelssohn found the King in an "especially good mood" ("besonders guter Laune")[10] and, against his initial judgment, reconsidered and accepted the newly redefined appointment. One of his new tasks was the composition of works for the select Berlin Cathedral choir, which "had in effect been created especially for Felix Mendelssohn," including the entire cycle of psalms.[11] According to Emil Naumann, the editor of the eighth volume of Musica Sacra, the King, an "extremely well-informed" lay theologian,[12] intended that these new psalm settings would encourage community participation—in accordance with the reinvigoration of the apostolic practices he envisioned.[13] To achieve this desired involvement, the King indicated his preference for an antiphonal performance of the psalm "divided between choir and congregation" as marked in an exemplar of the revised liturgy, drafted in January 1843 by the Cathedral Ministerium, and sent to Mendelssohn by Massow.[14] The preface to the eighth volume of Musica Sacra describes the part Mendelssohn and Psalm 100 played in achieving these goals. Naumann explains:

Then the first step occurred on the way to the goal held fast in the eye of the king: Felix

Mendelssohn, in whom evangelical Christianity actively held sway and operated, was

summoned to create a form for the psalm song, with which, on the one hand, a

participation of the congregations was possible and, on the other hand, art would also

achieve its full effect.... We indeed only possess the 2nd, 22nd, 43rd [op.78], and 100th

psalm composed by him in this way. . .[15]

In this passage, Naumann links the King’s goal of community participation with Mendelssohn’s setting of Psalm 100 and provides Mendelssohn scholars with not only an alternate destination for Psalm 100, but also a distinct historical context from which to assess the composition.

The text and music of Mendelssohn’s Psalm 100 further support the conclusion that Psalm 100 was composed for the Berlin Cathedral. As the letters show, Fränkel had relinquished his hope that Mendelssohn would employ his grandfather’s translation of the psalms and consented to Mendelssohn’s request to use Luther’s translation of the psalms so long as they were slightly modified. Mendelssohn’s Psalm 100, however, is set to an unmodified translation by Luther (see appendix 3). Although he may not have believed in the Reform movement,[16] Mendelssohn’s personal religious convictions should not have prevented him from at least honoring Fränkel’s latter stipulation. In fact, for many Gentile composers, Fränkel’s initial request would not have been a problem. Georg Joseph Vogler (1749-1814), Andreas Romberg (1767-1821), Franz Danzi (1763-1826), Carl Friedrich Christian Fasch (1736-1800), Johann Reinhardt (1752-1814), and even Franz Schubert (1797-1828)[17] composed psalm settings of Moses Mendelssohn’s translations. In view of this precedent, it is perhaps more reasonable to conclude that Psalm 100, with its unmodified Lutheran setting, was composed for a Protestant purpose.

Likewise, in its utter simplicity, the music of Psalm 100 suggests an association with the Berlin Cathedral. As previously discussed, Mendelssohn had requested the employment of orchestral accompaniment for his Psalm settings for the Temple and Fränkel had consented. This appeal was perhaps partially inspired by Mendelssohn’s belief that his strength lay in orchestrally accompanied sacred music, rather than music in the a-cappella style.[18] Mendelssohn’s Psalm 100, however, is a cappella—in keeping with the Prussian monarch’s musical standards, the dictates of the Prussian Agende of 1829,[19] and the Palestrina movement of the time, which reawakened the stylus a cappella and encouraged nearly neo-syllabic settings of the Psalms.[20] Thus, the a-cappella setting of Psalm 100 is most likely a manifestation of Mendelssohn’s concessions to its intended destination—the Berlin Cathedral—rather than his own choice. Not only that, the simple homophonic style of the music adheres to the ideals championed at court. In a letter of February 14, 1844 to Friedrich Wilhelm Graf von Redern, the Generalintendant in charge of the music at court, Mendelssohn explained these musical values in his instructions to his future successor. He states, ". . . the destination of this composition for the Divine Service makes desirable a setting in a declamatory manner, thus with the least possible amount of word repetition and with the slightest possible figuration, so that the meaning of the words is understandable to the listener."[21] The homophonic and syllabic opening of the first verse of Mendelssohn’s Psalm 100 "Shout to the Lord all the earth" in C major illustrates this suggested treatment (see example 1a). Although, on the last beat of measure 7, the soprano voice initiates a bit of contrapuntal imitation that cadences in the dominant in measure 12, the homophonic texture immediately resumes on the last beat of measure 12, reiterating a root-position C major chord before clearly intoning the text "Acknowledge that the Lord is God." The B section (verse 3, "Enter his gates with thanks," measures 32-64), in F major, while designated for eight solo voices, still maintains the simple style of the A section. It also exhibits the Prussian monarch’s sacred musical ideal of a-cappella responsorial psalmody, when the tenor and bass soloists begin in measure 32, alternating with the soprano and alto parts to support the poetic structure (see example 1b). The choir re-emerges in the final section (verse 4), a diatonic, syllabic, and strictly homophonic conclusion in C major.[22]

The simple homophonic style of this Psalm is also readily comparable to other psalm settings Mendelssohn composed for the Berlin Cathedral at this time. Psalm 2, op. 78 no.1, composed for the Christmas introit performed at the Berlin Cathedral, and designated "Am ersten Weihnachts Feiertage" in Musica Sacra, volume 8, is mostly homophonic and, according to Fanny’s letter to Rebecka of December 26, 1843, "very pretty, very Gregorian" ("sehr schön, sehr gregorianisch").[23] Like Psalm 100, it includes a brief solo section in the middle (measures 41-47) and is written for a-cappella choir, with brief passages of simple imitative writing and repeated root-position harmonies, which James Garratt identifies as signs of the Protestant Palestrina revival at court.[24] According to Fanny, however, "Felix would prefer to compose with orchestra . . ." ("Felix möchte lieber mit Orchester komponieren. . .").[25] Evidently, Mendelssohn indulged himself in this desire when he composed Psalm 98, op.91 for New Year’s Day with orchestral accompaniment. The ensuing controversy may have ensured Mendelssohn’s subsequent adherence to the Prussian monarch’s a-cappella ideal, especially when no instrumentalists were assigned to the Music Institute during the seasons of Epiphany and Lent.[26] Thus, in January and February 1844, Felix set Psalms 43, op.78 no.2 and 22, op.78 no.3 without instrumentation. These psalms, like Psalms 2 and 100, are predominantly homophonic, syllabic, and have responsorial sections. Of the four psalm settings, only psalm 43 does not include the use of solo voices.

Based on these similarities, Mendelssohn’s use of the Lutheran translation, Naumann’s preface to the eighth volume of Musica Sacra, and Fränkel’s letters, Mendelssohn’s setting of Psalm 100 was not intended for the Hamburg Temple, but was most likely the result of his engagement in the King’s project of cultural revitalization.[27] Although several puzzles still remain about the composition and performance of Mendelssohn’s Psalm 100, this article hopefully concludes the debate about the ultimate destination of the Psalm setting.




Appendix 1: The Complete Existing Correspondence Between Mendelssohn and Dr. Maimon Fränkel (November 14, 1843-April 12, 1844)


GB XVIII, 185[28]


Wohlgeborener Herr

Der neue Israelitischer Tempel hinselbst, eine Anstalt welche vor Kurzem ihr 25 jähriges Bestehen gefeiert hat und welche sich nähert, die wahre Musik durch Einführung von Chorälen, Orgelspiel und einigen ausgedehnteren Tonstücke dem vollständigen jüdischen, hier theils deutsche, theils ebräische abgehaltenen Gottesdienste fest einverleibt zu haben, hat die Absicht, bei der bevorstehenden Eröffnung seines neuen gröβeren Lokals, in seiner Musik einen nahmhaften Fortschritt durch Hinzufügung gröβerer Gesangstücke eintreten zu lassen.

Bei dieser Gelegenheit wagt er, sich auch an Sie zu wenden, um Ihre gütige Mitwirkung in Anspruch zu nehmen. Ihr erhabenes Talent ist zu sehr Gemeingut des ganzen Vaterlandes, und der Name Mendelssohn ist noch immer insbesondere jedem deutschen Israeliten zu theuer, als daß wir uns nicht der frohen Hoffnung hingeben sollten, Sie die Composition einiger dieser Stücke[29] auf unsern ergebenste Bitte übernehmen zu sehen.

Erlauben Sie uns hiebei zu bemerken, daß die jüdische Liturgie sehr reich ist an empfindungsvollen Ausdrücken, an prägnanten Bildern, ja so zu sagen an dramatischen Situationen, die dem Tondichter ein willkommenes, noch kaum bearbeitetes Feld darbieten; so wie andererseits unsere Gemeinde, wenn auch noch nicht so allgemein musikalisch gebildet, wie sie es hoffentlich später, selbst unter Mitwirkung der beabsichtigten Vervollkommnung werden wird, doch im Durchschnitt sehr empfänglich für die Musik und die durch sie zu erzielende Erhöhung des allgemeinen Schönheitssinnes ist.

Indem wir nun einer geneigtesten Antwort entgegen sehen, behalten wir uns vor, Ihnen bei Aufgabe der Stücke selbst—deren einige vielleicht ebräisch sein würden—Näheres über die musikalischen Kräfte des Tempels, die nöthige Zeitdauer u.s.w. anzugeben.

Mit vollkommender Hochachtung


ganz ergebenst


Dr. M. Fraenkel d.z. Präses.
der Tempel Direction


14 Nov 1843


M.M. Haarbleicher
Mitgl. der Cultus Commision

S.T. Herrn Kapellmeister Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy Dr.Berlin






Hochverehrter Herr,

Empfangen Sie den verbindlichsten Dank der Direction des neuen Tempelvereins für Ihre gütige Bereitwilligkeit, die Wünsche derselben zu berücksichtigen. Wir schätzen auch eine theilweise Erfüllung dieser Wünsche von Ihnen hoch, und werden, was Sie uns an Psalm-Compositionen mittheilen wollen und in unserm Gottesdienst verwendbar ist, mit vielem Vergnügen benutzen. Ich erlaube mir, Ihnen unser Gesangbuch zuzusenden, wo Sie ein Verzeichniβ von bearbeiteten Psalmen finden, die bei unserm Gottesdienste gebraucht werden. Wir besitzen zwar zu den sämmtlichen Nummern dieses Buches Melodien, aber von sehr verschiedenem Werthe: unter sehr versprechenden finden sich viele mittelmässige und nicht wenige ganz unbrauchbar darunter.

Zunächst erlauben wir uns, den 24., 84., und 100. Psalm besonders hervorzuheben; gerade von diesen Psalmen wäre uns die Composition eines Meisters höchst erwünscht. Unser neues Tempelgebäude soll nämlich um Pfingsten dieses Jahres eingeweiht werden, und die genannten Psalmen scheinen uns für diese Gelegenheit vorzügsweise geeignet; sie würden jedoch nicht als Gelegenheitsstücke nach einmaligen Gebrauche bei Seite gelegt, sondern dem kleinen Schätze unserer besten Tempel-Melodien zu öfterem Gebrauche einverleibt werden.

Wir besitzen zum gewöhnlichen Gottesdienste einen Chor von 16 Knaben; wir können jedoch bei ungewöhnlichen Aufführungen auch die Mitwirkung von wenigstens 40 Damen und Herren (jüdischen und christlichen Glaubens) rechnen, wie dieß am letzten 18. Oct. der Fall war, wo zur 25 jährigen Jubelfeier des Tempels eine Cantate von einem jungen hiesigen Componisten aufgeführt wurde. Die beiden ersten der genannten Psalmen (24 u. 84) wären als Cantate zu behandeln. Sollen sie in wörtlicher Uebersetzung componiert werden, so wäre die Uebersetzung Ihres seligen Grossvaters (ruhmvollen Andenkens!) zu Grunde zu legen; es bleibt Ihnen aber gänzlich überlassen, irgend eine poetische Bearbeitung dieser Psalmen zu benutzen. So bleibt auch die Einrichtung derselbe zu Cantaten Ihrem Ermessen anheimgestellt, und wir würden Ihnen nur auf Ihren besten Wunsch eine Schematisirung vorschlagen. Ich muβ hier die einschränkende Bemerkung hinzufügen, daβ die Begleitung ohne Orchester und für die Orgel allein gesetzt sein müsste. Dieß war neulich auch bei der erwähnten Cantate der Fall, und Sachkundige fanden die Ausführung auch in dieser Beziehung lobenswerth. Der bald einzuweihende Tempel erhält eine neue ziemlich groβe Orgel, die jetzt hier gebau[t] wird. Wenn Sie nur die Freude verschaffen wollen, unser Gottesha[us] mit Ihren Compositionen einzuweihen, so müssen wir dieselbe spätestens zu Ostern haben. Die schleunige Antwort mit welcher Sie unsere erste Zuschrift beehrt haben, ermüthigt uns, Sie mit der Bitte zu behelligen, daß Sie uns gütigst wissen lassen wollen, ob wir die gewünschte Composition von Ihnen erwarten dürfen.

Genehmigen Sie die wiederholte Versicherung unserer ausgezeichneten Hochachtung und Ergebenheit.


Dr. Fraenkel

Präses der Direction des Tempelvereins

Hamburg, den 8. Januar 1844




GB XIX, 48

Hochgeehrtester Herr,

In Erwiederung auf Ihr geehrtes Schreiben vom 12. d. M. freut es mich Ihnen sagen zu können, daβ wir Ihren Wunschen gern entgegnen können, um Ihre in Hoffnung gestellte Zusage zu erhalten. Das Ungewöhnliche einer Orchester Begleitung im Tempel findet allerdings in dem ungewöhnlichen Act der Einweihung seine vollkommene Ausgleichung und Rechtfertigung, und wir haben noch den besonderen Vortheil, eine vollständigere Wirkung der Composition erwarten zu dürfen. Auch gegen den Gebrauch der Lutherischen Psalmen Uebersetzung haben wir nichts, wenn die Härten und Unrichtigkeiten in denselben vermieden werden, wie dieses in Betreff der in Rede stehenden Psalmen auf einliegendem Blatte bemerkt ist—was Sie gewiβ billigen werden.

Unsere [sic] Wunsch, einige der bezeichneten Psalmen zum Behufe der Einweihung als Cantaten behandelt zu sehen, haben wir bereits ausgesprochen. Dieser Wunsch würde seine volle Erfüllung finden, wenn es möglich wäre, diese Psalmen zu einem Ganzen zu verschmelzen. Dieses bleibt jedoch Ihrem Ermessen anheimgestellt, so wie der Gebrauch einer ganz unmetrische Uebersetzung, oder einer bloβ rhythmischen Uebertragung, oder einer ganze strophischen Bearbeitung, wie bei Neukomm’s Ostermorgen. Sollen Sie es angemessen finden, Ps. 24 u. 84 für das Orchester und der Hundertste für Singstimmen allein zu componieren, so würde für die Ausführung ebenfalls ein guter Erfolg zu erwarten sein.

Da die Eröffnung des Tempels erst nach Pfingsten stattfinden wird, so wäre es nicht nöthig, daβ wir die Composition vor dem Mai erhalten.

Indem somit alles Hinderliche beseitigt zu sein scheint, überlassen wir uns gern der Hoffnung, die Einweihung unseres neuen Gotteshauses durch Ihre Composition verherrlicht zu sehen und wünschen, daβ der Allwaltende Ihnen ein dauerhaftes Wohlsein und eine heitere Stimmung verleihen möge.

Mit ausgezeichneter Hochachtung und Ergebenheit,


Dr. Fraenkel

Hamburg, den 21. Januar 1844




GB XIX, 192


Hochverehrter Herr

Gern hätte ich schweigend gewartet, bis Sie Ihr gütiges Versprechen lösen würden; aber die Umstände nöthigen mich, Sie abermals mit einem Schreiben zu behelligen,--was Sie hoffentlich entschuldigen werden. Nach Ihrem Schreiben vom 1. Febr. haben wir den 24. Psalm mit Gewiβheit von Ihnen zu erwarten; über die Composition der beiden andern bezeichneten Psalmen konnten Sie uns damals keine bestimmte Zusage machen. Wäre Ihnen dieβ vielleicht jetzt möglich? Die Einweihung des neuen Tempels soll an einem Abend stattfinden und einen ganzen Act bilden; in diesem Falle würde ein Psalm nicht zureichend sein. Höchst erfreulich wäre es uns, wenn es Ihre Muβe Ihnen gestattete (Ihre Muse wirds!)[30] unsern Wunsch vollständig zu befriedigen. Sollten Sie jedoch wirklich verhindert werden, uns mehr als einen Psalm mitzutheilen, so müβten wir bei Zeiten auf eine anderweitige Ergänzung denken, wozu Ihr Rath uns sehr willkommen sein würde.

Da ich einmal "angefangen habe zu reden," so erlaube ich mir, noch eine andere Bitte auszusprechen. Emil Naumann, der Sohn des Prof. N. aus Bonn, betreibt, wie ich von seiner Mutter, meiner vieljährigen Freundin, weiβ, seine musikalische Ausbildung unter Ihrer Leitung. Die mir als ausgezeichnet gerühmten Anlagen des jungen Musiker und Ihr Einfluβ berechtigen zu hoffnungsvollen Erwartungen. Im Interesse, welches ich an den Eltern des jungen Mannes nahm, erlaube ich mir die Frage, ob derselbe den von ihm angeregten Erwartungen wirklich entspricht, und die Aussicht eröffnet den Namen seines Groβvaters mit verjüngtem Ruhme zu verherrlichen? Ihr briefliches Zeugniβ an die Frau Prof. N. berechtigt zu dieser Hoffnung; wie man aber den Weg beobachtet hat, den ausgezeichnete Kräfte bis zu gerechter[31] Entwickelung [sic] zu machen haben, so wird man nur durch einen isthmischen Sieg beruhigt, oder durch den maaβgebende [sic] Zuruf eines Eingeweiheten [sic]: Macte virtute! Ich würde es mit Dank erkennen, wenn Sie die Gewogenheit hätten, mir hierüber einige Worte zu sagen.

Indem ich meinem Schreiben eine freundliche Aufmachen wünsche, bleibe ich mit aufrichtiger Verehrung und Ergebenheit.


Der Ihrige


Dr. Fraenkel

Hamburg, den 29 März 1844




GB XIX, 223 [April 12, 1844]

Hochverehrter Herr,

In Erwiederung auf Ihr geehrtes Schreiben vom 8. d. M. muβ ich zwar herzlich bedauern, daβ Sie verhindert sind, die uns zugedachte Gabe zur Einweihung des neuen Tempels uns vollständig zukommen zu lassen, indessen freuen wir uns auch auf den zu erwartenden Psalm und werden für eine würdige Aufführung Sorge tragen. Um die Einübung gehörig vornehmen zu können, müssen wir die Composition spätestens in der Mitte des Mai’n Monats erhalten. In dieser Erwartung bitten wir Sie um Nachsicht, daβ wir Ihre gehäufte Beschäftigung noch vermehren und hoffen, in dem Zwecke, so wie in Ihrer gütigen Bereitwilligkeit eine entschuldigende Fürsprache zu finden.

Für Ihre freundliche Mittheilung über den jungen Naumann empfangen Sie meinen verbindlichen Dank.

Mit aufrichtger Verehrung und Ergebenheit.


Dr. M. Fraenkel


Präses der Direction des Tempelvereins


Torna al testo




Appendix 2: English Translation of the Complete Existing Correspondence Between Mendelssohn and Dr. Maimon Fränkel (November 14, 1843-April 12, 1844)




Well-born Sir,

The new Israelite Temple, itself an institution, which recently celebrated its 25th year of existence and which is nearing the point of having solidly incorporated-true music into complete Jewish religious services conducted here partly in German and partly in Hebrew through the introduction of chorales, organ playing, and its own extended compositions, has the goal of achieving considerable progress through the addition of a large vocal piece at the forthcoming inauguration of its new larger location.

On this occasion, the temple ventures to turn to you in order to solicit your kind cooperation. Your sublime talent is too much the public property of the whole fatherland and the name Mendelssohn is still, especially to all German Israelites, - too dear that we might abandon - the happy prospect of seeing you undertake the composition of a few of these pieces at our humblest request.

Allow us to hereby remark that the Jewish liturgy is very rich in emotive expression, in incisive images; indeed, so to speak, in dramatic situations, which offer the composer a welcome field that has - still hardly been treated. Similarly, on the other hand, our congregation is on the average rather receptive to music and to the elevated general sense of beauty which is achieved through music even when they are not yet generally as musically educated as they will hopefully later be by participating in the planned perfection.

In now looking forward to your most gracious reply, we reserve the right to indicate to you at the assignment of the pieces, of which a few would possibly be Hebrew, more information about the temple’s musical strengths, the necessary duration, etc.


With complete admiration

Completely and most humbly


Dr. M. Fraenkel

President of the Temple Administration


14 Nov 1843





Well born

Honorable Sir,

Please receive the most grateful thanks from the administration of the new temple society for your gracious willingness to consider our wishes. We will also highly respect your partial realization of these wishes and we will gladly use whatever Psalm-Compositions that you care to share with us and are usable in our service. I have taken the liberty of sending you our songbook, where you find a list of set psalms used in our service. We do possess melodies for all of the numbers in this book, however they are of very different value: among very promising ones one finds many average ones and more than a few completely unusable ones.

First of all we will take the liberty of drawing your attention particularly to the 24th, 84th and 100th psalms; especially the composition of a Meister for these psalms would be most desirable to us. Our new temple building is supposed to be consecrated namely at Pentecost of this year and the aforesaid psalms seem most suitable for this holiday; they would not, however, be put aside as occasional pieces after a single performance; rather, they would be added to the little treasure of our best temple melodies for regular usage.

We have a choir of 16 boys for the regular service. We could however count on the cooperation of at least 40 women and men (of Jewish and Christian faiths) for exceptional performances, as was the case last Oct. 18th, when a cantata by a young local composer was performed for the 25th year anniversary of the temple. The first two named psalms (24 and 84) should be treated as a cantata. Should they be composed in a literal translation, then the translation of your Blessed Grandfather (of renowned memory!) would be recommended as the basis; you are however fully at liberty to use some poetic version of these psalms. Thus the setting of them as cantatas is also left to your judgment and we would only suggest a framework if you desired. I must here add the restrictive remark that the accompaniment would have to be without orchestra and for the organ alone. This was recently also the case with the above-mentioned cantata, and experts found the performance praiseworthy in this respect as well. The soon to be consecrated temple received a new rather large organ, which is now being built here. If you wish to provide us with the joy of consecrating our house of God with your compositions, then we must have them by Easter at the latest. Your quick response with which you honored our first reply encourages us to bother you with the request that you might kindly let us know whether or not we may expect the desired compositions from you.

Please grant the repeated assurance of our excellent esteem and devotion.


Dr. Fraenkel

President of the Direction of the Temple Society

Hamburg, January 8, 1844




GB XIX, 48

Most esteemed Sir,

In reply to your honorable letter of the 12th of the month, it pleases me to be able to say that we are happy to reply to your wishes in order to get the commitment upon which hopes have been based. The unusual aspect of an orchestral accompaniment in the temple certainly finds, however, its perfect balance and justification in the extraordinary act of the consecration and we still have the special advantage of expecting a more complete effect of the composition. Also we are not against the use of the Lutheran translation of the psalms, when the harshness and errors in them are avoided, as is noted with regard to the psalms in question on the inserted sheet, which you will certainly approve.

We have already stated our wish to see the named psalms set as cantatas for the purpose of consecration. This wish would be completely fulfilled if it were possible to fuse these psalms into one whole. This remains however completely at your discretion, as does the use of a fully unmetrical translation or a simple rhythmic translation or a wholly strophic treatment as with Neukomm’s Ostermorgen. Should you find it appropriate to compose Ps. 24, 84 for orchestra and the 100th for singing voice alone, then one would expect the performance to be a great success.

Since the opening of the temple will not take place until after Whitsun, it would not be necessary that we receive the composition before May.

Now that all possible hindrances appear to have been eliminated, we gladly hope to see the consecration of our new house of God glorified through your composition and wish that the Almighty will grant you enduring health and a cheerful mood.

With extraordinary admiration and devotion,

Dr. Fraenkel


Hamburg, 21 January 1844




GB XIX, 192

Well born,

Honorable Sir,

I would have liked to wait in silence until you fulfilled your kind promise, but the circumstances require me to bother you once again with a letter—which you will hopefully excuse. After your letter of the first of Feb., we may undoubtedly expect psalm 24 from you; you could not offer a definite acceptance with regard to the composition of both of the other indicated psalms. Might this perhaps now be possible for you? The consecration of the new temple should take place on one evening and constitute a complete act; in this case one psalm would not be sufficient. It would be most pleasing to us if your leisure were to permit you (your muse certainly will) to satisfy our wish completely. Should you however really be hindered from sharing more than one psalm with us, then we would have to contemplate obtaining a supplement from elsewhere before its too late, in which case your advice would be very welcome.

Now that I "have already begun to speak," I take the liberty of formulating yet another plea. Emil Naumann, the son of Prof. N from Bonn, is pursuing his musical training under your direction, as I’ve gathered from his mother, my friend for many years. The young musician’s talents, which have been extolled as excellent and your influence give ground for hopeful expectations. In the interest, which I have taken in the young man’s parents, I allow myself to ask whether or not he really lives up to the expectations he has aroused, and whether he offers the prospect of glorifying his grandfather’s name with rejuvenated fame? Your written evidence to Frau Prof. Naumann justifies this hope; however, observing the path that excellent powers have to trod until they reach just development, one is reassured only by an Isthmian victory,[32] or by the authoritative call of the chosen few: Macte virtute!

I would be grateful if you had the kindness to say a few words on this subject.

As I wish for a friendly opening of my letter, I remain with sincere respect and loyalty,



Dr. Fraenkel

Hamburg, 29 March 1844




GB XIX, 223 [April 12, 1844]

Honorable Sir,

In reply to your esteemed letter from the 8th of the month, I must feel heartfelt regret, however, that you are hindered from sending us the entire intended gift for the consecration of the new temple. Meanwhile we look forward to the expected psalm and we will attend to a worthy performance. In order to properly see to the rehearsals, we must receive the composition by the middle of May at the latest. In this expectation, we ask for your forbearance that we might yet increase your heaping workload, and hope in the purpose and your kind willingness to find a pardonable plea.

For your friendly communication on the young Naumann, please receive my deepest thanks.

With sincere veneration and devotion.

Dr. M. Fraenkel

President of the Direction of the Temple Society


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Appendix 3: Psalm 100 (Die Bibel 1545, German translation by Martin Luther)

  1. Ein Dankpsalm
    Jauchzet dem Herrn, alle Welt.
  2. Dient dem Herrn mit Freuden, kommt vor sein Angesicht mit Frohlocken.
  3. Erkennt, daβ der Herr Gott ist. Er hat uns gemacht, und nicht wir selbst, zu seinem Volk, und zu Schafen seiner Weide.
  4. Gehe zu seinen Thoren ein mit Danken, zu seinen Vorhöfen mit Loben; danket ihm, lobet seinen Namen.
  5. Denn der Herr ist freundlich, und seine Gnade währet ewig, und seine Wahrheit für und für.


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[Bio] Lily E. Hirsch is a Ph.D. candidate in the Duke University Department of Music. She is currently in Berlin thanks to a Deutscher Akademischer Austausch Dienst Doctoral Fellowship, completing her dissertation research on the Jüdischer Kulturbund and Musical Politics in Nazi Germany.

* This article could not have been written without the guidance of R. Larry Todd, the careful inspection of the transcription of the letters by Peter Ward Jones, who has access to the original letters at the Bodleian Library, and the corrections made to the English translation by Peter McIsaac.

[1] Eric Werner, “Felix Mendelssohn’s Commissioned Composition for the Hamburg Temple: The 100th Psalm (1844),” Musica Judaica 7/1 (1984-1985), p.57.

[2] R. Larry Todd, Mendelssohn: A Life in Music (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), p.469. See also “On Mendelssohn’s Sacred music, Real and Imaginary,” in The Cambridge Companion to Mendelssohn, edited by Peter Merce-Taylor (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), pp.167-188.

[3] Michael A. Meyer, Response to Modernity: A History of the Reform Movement in Judaism (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988), p.54.

[4] Rather than synagogue, the new place of worship was called Temple in keeping with the ideals of Reform Judaism, which rejected the Orthodox belief in the reappearance of the Temple in Jerusalem upon the Messiah’s arrival. “Buildings Integral to the Former Life and/or Persecution of Jews in Hamburg” (accessed March 23, 2004). Refer also to Andreas Brämer, Judentum und Religiöse Reform: Der Hamburger Israelitische Tempel 1817-1938 (Hamburg: Dölling and Galitz Verlag, 2000), pp.10-69.

[5] Meyer, op.cit., p.57.

[6] Sigismund Ritter von Neukomm (1778-1858) was an Austrian composer, pianist, and scholar. He wrote Der Ostermorgen, a cantata for three soloists, chorus and orchestra, in 1823. In the autobiographical sketch included in Rudolph Angermüller’s Sigismund Neukomm: Werkverzeichnis, Autobiographie, Beziehung zu seinen Zeitgenossen, Neukomm explains, “Am 27. Mai 1828 beendete ich meinen ‘Ostermorgen.’ Ich erwähne dieses Werk nur, weil es dem Andenken der Herzogin [Dorothea] von Kurland, einer meiner gütigen Gönnerinnen als Zeichen meiner Dankbarkeit gewidmet war. Dieses Werk hat sich trotz seiner geringen Bedeutung schnell verbreitet.” Rudolph Angermüller, Sigismund Neukomm: Werkverzeichnis, Autobiographie, Beziehung zu seinen Zeitgenossen (München-Salzburg: Musikverlag Emil Katzbichler, 1977), p.40.

[7] Emil Naumann (1827-1888) was a composer and music historian, whom Mendelssohn helped as a student. In 1839, Emil Naumann’s parents asked Mendelssohn to supervise their son’s musical development. Naumann was only 12 years old at the time, however, and Mendelssohn suggested serious study only later under the tutelage of Moritz Hauptmann. In autumn 1842, Naumann began his studies with Hauptmann at the Leipzig Conservatory, where Mendelssohn was able to continue to follow the young man’s progress, and help him financially. Clive Brown, A Portrait of Mendelssohn (New Haven and London: Yale University, 2003), p.269. For more information on Mendelssohn’s involvement with Emil Naumann in Leipzig, refer to Naumann’s “Erinnerungen,” Neue Berliner Musikzeitung 3 (1865), pp.353-355 and 361-362.

[8] The consecration festivities eventually took place in September 1844. Brämer, op.cit., p.44.

[9] Quoted in Brown, op.cit., p.166.

[10] Mendelssohn describes his meeting with the King in a letter to Carl Klingemann of November 23, 1842. Karl Klingemann, Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdys Briefwechsel mit Legationsrat Karl Kligemann in London (Essen: G.D. Baedeker, 1909), pp.273-277.

[11] David Brodbeck, “A winter of discontent: Mendelssohn and the Berliner Domchor,” in Mendelssohn Studies, ed. R. Larry Todd (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), p. 1.

[12] David E. Barclay, Frederick William IV and the Prussian Monarchy 1840-1861 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995), p.85.

[13] Emil Naumann, preface to Musica Sacra, volume 8, ed. Emil Naumann (Berlin: Bote & Bock, 1855).

[14] This emphasis on the role of the congregation in the revised liturgy amended the Prussian Agende of 1829, which only allowed the congregation to participate in the singing of a few chorales. Brodbeck, op.cit., p.6 and p.11.

[15] “Da geschah der erste Schritt auf das von Sr. Majestät dem Könige fest in’s Auge gefasste Ziel zu: Felix Mendelssohn, in dem evangelisches Christenthum lebendig waltete und wirkte, ward berufen eine Form für den Psalmengesang zu erschaffen, bei der einerseits eine Betheiligung der Gemeinden möglich, andererseits aber doch auch die Kunst zu ihrer vollen Wirkung gelange . . . Wir besitzen zwar nur die 2ten, 22sten, 43ten und 100stn Psalm in dieser Weise von ihm komponiert . . .” Emil Naumann, foreword to Musica Sacra, op.cit.

[16] Felix Mendelssohn did believe in a modern version of Judaism; however, it was not analogous to Reform Judaism, but rather a rational response to modern religious identity. Botstein explains, “Mendelssohn’s personal construct of Protestant Christianity was designed to fit a crucial criterion—that it be the modern moral equivalent and logical outcome of Judaism . . . In Mendelssohn’s view, Judaism was not rejected, hidden, or denied, but transfigured and modernized into Protestantism.” Leon Botstein, “Mendelssohn and the Jews,” Musical Quarterly 82/1 (Spring 1998), p.213.

[17] In fact, in addition to setting two psalms in Mendelssohn’s translation, in 1828, Franz Schubert actually set Psalm 92 (Tov L’Hodot or “It is good to give thanks to the Lord”) to the Hebrew text. Elaine Brody, “Schubert and Sulzer revisited: a recapitulation of the events leading to Schubert’s setting in Hebrew of Psalm XCII, D 953,” in Schubert Studies: Problems of style and chronology, ed. Eva Badura-Skoda and Peter Branscombe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982), pp.47-60.

[18] Georg Feder, “On Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy’s Sacred Music,” in The Mendelssohn Companion, ed. Douglass Seaton (Westport, Connecticut and London: Greenwood Press, 2001), p.269

[19] Ulrich Leupold, Die liturgischen Gesänge der evangelischen Kirche im Zeitalter der Aufklärung und der Romantik (Kassel: Bärenreiter-Verlag, 1933), p.145.

[20] David Brodbeck, foreword to Felix Mendelssohn: Drei Psalmen, op. 78, ed. David Brodbeck (Stuttgart: Carus-Verlag, 1998), p.vii. Refer also to James Garratt, Palestrina and the German Romantic Imagination: Interpreting Historicism in Nineteenth-Century Music (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), pp.84-93.

[21] Quoted in Brodbeck, op.cit., p.23. This goal grew out of the Lutheran and Calvinist emphasis on music, and especially psalm singing and worship as a means of edification. In Naumann’s foreword to Musica Sacra, he explains that the clear declamatory style of Psalms 100, 2, 22, and 43 allowed the community to know and understand the words of the Bible. Naumann, op.cit.

[22] The three sections described are unified by a plagal progression (C major/I—F major/IV—C major/I), traditionally sung to the word amen at the end of Protestant hymns. This progression is also emphasized in the A section in bars 17-21, when d minor is tonicized as a pivot to F major in bar 21 before the return to C major to close the section. Mendelssohn’s use of the progression further links the psalm to the Protestant tradition.

[23] Quoted in Wolfgang Dinglinger, “Ein neues Lied—Der Preuβische Generalmusikdirektor und eine königliche Auftragskomposition,” in Mendelssohn Studies, vol. 5, ed. Cécile Lowenthal-Hensel and Rudolf Elvers (Berlin: Duncker and Humboldt, 1982), p.107.

[24] Garratt, op.cit., p.86. Garratt also connects Mendelssohn’s Sechs Sprüche, op. 79 to this revival and describes the root-position chord repetition present both in the psalm settings and the second anthem, “Herr Gott, du bist unsre Zuflucht,” performed at the Cathedral on New Year’s Day 1844, as reminiscent of falsobordone (ibid., pp.88-89).

[25] Dinglinger, op.cit., p.107.

[26] Brodbeck, op.cit., pp.20-21.

[27] On February 15, 1844, Mendelssohn attempted to terminate his involvement in this project, “no doubt wary of its scope and tiring of the restricted a cappella medium” (Todd, op.cit., p.469). Mendelssohn’s ennui may have been a factor in his reluctance to compose additional psalm settings without orchestration for the Hamburg Temple.

[28] The designation GB, which appears at the top of these five letters, refers to the Grüne Bücher (Green Books) in which letters received by Mendelssohn from 1821 until 1847 were collected and catalogued, including the five letters from Fränkel (GB XVIII, 185, GB XIX, 15, GB XIX, 48, GB XIX, 192, and GB XIX, 223). For more information about the history and contents of the Green Books, held at the Bodleian Library, refer to Margaret Crum, ed., Catalogue of the Mendelssohn Papers in the Bodleian Library (Tutzing: Hans Schneider, 1980).

[29] Originally “übernehmen” stood here, but it was lightly crossed out and enclosed in parentheses.

[30] There is a play on words in this line with the use of both Muβe and Muse.

[31] This word is difficult to decipher definitively. Peter Ward Jones inspected the original letters and concluded that although there is a dot in the original letter, it appears to be accidental rather than signifying an ‘I’.

[32] This is a reference to Pindar’s victory odes, which celebrated the triumphs of athletes at events such as the Isthmian Games.

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