Jun 28, 2015

A Fictitious Jewish Ghetto in 1768 Vienna

Following an imperial decree by Ferdinand II, Vienna's second Jewish ghetto was established on 5 August 1625. It was located in the so-called "Unterer Werd" in the Leopoldstadt, north of the Carmelite convent. The settlement resulted in the creation of a "Judenstadt" which soon developed splendidly.

The area of the Jewish ghetto in the Leopoldstadt in 1670 and in 1845 (Ignaz Schwarz: Das Wiener Ghetto. Vienna 1909, and Robert Messner: Die Leopoldstadt im Vormärz. Vienna 1979). The map on the left from Schwarz's book has been copied many times, although it shows a grossly misplaced Donaukanal. In both illustrations the Carmelite church is at the bottom right.

Various circumstances, such as the Jews being falsely accused of having caused the fire at the Hofburg in the night of 23 February 1668, as well as a vow, taken by Margarita Teresa, bigot wife of Leopold I, caused the Emperor to comply with the decision of the Vienna City Council to expel the Jews and have the ghetto closed. In July 1669 the first, in August 1669 the second order of expulsion was decreed. More than 1600 individuals had to leave the city. Only a small number of wealthy and influential Jews remained who tried everything possible to make the Emperor reconsider his decision. By 26 July 1670, the ghetto had to be completely evacuated and, as of August 1670, all Jews had left Vienna. Their houses were sold at a loss of 52,858 gulden. St. Leopold's Church was built on the foundation of the new synagogue and consecrated on 18 August 1670 in the presence of the whole court and all ambassadors. In 1675, the remains of the old synagogue were used to build St. Margareth's Church. Only one cultural site could be preserved: for a sum of 4000 gulden the City of Vienna agreed to take care of the Jewish Cemetery in the Roßau. Although the expulsion of the Jewish community had disastrous long-term consequences for Vienna's economy, the court chamber was unable to convince the Emperor of the necessity to have the Jews return to Vienna. Leopold stuck to his conviction that this issue had to be considered "first theologically, then politically, and only last economically". The negotiations were not successful, the return of the Jews in huge numbers and a reestablishment of a Jewish community never came to be. Only individual permits were granted. In later times the Leopoldstadt became the favorite area of Jewish residents, but there never was another Jewish ghetto in Vienna.

The former area of the Jewish ghetto in the Leopoldstadt on Joseph Daniel von Huber's 1778 map of Vienna. On the left is the Carmelite church of St. Joseph, on the right the church of St. Leopold which was built in 1670 on the site of the synagogue (W-Waw, Sammlung Woldan).

In 2009 the Canadian musicologist Caryl Clark published a monograph entitled Haydn's Jews: Representation and Reception on the Operatic Stage.

In this book Clark presents several interesting ideas concerning some of Haydn's musical works and the Jewish communities in the composer's immediate environment. The book's central hypothesis is that the title character of Haydn's opera Lo Speziale (The Apothecary), composed in 1768 to a libretto by Carlo Goldoni and first performed at Eszterháza, is an encoded representation of the typical "stage Jew" of the time, and would have been recognized as a Jew by contemporary audiences. Devoting a long chapter of the book to Haydn's masses, Clark also tries to show that Haydn composed the Missa brevis Sancti Joannis de Deo (written ca. 1773–76) for the Barmherzige Brüder (the Brothers Hospitallers of St. John of God) who were interested in converting Jews as part of their mission. Clark tries to support this theory on the basis of the omission of a line "Et in unum Dominum Jesum Christum" from the Credo which she suggests was omitted to make the Mass more acceptable to Jews in the process of conversion. This secenario appears even less tenable considering the fact that in 1670 not a single Viennese Jew had converted to escape expulsion.

In a chapter, titled "Jews in Haydn's World" Clark writes the following (p. 48–51).
Haydn had ample opportunity to observe Jews in his working environments in both Vienna and Eisenstadt. By the time he was involved in the revival of Der (neue) krumme Teufel with Kurz-Bernardon in Vienna he was already frequenting the church of the Barmherzige Brüder – the Brothers of Mercy – in the nearby suburb known as the Leopoldstadt, where he was an occasional employee. Located just outside the walled city across the canal, the Leopoldstadt was also the home of Vienna's Jewish ghetto. [...] Directly across from the hospice along the west side of Taborstrasse, the main thoroughfare linking the Leopoldstadt to the canal bridge (the Schlagbrücke – today's Schwedenbrücke) was the Judenstadt, or Jewish ghetto (Map 2).
"Map 2", which is referred to at this point, is the rough map of Vienna in Georg Matthäus Vischer's 1672 Topographia archiducatus Austriæ Inferioris modernæ. It shows the Schlagbrücke across the Donaukanal, but not the Jewish ghetto.

Vienna on Georg Matthäus Vischer's Topographia archiducatus Austriæ Inferioris modernæ in Clark's book Haydn's Jews. Note the three[!] mistakes in the caption (Clark 2009, p. 52).

After explaining the origin of the term "ghetto" Clark continues.
Similarly isolated and isolating was the Viennese ghetto. Called 'Unterer Werth' (Below truth[sic!]), it was founded across the Danube River from the northern gates of the walled city in 1624. Despite the constant threat of flooding, and a high child mortality rate, this small Jewish settlement flourished, growing to encompass 132 houses in 1670. That same year Emperor Leopold I acquiesced to various pressures, including that of his Spanish consort, who blamed the Jews for the miscarriage she had recently suffered, and ordered their expulsion. Long stigmatized as 'godless, dishonorable, filthy, and uncultured', Jews were now labelled 'enemies of Jesus' for having failed to change their ways (i.e. convert) and, for the second time in their history, they were expelled from their city. [...] So despite the warnings of several advisers, but at the urging of many Viennese merchants, the Judenstadt was destroyed and the synagogue torn down and replaced by a Catholic church, the Karmeliter-Kirche[sic!].
Clark refers to Ignaz Schwarz's book Das Wiener Ghetto (Vienna, 1909), but she seems to have had some problems understanding certain parts of this book. Her translation of "Unterer Werth" as "Below truth" is utterly mystifying. The German word "Werth" (also "Wörth" and "Werd") means island. Thus, the term "Unterer Werth" refers to the southern island (the Leopoldstadt) in opposition to the "Oberer Werth" (the Rossau). The synagogue was not replaced by the Karmeliterkirche (which had been built decades earlier), but by the church of St. Leopold.

Clark's book received a number of positive reviews, but the two only real experts among the reviewers, Jeanne Swack and Bruce Alan Brown, more or less thrashed it unmercifully. In her review in Musica Judaica Online Reviews, Swack described most of Clark's forced arguments as untenable. Swack pointed out that there simply are no secretly-encoded Jews in eighteenth-century opera, and that the authors at that time went out of their way to make sure the audience knew the character is Jewish. The characterisation of these figures is generally so unambiguous that Haydn's "veiled Jews" are not awaiting a twenty-first-century unmasking. Concerning the concept of "conversion masses with missing lines" (which is a very labored concept to begin with, because the attendance of Jews at a performance of a mass is never proved), Swack argued that the line "Et in unum Dominum Jesum Christum", which is also missing from the Credos of three other Haydn masses, including the late Theresienmesse, is hardly the only line in the Mass ordinary that Jews would find objectionable. Bruce Brown, in his review in the Journal for Eighteenth-Century Studies, was very polite, but unforgivingly pointed out all of the book's flawed arguments, factual mistakes and funny translation mishaps. Brown addressed the basic incompatibility of Clark's ideas that "converts were attracted to the incomprehensible 'Mauscheln'-like polytextuality of the Credo, yet also somehow could tell that Haydn had omitted a crucial article of belief in its text". Brown concluded his review as follows: "However well-intentioned this book's author may be, it is distressing that she does not let the evidence lead where it may, but instead feels compelled to twist the reader's arm at nearly every turn."

Soon after the publication of her book, Caryl Clark wrote an article, titled "Encountering 'Others' in Haydn's Lo Speziale (1768)" whose proposition is based on the same core argument as her book: the characterisation of Sempronio in Haydn's Lo Speziale as a Jew, a "judaized apothecary", who is "of even lower stature than the Muslim" and "marginalized even more than the Gypsy". To add to this premise, even Volpino, appearing in Turkish disguise in the thirteenth scene of the opera, is cast into the light of "veiled Jewishness": the "dadl dadl" in his aria "Salamelìca Semprugna cara" is declared by Clark to bear a resemblance to Hasidic nigun. In Goldoni's original libretto the line in question consists of a simple "Là, là, là, là".

Such a far-fetched association – as a matter of fact the scene of the disguised Volpino is a classic caricature of a Turk – can only be presented by somebody who has but a faint notion of folk music of Haydn's time, not to mention the Viennese practice of "Dudlen". Because Haydn's proximity to Jews and Jewish culture in Vienna and Eisenstadt is supposed to have inspired his use of supposed nigun in Volpino's Turkish aria, Clark again has to address the topography of the Jewish communities in these two cities. Trimming a passage from her book into a shorter section of her article, Clark only uses the description of Vienna's Jewish ghetto, but fails to include the crucial second part that describes the closing of this very same site. This mistake leads to the bizarre presentation of Haydn in 1768, witnessing everyday life in a Jewish ghetto that had only existed until 1670. Concerning Haydn's supposed contact with Jews in Vienna, Clark writes the following:
What might Haydn have known about niggun? Is it possible that he may have heard snatches of similar melodies allied to meaningless syllables emerging from the Jewish ghettos in Vienna or Eisenstadt near where he worked? Certainly he would have had ample opportunity to observe Jews in his working environments in both these locations, especially when his activities took him to the church or apothecary shop located in the adjacent monastery complexes of the Barmherzige Brüder ('Brothers Hospitallers'). In Haydn's day[sic] the Leopoldstadt ghetto in Vienna (current second district) was located on the far side of the bridge that crossed the Donaukanal, a branch of the Danube, to the north of the ramparts. Here, on the west side of Taborstrasse, the Jews lived in their ghetto, directly across the street from where the Barmherzige Brüder lived and worked. ("Encountering 'Others' in Haydn's Lo Speziale (1768)", p. 296–67)
To demonstrate that "the Jews lived in their ghetto, directly across the street from where the Barmherzige Brüder lived", this passage in Clark's article is followed by a footnote referring to (what else?) the Vischer map of Vienna on p. 52 of Clark's book. As can be seen above, as far as the location of Vienna's Jewish ghetto is concerned, this map has absolutely no documentary value. In 2014 Clark's article was published by the Hollitzer-Wissenschaftsverlag in volume II of the multi-part series Ottoman Empire and European Theatre. This book (which contains a number of other stunning oddities that shall not be addressed here) is a collection of contributions to the symposium The Time of Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) From Sultan Mahmud I to Mahmud II (r.1730-1839) which was organized by the Don Juan Archiv and took place in 2009 in Vienna and Istanbul. Where on earth could such a jumble be published that presents Italians and Turks as "veiled Jews" and in 1768 resurrects a ghetto that was already closed in 1670? In Vienna, of course, where this ghetto was located and where editors of lavishly produced books appear to be rather poorly informed about the history of their own city.

© Dr. Michael Lorenz 2015.

Updated: 22 March 2022