There it is, the question of the chicken and the egg. Which came first – In Germany, the 19th century is considered to be a period in which Jews adapted to their socio-cultural environment, at least in some cases no longer strictly followed their religious laws or even accepted the Christian faith and were baptized. At the same time …
There it is, the question of the chicken and the egg. Which came first – In Germany, the 19th century is considered to be a period in which Jews adapted to their socio-cultural environment, at least in some cases no longer strictly followed their religious laws or even accepted the Christian faith and were baptized. At the same time, however, anti-Semitic currents also grew in the population. Anti-Semitism as a Reaction to Assimilation? Or the other way around? “It was probably feelings of envy. If you feel impaired in your own prosperity, it quickly goes against those who look different from you,” says Thomas Synofzik.
The director of the Robert Schumann House in Zwickau has dealt with the subject in more detail over the past few weeks and months. The extensive archive material, which the world’s most important research center on the life and work of the artist couple Robert and Clara Schumann brings together under its roof, provides, if you know where to look, examples of how diverse the enlightened educated bourgeoisie of the 19th century was of course and without fear of contact with the children of King David and where there were points of contact.
The result of this research is a small, but informative and well-informed foyer exhibition in the Robert-Schumann-Haus, which is dedicated to the anniversary “1700 years of Jewish life in Germany”. It documents, for example, Robert Schumann’s openness to other cultures: “Except in the context of his marriage to Clara Wieck, there is no record of Robert Schumann’s church visit, but during his stay in Vienna in 1838/39 he was in the synagogue three times,” said Synofzik. The 28-year-old from Zwickau was less concerned with gaining theological knowledge than with listening to the cantor Salomon Sulzer and his synagogue choir on the recommendation. “Do you know him? I like him well, he has a voice that you want to climb straight up to,” wrote the enthusiastic Schumann in March 1839 to his future wife Clara Wieck. The friendly contacts with Sulzer, who was six years older than him, endured the years, the admiration was mutual: the singer, whom Robert Schumann ennobled shortly afterwards in a review as the “most beautiful voice in Vienna”, praised his songs about the green clover.
Anyone who knows a little about Schumann’s vita, of course, knows that in it the Jew Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy (1809 – 1847), who was baptized at the age of six and who came to Leipzig in 1835, became a close friend of the couple there. An entry in the Schumanns’ marriage diary, practically a long-term chat between the two of them fixed on paper, shows that Schumann was not free from prejudices. He wrote on November 15, 1840: “Klara told me that I seemed different towards Mendelssohn; certainly not towards him as an artist – you know that – I have contributed so much to his uprising for years as hardly anyone else – let’s not forget ourselves too much. Jews remain Jews; first they sit down ten times, then the Christian comes. They then occasionally use the stones that we lifted for their temple of fame to throw them at us a lot, is my opinion. We must also do and work for ourselves. Above all, let us now always come close to what is beautiful and true in art. ” – At this point in time, Mendelssohn and Schumann had known each other for five years. Mood or conviction? Be that as it may: Shortly after Mendelssohn’s untimely death, Schumann turned the statement to the positive in notes on an unrealized book project: “Always be the first to consider this too. Ambition in the noblest sense”. In between, of course, is Mendelssohn’s commitment to Schumann’s 1st Symphony, which was a complete success under his direction at the Gewandhaus in Leipzig. Mendelssohn had – not only with this – also raised stones for Schumann’s temple of fame. Later the couple thought of their friends in a special way: Their last-born was given the name Felix in 1854 with the express approval of Schumann: “If you want to know which name is my favorite, you can guess it, the unforgettable one!” Wrote Robert out of his wife of the Endeich mental hospital. It was not only in this way that baptized Jews were godparents for children of the Schumanns. They made up half of the six godparents of the two first-born sons – among them Sophie von Baudissin, née von Kaskel, sister of the co-founder of Dresdner Bank.
The exhibition also highlights the relationship between the Schumanns and the Cologne composer and conductor Ferdinand Hiller, as well as the role of Clara Schumann as the maternal friend of the rabbi’s son, conductor and composer Hermann Levi (1839-1900), one of the most important Jewish orchestral conductors in Richard’s circle Wagner’s was.
And indeed, Clara Schumann was still in contact with personalities who were to fall victim to brown barbarism in the 20th century: one of her students was the pianist Katharina Oppenheim. Her husband, the jeweler Moritz Oppenheim, had a bust of the deceased made for her last performance in Frankfurt am Main after Clara’s death in 1896. 37 years later, on June 9, 1933, the couple committed suicide together in the face of what was to be expected.
The exhibition “Robert and Clara Schumann and their Jewish friends” can be seen in the Robert-Schumann-Haus in Zwickau until September 26th, Tuesday to Sunday 1pm to 6pm.