Friedrich Gernsheim (1839-1916) came from a respected doctor’s family in Worms. He was already performing as a pianist in Frankfurt at the age of 11. He studied at the Leipzig Conservatory and came into contact with renowned composers such as Camille Saint-Saens, Gioacchino Rossini und Franz Liszt in Paris. In 1865 he became a professor at the Conservatory of Cologne, where he taught—among others—the composer Engelbert Humperdinck. But Gernsheim also suffered under the antisemitism of the time. He was prevented from becoming director of the Cologne Conservatory because „for some people the question of artistic competence deteriorated into a question of creed“ (Karl Holl). Friedrich Gernsheim was active as a conductor in Rotterdam and in 1897 was admitted into the Senate of the Berlin Academy of Arts. Beginning in 1901 he also directed the area’s „Meisterschule“ for composition. In his time he was highly respected as both pianist and composer; for his 75th birthday in 1914 the city of Dortmund organized a two-day Gernsheim Festival. His friends included Johannes Brahms and Max Bruch.
Karl Goldmark (1830-1915) was the son of a Hungarian Jewish cantor and grew up in poverty. Professionally, he first became a violinist and piano instructor. At age 28, he publicly performed his own compositions and by the end of the 19th century he was a sought-after composer, particularly in Austria. He became famous through his opera „The Queen of Sheba“, which premiered in Vienna in 1875, but he also created symphonic poems, chamber and piano music and vocal works.
The name Salomon Jadassohn (1831-1902) is connected with a broad reform movement within Judaism in the 19th century. This reform movement began in Germany and spread worldwide. So-called „liberal“ Jews searched for contemporary and open-minded ways to live their beliefs in non-Jewish society, reforming even synagogue services. In some synagogues, organs were installed, which strictly observant Jews regarded with suspicion, as this seemed „too Christian“. Reformed communities also introduced mixed, polyphonic choral music. In some larger cities, listening to synagogue music on the Sabbath was an event even for non-Jews.
Salomon Jadassohn was one of the composers who created works for the new type of Jewish liturgy. He came from Breslau, studied among other places in Weimar with Franz Liszt, and was the choir director of the Reform Synagogue Gottschedstraße in Leipzig. As instructor of piano and composition at the Leipzig Conservatory he enjoyed great respect. He was director of the Bremen Opera orchestra and was named to the position of royal professor in 1873. Along with organ and choral works, Jadassohn also composed chamber music, compositions for piano, symphonies, and other orchestral works. Additionally, he was a successful pianist and compiled important music theory treatises. Some of his compositions were performed in the Leipziger Gewandhaus and by the long-established Thomaner Chorus.