Sara Levy (1761-1854) studied keyboard for ten years with JS Bach’s son WF Bach. She performed on harpsichord and fortepiano in the grand music room of her Berlin mansion, and as a regular soloist at the Sing-Akademie, a choral society for sacred music. A great-aunt of Felix Mendelssohn, Sara shared the entire family’s enthusiasm for the music of JS Bach who had been all but forgotten in the 50 years since his death. She commissioned many works from his two eldest sons, WF and CPE, thus single-handedly creating a “Bach cult” in Berlin.
In 1806, Sara donated her priceless collection of music manuscripts, which included many pieces by the Bach family, to the Sing- Akademie. Director Carl Zelter, Felix’s teacher, revered JS Bach as did Felix’s other great-aunt, Bella. Bella gave Felix the unpublished score of the St. Matthew Passion in 1823. All share the credit for the Bach Revival launched by Felix’s revelatory performance of the St. Matthew Passion in 1829.
Amid tensions between Christians and Jews, Sara strove to create a space in her salon where all could gather and bond over artistic experiences: noble and commoner, gentile and Jew. An Enlightenment thinker, she played a major role in shaping the cultural world of Berlin. Though many of her family members and friends converted to Christianity, Sara remained steadfast in her commitment to Jewish life and causes, giving generously to schools, orphanages and Hebrew publications.
The program features some of the works Sara commissioned from JS Bach’s sons.