Abstract

This article examines German and English reactions to Felix Mendelssohn's 1836 oratorio, Paulus. German Protestant audiences recognized Paulus's devotional, or spiritual, quality, which derived from its incorporation of well-known Lutheran chorales. In using chorales and reflective arias and choruses, Mendelssohn followed the model established by Johann Sebastian Bach in his St. Matthew Passion, a work that Mendelssohn had reintroduced to German audiences in 1829. When Paulus was premiered for English audiences in a translation called St. Paul, it was enthusiastically received. But these audiences misunderstood St. Paul's devotional elements, for several reasons. Not only were English audiences unfamiliar with both Bach's music and the Lutheran chorale, they also expected oratorios to follow the model established by Handel. As such, English audiences were confused by those places in St. Paul where the present-day audience is called to reflect and attempted to attribute these numbers to characters in the drama. Mendelssohn responded to this confusion when writing his next oratorio, Elias (or Elijah), in which he hewed more closely to the Handelian model.

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