Musical Borrowing
An Annotated Bibliography

Individual record

[+] Sposato, Jeffrey S. “Saint Elsewhere: German and English Reactions to Mendelssohn’s Paulus.” 19th-Century Music 32 (Summer 2008): 26-51.

Felix Mendelssohn’s 1836 oratorio Paulus (St. Paul in English) received enthusiastic acclaim in Germany and England, but English critics understood the work differently from their German counterparts. While Germans appreciated the devotional aspects of the oratorio and recognized the Lutheran chorale quotations and its connection to Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, the English were unfamiliar with the chorales and likened it to Handel’s dramatic oratorios. Mendelssohn composed Paulus shortly after staging a revival of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, and he modeled several aspects of the oratorio on Bach’s work, including its use of a narrator similar to Bach’s “Evangelist.” Furthermore, like Bach, Mendelssohn incorporated several popular Lutheran chorales into his oratorio, making sure to select recognizable tunes. When Paulus debuted in England as St. Paul, critics warmly praised the work but made no mention of Bach or the Lutheran chorales. The lack of references to chorale tunes in particular in the English press suggests that English audiences did not recognize the Lutheran tunes as German audiences did. Structural similarities between St. Paul and Bach’s Passion that were mentioned in the German press were ignored by the English. Even references to the chorale genre in the English press were confused, apparently not recognizing the term as one connected to contemporary devotional practice in Germany. English audiences expected a dramatic oratorio in the manner of Handel and judged Mendelssohn’s work on that metric. Mendelssohn’s next oratorio, Elijah, was composed with an international audience in mind, intentionally landing far closer to Handel’s dramatic oratorio model than St. Paul did. “Regard thy servant’s prayer” in Elijah exemplifies this change in attitude. Rather than using an actual chorale, Mendelssohn composed a new melody in the chorale style for this number. By switching his oratorio model from Bach to Handel, Mendelssohn secured his reputation in England.

Works: Felix Mendelssohn: Paulus (St. Paul) (27-32, 37-38)

Sources: Johann Sebastian Bach: St. Matthew Passion, BWV 244 (27-32); Philipp Nicolai: Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme (37-38)

Index Classifications: 1800s

Contributed by: Matthew Van Vleet

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