'There can be no difference in faith among certain men but rather a difference in words' : Mendelssohn's Kunstreligion as a set of beliefs and an aesthetic language.
This dissertation explores the influence that nineteenth-century tenets of Kunstreligion exerted on Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy’s aesthetic thought. Widely defined as the merging of religious and aesthetic notions in writings about the arts, Kunstreligion has frequently been interpreted as a manifestation of spiritual beliefs and a movement with which Mendelssohn was not affiliated. The aim of this thesis is to challenge these claims, and to establish the rootedness of sacralised conceptions of music in non-religious inspirations and particulars of language use. Placing Mendelssohn’s fascination with church worship, religious morality as well as the human and the divine in the context of wider philosophies of art and religion, the dissertation explores how the composer availed himself of art-religious vocabulary in his correspondence, examining his use of language both in terms of his own religious upbringing and the intellectual discourse of his age. Mendelssohn’s Kunstreligion was very practically oriented. Reflecting his belief that music was a religious language of feelings and proclamation, his performance of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion and subsequent compositions manifested a concern to serve educative purposes related to historicism as well as religious edification and instruction. An analysis of how he viewed these activities in his correspondence reveals that comparisons of concerts with church sermons were not only meant metaphorically but point to objectives that he hoped to accomplish as a man and an artist. His reflections on attributes of the ‘human’ and the ‘divine’ elsewhere suggest a belief that artists were blessed by God and that superior works of art were either God’s creation or deserved to be described as ‘divine’ in the sense of ‘excellent.’ As these overlapping religio-aesthetic concepts and meanings indicate, in Mendelssohn’s writings, Kunstreligion could be both a form of religion that was associated with Schleiermacher’s theology and an eclectic verbal language that was creative, often qualitative, sometimes ironic, and, to that effect, typically Mendelssohnian.