Arnold Mendelssohn

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Plaster bust of Arnold Mendelssohn in the permanent exhibition about the Mendelssohn family at Cemetery I of the Trinity Community in Berlin-Kreuzberg
Tomb at the Bessunger Friedhof (2016)

Arnold Ludwig Mendelssohn (born December 26, 1855 in Ratibor , † February 18, 1933 in Darmstadt ) was a German composer and music teacher . According to music in the past and present , he was "one of the most distinctive personalities of his time, as a musician and a person from a great breadth of horizons, equally well-versed in music, literature, theology and philosophy, like a headstrong thinker."


Childhood and youth

Arnold Ludwig Mendelssohn was born on December 26, 1855 as the eldest of five children to parents Wilhelm Mendelssohn, a cousin of the musician Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy , and Aimée Louise Mendelssohn, née Cauer, in Ratibor, Silesia. Grandfather was the educator Jacob Ludwig Cauer , great-grandfather of the banker and court building officer Isaak Daniel Itzig . At the age of nine, Arnold Mendelssohn received his first piano lessons and showed great talent. He also learned quickly at school. Due to an early promotion to the higher class, he became the youngest student of the sixth class of his high school. However, he did not have a carefree childhood for long. After the Austro-Prussian War broke out, the father moved the family to Potsdam in the summer of 1866 , as he saw the danger that “ cholera could break out on the busy railway line used for war transports .” The father returned after the summer returned to Ratibor and took care of wounded soldiers as a volunteer. After bringing the family back to Silesia at the end of the war, he contracted cholera and died of it three days later. These experiences shaped Arnold Mendelssohn.

The mother sought and found refuge in Berlin with her five children . The family of her sister Emma Cauer and Alexander Mendelssohn, a cousin of her deceased husband, lived here. Arnold Mendelssohn attended grammar school and soon received piano lessons from Carl August Haupt , who later became director of the Royal Institute for Church Music. Haupt was considered an outstanding Bach interpreter and organist, and he had a decisive influence on Mendelssohn.

In 1871 Arnold Mendelssohn got into an internal crisis due to increasing school conflicts and a protracted typhoid disease. A change of location was considered best, and in 1872 Arnold Mendelssohn moved to his uncle Eduard Cauer's high school in Danzig. During this time, Mendelssohn's first compositional works were created. He particularly admired Mozart's music in this early period.

In 1876 he passed the Abitur.


At the request of his mother, who for economic reasons did not approve of training as a musician, Mendelssohn began studying law in Tübingen , which he broke off at the very beginning. He could not get used to the “adapted life plans of the current conventions”, which provided for a young man's training to become a doctor, judge, teacher or officer.

In the same year Mendelssohn returned to Berlin and began his studies at the Royal Institute for Church Music again with Carl August Haupt (organ). At the same time he also studied at the Academy of Music with Wilhelm Taubert , Friedrich Kiel and Eduard Grell . In 1878 Mendelssohn graduated from the institute, and in 1880 from the university. Grell certified him a "significant talent for composition".

1880-1883 Bonn

Arnold Mendelssohn got his first job after graduation in 1880 at the New Evangelical Church in Bonn , today's Kreuzkirche . He worked as an organist and choir conductor and at the same time received a teaching position for organ playing and music theory at the university . Here the Protestant theology students were among his students. The special friendships and acquaintances from his time in Bonn included encounters with Friedrich Spitta , then assistant preacher at the Kreuzkirche, and Julius Smend , his successor. This three-way alliance provided the impetus for the revival of Heinrich Schütz 's works.

“I am now often praised because I was one of the first champions for Schütz. And I'm a little like me Little Zaches of ETA Hoffmann ago. Everything that others do in his presence is credited to this foul dwarf. In my case, it was Spitta who referred me to Schütz and decided to perform his works. He was the client who made the plans that I carried out as a master mason. "

The re-performances and premieres of Schütz's works received widespread attention. During the three years in Bonn, performances included: the St. Matthew Passion , the “Apostolic Words” and the St. John Passion by Schütz, as well as the motet “Hodie Christe” by Schütz's teacher Giovanni Gabrieli .

1883–1886 Bielefeld

In 1883, Mendelssohn said goodbye to Bonn and went to Bielefeld for three years . The occupation and the composing of secular music now came to the fore after the church music period in Bonn. He dealt with choir and orchestra work, as well as the organization of subscription concerts. On November 12, 1885, Mendelssohn married the graphic artist Maria Helene Louise Cauer in Bad Kreuznach . Originally, the bride's father, the sculptor Carl Cauer , had strongly objected to this connection, but he died shortly before the engagement, which took place on August 3, 1885.

1886–1890 Cologne

A year later, Franz Wüllner was called to Cologne to teach organ and theory at the local conservatory . Close friendships with the composer Engelbert Humperdinck , the librettist Hermann Wette and the composer Hugo Wolf date from this time .

Arnold Mendelssohn's family life was riddled with blows of fate from which he suffered throughout his life. These bitter life experiences are reflected in many of his diary entries, but also in some of his compositions. Three of his four children died of meningitis in different years , only the eldest daughter Dora survived, but retained an increasing mental impairment due to the illness.

Arnold Mendelssohn sought refuge in his compositional work and began to write down his thoughts continuously until his death. Direct biographical references can be found, for example, in Mendelssohn's opera Elsi, the strange maid . The composer writes:

“Maria [Mendelssohn's wife] always found a lot of resemblance between me and Gotthelf's Joggeli (...) Gotthelf probably represents the same psychosis in this figure that possesses me; because Gotthelf's offspring (...) resemble mine in their mental illness symptoms. "

The opera premiered in Cologne's Stadttheater in 1896 and was also published. Like all of Mendelssohn's operas, however, it lags behind his other compositions in terms of fame and popularity.

1890–1933 Darmstadt

In 1891 Mendelssohn accepted the new position of church music master for the Evangelical Church in Hesse in Darmstadt . Mendelssohn remained loyal to this city until his death. His new task gave rise to increased composition of sacred works. He also performed again passions and cantatas by Heinrich Schütz and Johann Sebastian Bach .

His breakthrough as a song composer and increased public recognition brought him the advocacy of the music critic Ernst Otto Nodnagel in 1898. Nodnagel not only published about Mendelssohn's work, but also arranged a very successful recital in Berlin in 1898. Mendelssohn's songwriting became really famous in the years after the turn of the century. Between 1900 and 1915, 80 of the total of 170 songs were composed. In 1899 Arnold Mendelssohn was awarded the title of professor.

From the acquaintance with the librettist Hermann Wette , Engelbert Humperdinck's brother-in-law , the idea for the opera Der Bärenhäuter based on the Grimm fairy tale arose in the early 1990s . Arnold Mendelssohn was to do the setting. In 1896 he received the finished text for the first two acts. Due to a carelessness of Humperdinck, Siegfried Wagner is said to have been made aware of the material, which resulted in a competitive situation between the composers. Encouraged by this, Mendelssohn finished and published the opera in the same year. It was not until 1900, however, that it premiered in the “ Theater des Westens ” in Berlin . Wagner's opera of the same name was successfully premiered in 1898.

Nevertheless, Mendelssohn had a greater success with the bearskin than with his opera Elsi .

A particularly fruitful basis for work emerged from the friendship with the Thomaskantor Karl Straube , who made Mendelssohn's acquaintance in Darmstadt in 1906. At Straube's request, Mendelssohn composed a number of choral works directly for the Leipzig St. Thomas Choir . While Mendelssohn was teaching at the Hoch Conservatory in Frankfurt am Main in 1912, Paul Hindemith became his student in counterpoint . He always spoke appreciatively of Arnold Mendelssohn. When Hindemith was composing his Viola Concerto, Op. 36/4, he dedicated it to “Professor Arnold Mendelssohn”.

It was only very late in his career, around 1914, that Arnold Mendelssohn turned to composing pure instrumental music. In the course of time, chamber music works as well as three symphonies were created. The sacred vocal work remained the focus of his oeuvre until the end. In 1914 Mendelssohn was awarded the Knight's Cross of the Grand Ducal Hessian Order of Ludwig by Grand Duke Ernst Ludwig . A number of other awards followed: in 1917 an honorary doctorate from the University of Gießen, in 1919 he was appointed a member of the Academy of Arts in Berlin, in 1923 the award of the very first Büchner Prize by the State of Hesse, in 1925 an honorary doctorate from the University of Leipzig and election as a member of the committee of the New Bach Society , in 1927 an honorary doctorate from the Philosophical Faculty at the University of Tübingen, in 1928 the award of the Beethoven Prize by the Prussian State Academy and an appointment to the directorate of the Heinrich Schütz Society . In 1930 Arnold Mendelssohn was finally made an honorary citizen of Darmstadt.

In addition to Paul Hindemith , Günter Raphael , Kurt Thomas and Heinrich Spitta were among his most prominent students.

On February 19, 1933, Arnold Mendelssohn died of a heart attack in his home in Darmstadt. His grave is in the new Bessunger Friedhof (grave site: Wall 33) on Seekatzstrasse. About 26 necrologists paid tribute to the deceased composer, some of whom also appeared in other European countries.


Mendelssohn was best known as a song composer. The renewal of Protestant church music began with his sacred choral music . His works include numerous choral works, folk songs, string quartets, sonatas and operas.


  • Elsi, the strange maid (op. 8), opera in 2 acts. Libretto: Hermann Wette ; First performance on April 16, 1896 in the Stadttheater Cologne
  • The Bearskin (op. 11), opera in 3 acts. Libretto: Hermann Wette; First performance on February 9, 1900 at the Theater des Westens in Berlin
  • Die Minneburg (1904-07), opera in one act. Libretto: G. von Koch; First performance in 1909 in Mannheim

Choral works (selection)



Arnold Mendelssohn received numerous honors for his works and services to evangelical church music:

  • 1899: Awarded the title of professor
  • 1914: Award of the Knight's Cross of the Grand Ducal Hessian Order of Ludwig
  • 1917: Honorary doctorate from the Theological Faculty of the University of Giessen
  • 1919: Appointment as a member of the Berlin Academy of the Arts
  • 1923: Awarded the Georg Büchner Prize
  • 1925: Honorary doctorate from the University of Leipzig and member of the New Bach Society
  • 1927: Honorary doctorate from the Philosophical Faculty of the University of Tübingen
  • 1928: Beethoven Prize of the Prussian State Academy
  • 1928: Appointment to the directorate committee of the Heinrich Schütz Society
  • 1930: Honorary citizen of Darmstadt


Letters from and to Arnold Mendelssohn and autographs by Arnold Mendelssohn are in the holdings of the Leipzig music publisher CF Peters in the Leipzig State Archives . Another part of his legacy ended up in the Mendelssohn archive of the Berlin State Library . These include portraits, letters from and to Arnold Mendelssohn, music manuscripts and the diary of the trip to Italy in 1900.

Audio documents

  • Three motets for Christmas; Deutsche Messe op.89 , SWR Vocal Ensemble, Frieder Bernius . Hänssler Classic SACD 93.293.
  • Sacred choral music, op.90 , Berlin vocal ensemble, Bernd Stegmann. CANTATE MUSICAPHON Records C 58005
  • Complete recording of the piano work for Deutschlandfunk Kultur by the Polish pianist Elzbieta Sternlicht


  • Hermann Hering, Arnold Mendelssohn. The basics of his creative work and his works , Regensburg: Bosse 1930 (Diss. Marburg 1929)
  • Arnold Werner-Jensen, Arnold Mendelssohn as song composer , Winterthur: Amadeus 1976
  • Erika Weber-Ansat, Arnold Mendelssohn (1855–1933) and his services to the renewal of Protestant church music , Regensburg: Bosse, 1981
  • Ernst Gottfried Löwenthal, Jews in Prussia. A biographical directory , Berlin: Dietrich Reimer Verlag, 1982, ISBN 3-496-01012-6
  • Ilse Rabien, the church composer Arnold Mendelssohn (1855-1933), in: Communications of the Working Group for Middle Rhine Music History, Volume 51-53 (1987/88)
  • Jürgen Böhme , Arnold Mendelssohn and his piano and chamber music , Frankfurt am Main: Verlag Peter Lang, 1987, ISBN 3-8204-0958-0
  • Jürgen Böhme:  Mendelssohn, Arnold. In: New German Biography (NDB). Volume 17, Duncker & Humblot, Berlin 1994, ISBN 3-428-00198-2 , p. 60 f. ( Digitized version ).
  • Thomas Lackmann , The luck of the Mendelssohns. History of a German Family , Berlin: Aufbau-Verlag, 2005, ISBN 3-351-02600-5

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Ilse Rabien: Wilhelm Mendelssohn
  2. Cf. Friedrich Noack, estate of Arnold Mendelssohn (1855–1933) in the possession of the Berlin State Library , Berlin 1955 and Uta Hertin, Arnold Mendelssohn's estate in the Mendelssohn archive. A directory , in: Mendelssohn Studies , Volume 5 (1982), pp. 147-170
  3. Almost forgotten: The composer Arnold Mendelssohn is rediscovered , from July 16, 2017, accessed on July 18, 2017