Mosenthal, Salomon Hermann

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MOSENTHAL, SALOMON HERMANN (1821–1877), German playwright. Mosenthal, who was born in Cassel, was a member of the *Mosenthal family. While studying engineering in Karlsruhe, he published his first poems under the pseudonym "Friedrich Lehner," bringing him into contact with the Swabian Romantic circle. Though intellectual tendencies at that time were turning toward democracy and liberalism, Mosenthal neglected revolutionary impulses and turned toward conservatism. As a consequence, he moved to Vienna (where he worked as a private tutor) in 1842 – just as artistic life was fleeing the Austrian capital and its absolutistic, autocratic spirit. Soon he changed his aesthetic focus and embarked on a career as a playwright. Mosenthal's biggest success was the play Deborah (1850), which was adapted for the English stage as Leah, the Forsaken. After premiering in Hamburg, it was a success in New York and was performed more than 600 times in London. The play presents an 18th-century love story between Joseph, a minister's son, and Deborah, a passionate, gypsy-like Jewess, who ultimately renounces her love for the sake of Joseph's happiness. Though the highly emotionally charged scenes are soaked with social criticism, it nonetheless never targets contemporary political issues. On the contrary, it celebrates Joseph ii as a founding figure of Jewish emancipation. Besides Deborah and a few other plays such as Sonnenwendhof (1857), Mosenthal wrote several opera libretti, some of them dealing explicitly with Jewish topics, including Judith (set to music by Albert Franz Doppler in 1870), Moses, and Die Makkabäer (set to music by Anton Rubinstein in 1892 and 1874, respectively). His most popular libretto in his lifetime was surely that for Otto Nikolai's Die lustigen Weiber von Windsor (Merry Wives of Windsor, 1849). In addition, Mosenthal published a volume of stories of characteristic Jewish life, Bilder aus dem juedischen Familienleben (1878). Obviously influenced by the genre of "Ghettoliteratur" and its most prominent representative Leopold Kompert, it portrays the problematic and chronically-endangered coexistence of Christians and Jews in Mosenthal's childhood homeland of Hessen. As a civil servant, Mosenthal had an impressive career. In 1849 the University of Marburg – where he had attained his doctorate six years before – awarded him an honorary doctorate. From 1850 onward, he worked in the Austrian ministry of education and was promoted to the rank of privy councilor in 1873. In 1871, he was knighted Ritter von Mosenthal. His collected works were published in six volumes in 1877/78.


M. Martersteig, Das deutsche Theater im 19, Jahrhundert (1904), 402, 423. add. bibliography: K. Schug, Salomon Hermann Mosenthals Leben und Werk in der Zeit (1966).

[Samuel L. Sumberg /

Philipp Theisohn (2nd ed.)]