In addition to concerts and tributes, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) will premiere a new documentary on June 26, "Mendelssohn, the Nazis and Me." Produced by Renegade Pictures and directed by Sheila Hayman, a descendant of Mendelssohn's sister, the film details how the composer's Jewish roots stirred controversy long after his death in 1847. Among the featured Mendelssohn experts interviewed in the film is Jeffrey Sposato, associate professor of musicology at the University of Houston's Moores School of Music (MSM).
"Ever since I was a child, I've had a strong affection for his music. In fact, the first vocal solo I ever performed was a section from Mendelssohn's ‘Elijah,'" Sposato said. "I later became very interested in theology, and his unique religious background intrigued me. He was born into a Jewish family, but was raised as a devout Lutheran."
Sposato has authored numerous articles on Mendelssohn, as well as the book "The Price of Assimilation: Felix Mendelssohn and the Nineteenth-Century Anti-Semitic Tradition" (Oxford, 2006). The book, which was also released as a paperback this year, examines how Mendelssohn's Jewish roots threatened his reputation as a Christian composer. Such controversy caused him to distance himself from his heritage by aligning his early works with 19th century anti-Semitic musical traditions.
"This documentary brings the Mendelssohn story that I researched for my book to the 20th century," he said. "For me, it was astonishing that Mendelssohn was still viewed as Jewish during his lifetime, despite the fact that he was baptized and had written a tremendous amount of Christian sacred music. Even more astounding is that the film depicts how Mendelssohn's descendents, who were Christians, continued to be viewed as ‘tainted' even in the 1930s."
Sposato also was featured in the radio version of "Mendelssohn, the Nazis and Me," which aired on BBC Radio earlier this year and has participated in a host of events celebrating the composer's life and work. Among those have been festivals and conferences in Georgetown, Texas, Arizona State University and Montana State University.
He is currently researching the overall music culture in the city of Leipzig from the death of Bach in 1750 to the death of Mendelssohn in 1847. To learn more about Sposato, visit http://www.music.uh.edu/people/sposato.html.
For details on "Mendelssohn, the Nazis and Me," visit http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00l7rg2.
MSM is one of the premier music schools in America. Offering bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees, it serves approximately 600 students annually. Areas of study include composition, conducting, performance, theory and musicology. Its faculty consists of internationally recognized performers, composers and scholars. Among its ensembles are the Moores School Symphony Orchestra, Moores Jazz Ensemble, Moores Opera Center, Concert Chorale, Concert Women's Chorus, Spirit of Houston Cougar Marching Band, Wind Ensemble and Percussion Ensemble. For more details on the Moores School of Music, visit http://www.music.uh.edu/.