The extraordinary musical accomplishments of Sara Levy née Itzig, which place her as a key figure in the reception and cultivation of the music of Johann Sebastian Bach in Berlin during the last quarter of the eighteenth century, are recorded almost exclusively in her remarkable collection of music manuscripts and prints of the instrumental works of Bach and his sons. Yet apart from a handful of letters written to her by contemporary composers, some billets, and sporadic anecdotal references in letters and memoirs by younger family members and acquaintances, which provide little if any insight into her musical world, Levy's persona largely remains shrouded in mystery.
In contrast to other contemporary women of the enlightened Berlin Jewish elite, Levy left no autobiographical or epistolary writings that could shed light on her ambitions and choices as a female Jewish musician and patron in a maledominated, non-Jewish cultural universe: What were her aspirations, motivations, and dilemmas? How did she feel about the music she avidly performed and collected, and why did she refrain from pursuing other repertoires? It is particularly tempting to imagine how the sixty-eight-year-old Sara Levy would have reacted upon hearing, in 1829, the revival performance of Bach's St. Matthew Passion, the monumental oratorio of the great Lutheran composer, whose instrumental works she had known so intimately; how would she have perceived the extraordinary event that marked a watershed in Bach's public reception? And what would she have thought of the pronounced Lutheran theology imparted by the libretto of the Passion, which otherwise lies safely latent in Bach's instrumental music?
We might seek some answers regarding the reception of Bach's music amongst Levy's milieu of music lovers—Musikkenner und -liebhaber—in the writings of contemporary enlightened women of the Berlin Jewish elite. Such documents, consisting primarily of letters and memoirs, reveal that while Levy was an exceptional music connoisseur, for daughters of other Jewish families in Berlin born during the third quarter of the eighteenth century, music was from early on in life a vital mode of experiencing the world and of fashioning themselves in relation to it. Moreover, it seems that like the Itzig daughters, other privileged Jewish maidens of their generation obtained musical training marked by an exclusive taste for the instrumental music of the Bach family.