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2014 Penn Lectures in Judaic Studies
Thirteen scholars from Penn’s Katz Center offer snapshots from Jewish life during the early modern period, an era marked by a dynamic interplay between the perseverance of medieval traditions and the upheavals of the new—the scientific revolution, the printing press, and the rise of new forms of communal and state authority—developments that would transform the lives and cultures of non-Jews and Jews alike in unforeseen ways, bringing their world ever-closer to the modern.
The Penn Lectures are made possible through a generous endowment from the Klatt family and the Harry Stern Family Foundation.
A Lament for Moses Mendelssohn:
Music and the Religion of Reason in Eighteenth-Century Berlin
Yael Sela-Teichler (Max Planck Institute for Human Development, Berlin)
Of all the elegies written upon the death of the renowned German Jewish philosopher Moses Mendelssohn (d. 1786), only one was set to music—the elegiac cantata Sulamith und Eusebia. The cantata’s libretto is fashioned as an allegorical dirge song of two female figures of antiquity who bewail Mendelssohn’s death before the community of mourners: Shulamit, the beloved from the biblical Song of Songs; and Eusebia, a figure of Hellenic and Christian piety. This talk explores how, for the first time in central European literary and musical culture, a new poetic idiom had to be engendered for the commemoration of a Jew. Intriguingly, this was done by a Christian poet and a Jewish composer in the form of a cantata, a musical genre deeply embedded in Christian traditions. The lecture will demonstrate the important role of music in negotiating borders between Judaism and Christianity and between traditional Jewish culture and secularity on the threshold of modernity.
Yael Sela-Teichler is a postdoctoral research fellow at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin, where she studies comparatively music in early-modern Jewish culture in western and central Europe, from the late sixteenth to the late eighteenth centuries. Her book, Soundscapes of Emancipation: Musical Encounters and the Negotiation of Jewish Modernity in Prussia, 1760–1829, is forthcoming.