April 14, 2012, 4:o0 PM | St. John’s Church, Jamaica Plain
We are delighted to offer this program as part of the JP Concerts performance outreach program at St. John’s Church. Reception to follow.
April 15, 2012, 2:00 PM | Church of Our Saviour, Brookline
The Lawrence Room in the Parish House of Church of Our Saviour is a beautifully appointed Georgian parlor, a warm and elegant setting which really conjures up the salon atmosphere. Since playing here for the first time in October, we have been itching to return. Come share the salon vibe with us! Reception to follow.
No tickets required. Donations graciously accepted.
In our past concerts we have explored various aspects of German bourgeois culture that were undergoing radical changes and increasing in prominence in the Age of Enlightenment. In October, we explored the emergence of a public sphere, of which the coffeehouse was our touchstone. A recurring theme this season has also been our exploration of the rise of amateurism, which epitomizes the conflict between the middle-class’s historical role as expert artisans and its emerging desire for affluence and leisure. This amateurism became so fashionable that it was adopted even by the noble classes—despite the fact that it is quintessentially middle-class—and amateur music-making of Frederick the Great framed our January concerts. We now turn to another sector of the middle-class for which amateur (in the best sense) music-making became central during the Enlightenment: Jews and women.
When we think of the salon, we normally think of its Parisian origins where philosophes would gather at the homes of noble ladies to discuss poetry, literature, politics, and music. The salons of Berlin in the latter half of the 18th century were of a much more egalitarian sort. Unlike their posher Parisian counterparts, these Berlin gatherings became a place where class barriers fell away and the art of discussion—discussion of art—came to the fore. Not only could upper and lower classes mix, but both men and women could attend together, and Jews were also welcome among Gentiles. In fact, many of the most important salon hostesses or salonières (they were always sponsored by women), were Jewish women—and this at a time when Jews, even Jewish men, were not recognized as having citizenship! What these Jewish familes did have was money—the Christian prohibition of usury or money-lending afforded Jews a niche in the financial sector—and educated daughters—the daughters of Christian families typically stopped their formal educations at age 11 or 12.
Daniel Itzig, Frederick II’s Court Banker (Hofjude, lit. “court Jew”), was the head of one of these prominent Jewish households. His daughter, Sara (Itzig) Levy was literate in French, German, Yiddish, and Hebrew, and studied keyboard with Bach’s eldest son, Wilhelm Friedemann. She became an accomplished pianist who performed in public regularly as soloist under Carl Friedrich Zelter at the Berlin Sing-Akademie. That a Jew and, moreover, a women could occupy such a prominent public role speaks to her talent and the public’s esteem for her on the one hand, as well to as the increasing openness and egalitarianism in society on the other. Her most important role in Berlin society, however, was that of salonière of the musical gathering she held in her home for nearly 70 years (she lived to be 94!). This salon highlighted music by members of the Bach family: after Wilhelm Friedemann’s death, she continued to communicate with Carl Philipp Emanuel and commissioned many works of his; and indeed after Emanual (as he was known) died, Sara to communicate with his wife Maria. Sara’s salon achieved a great reputation for the musical quality of the performances and for the many prestigious personalities on the regular guest-list. Emanuel Bach was therefore glad to provide music for this gathering: ever the businessman, he knew that this was an opportunity to publicize his music to a discerning audience, who, ultimately, might buy his musical publications. The Quartets Wq 93–95 for flute, viola, and piano are examples of works written for Sara’s salon.
Sara Levy was not the only Jewish salonière in Berlin; but several details make her distinctive. First, she married another Jew, Solomon Levy, and remained Jewish for the rest of her life. Most Jewish salonières converted to Christianity and married into Christian families; unfortunately, these women inevitably were seen as outsiders. Sara’s success in playing a central role in Berlin’s cultural life seems to come from her avoiding any attempts to “assimilate” into someone else’s (Christian) social circle, but rather arises out of her uncanny knack of creating an insider group of aesthetes in her own (Jewish) home, to which everyone else then clamored. The second distinctive feature of of Sara’s salon is that it not only was one of the first music-only salons, but that the music was mostly from the Bach family. In fact the Itzig family in general were great advocates of the Bachs and continued to perform their music even when the “new” taste of Mozart, Haydn, and Beethoven became popular. (Mozart and Beethoven were actually in attendance at the salon of Sara’s sister Fanny, who introduced the salon tradition to Vienna. Haydn’s Arianna a Naxos, a Vienna salon piece, might well have had a hearing in 1790 at Fanny’s salon.) After Sebastian Bach’s death in 1759, performances of his music were rare outside of Sara’s circle until 1829 when Sara’s great-nephew Felix Mendelssohn re-introduced Bach to the public with his Berlin performance of the St. Matthew Passion.
In our salon, we hope to evoke Sara’s weekly gatherings by sharing with you some of our favorite pieces found in her library.