Among the vocal works of the Philharmonic Society of Bethlehem is Folder 96. The title on the folder is Eine feste Burg ist unser Gott p. / Cantate / für 4 Singstimmen / mit Begleitung des Orchesters / in Musick gesetzt / von / John. Sebastian Bach. / Clavier Auszug. Stamped: Moravian Church, / Choir Gallery / Bethlehem, Penna. In the Gemein Music Account Book, John Christian Till was paid $3.00 on January 7, 1824 for copying parts for this piece.
How is it that a vocal work of J. S. Bach shows up in Bethlehem, Pa. in 1824? That is the question. It was in 1823/24 that Felix Mendelssohn was given a copyist manuscript score of Bach’s St. Mathew Passion by his maternal grandmother, Bella Soloman. The Mendelssohn family connection to the music of J. B. Bach goes back further to Felix Mendelssohn’s great aunt Sarah Levy (1761-1854), sister to Bella Soloman in Berlin. Sarah Levy, an accomplished musician and member of the esteemed Berlin Singakadamie, was devoted to works of J. S. Bach known through the association with her teacher Wilhelm Friedemann Bach. The Berlin Singakademie hired Carl Friedrich Zelter, who was also Felix Mendelssohn’s tutor and responsible for extensive music education programs and music training institutions throughout Germany. The rich musical environment had a profound impact on the Moravians and the music they performed.
According to the Dienerblätter, John Christian Till (1762-1844) was not known to have visited Germany or Europe. In 1824 he was the organist for the Germein in Bethlehem. The question remains — How is it that a vocal work of J. S. Bach shows up in Bethlehem, Pa. in 1824?
Felix Mendelssohn: Reviving the Works of J.S. Bach