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Carl Friedrich Zelter

Engraving by C.J. Lilienfeld

Portrait File, Irving S. Gilmore Music Library

Carl Friedrich Zelter
Mendelssohn studied music with a variety of teachers, including Marie Bigot, Ludwig Berger, A.W. Bach, and Ignaz Moscheles, but none had more influence on his development as a composer than Carl Friedrich Zelter (17581832). Zelter was a prominent song composer, the director of the Berlin Singakademie, and a close friend of Goethe.

The Singakademie was notable as one of the few ensembles in the early nineteenth century that specialized in music from the eighteenth century and earlier. (The Singakademie library, which contains many important sources for scholars of the Bach family, disappeared during World War II, and was rediscovered in Ukraine in 2000 and returned to Berlin. Some of the librarys Bach materials came to the Singakademie by way of Sara Levy, a student of W.F. Bach. She was also Mendelssohns great aunt!) Mendelssohn also became fascinated by the music of J.S. Bach, Handel, and other early composers, and in 1829, at the age of twenty, he conducted the first modern performance of Bachs St. Matthew Passion.

In 1821, Zelter introduced the 12-year-old Mendelssohn to Goethe (17491832), who was already regarded as the pre-eminent figure in the entire history of German literature, and the two became friends, despite the large difference in age. Mendelssohn went on to compose several works based on Goethes writings, including the cantata Die erste Walpurgisnachta sketch for which is on display in this exhibitand the Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage overture, as well as a variety of songs and other choral works.