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Berlin and the Sing-Akademie

Music Room at Sans Souci Photo David Hamilton

My next music project is a program around Frederick the Great and his world at Sans Souci. And so, my partner David and I flew to Berlin, a city neither of us had visited before and both of us longed to know. I wanted to explore the park and palaces in Potsdam and to visit Frederick’s opera house on the great Berlin Avenue, Unter der Linden. Equally important to us are the collections of ancient art on Museum Island, a conglomeration of buildings from the early 19th through the early 20th century built to house collections and individual works of art and archeology. Most personally, I wanted to know the city where Jewish European culture had its greatest moments and its most tragic ones. This was the city where Sarah Itzik (Jewish saloniste and aunt to Felix Mendelssohn) studied harpsichord with Wilhelm Friedemann Bach, and where my stepmother lived in hiding when her father was arrested and taken to the death camps. I needed to spend time here to balance memory and heritage. #

The Berlin Sing-Akademie where Mendelssohn conducted Bach's St. Matthew Passion

Now here is an interesting historical event that weaves everything together. Our hotel is a short walk to Unter der Linden, very close to the Spree River and the walking route to the Pergamon, Altes and Neues Museums. We pass two great churches framing the most important concert hall of Berlin. Just beyond and on the Boulevard is Frederick the Great’s opera house. This building was burned and bombed so often but always reconstructed (it is under restoration now). It was here that Carl Heinrich Graun produced his presently unappreciated late Baroque operas. Beautiful works. As we walk towards the river, to our left we notice a small, neoclassical building. It is a temple that serves now as a state theater. But looking in our guidebooks we see that this building was the 1827 concert hall built for the Sing-Akademie of Berlin. The Sing-Akademie was an amateur run organization based on the London Academy for Ancient Music. The London “club” was dedicated to the music of Corelli and Handel in the face of the moderns Pleyel and Haydn. It was an organization that looked backwards with respect and nostalgia. #


  1. Christopher Krueger says:

    Hi Andrew,

    Very nice post. I had the pleasure a few years ago of playing with Dan Stepner, Robert Levin, and Malcolm Bilson in a concert honoring Christoph Wolff at the Academy of Arts and Science in Cambridge, MA. He gave a wonderful talk about Sarah Levy and the Berlin Sing Acadamie; Here it is:

    When I visited Potsdam, I was amazed at how small the music room is.

    All the best,

  2. Christopher Krueger says:

    By the way, I’m sure you know that Zeltner asked Felix to transcribe Handel’s Acis and Galatea before he tried the St. Mathew. That has been discovered and recording a few years ago.


  3. Dear Andy,

    I am joyous to hear of your visit to Berlin. Sy and I know it well and it is always a stop of ours when we’re in Germany. (Sy is there yearly and knows the city like the back of his hand.) Hope you’re able to get to Dresden and environs if you haven’t been there. You won’t want to leave. In fact, Ensemble Musical Offering is producing Hunt Cantata next season — you have to visit some of the hunting lodges while you’re in Germany. We have a list!!

    I’ll be keeping up with your trip as I know the foot print very well.

  4. Helen Tuckey says:

    Above my piano in my Perth studio, Western Australia, I have a print copy of the 1852 painting “The Flute Concert” by Adolph von Menzel oil on canvas original in National Gallery Berlin, made in the same music room at Sans Souci. Enjoyed seeing this photo and reading your article. A wonderful city to visit! Berlin has more canals than Venice. Try and hear the Phil in the hall, and the music instrument museum is fascinating.

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