A Jewish Orchestra in Nazi Germany: Musical Politics and the Berlin Jewish Culture League.  Lily E. Hirsch. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2010.  ISBN 978-0-4721-1710-9

Reviewed for Musica Judaica Online Reviews by Barbara Milewski

During the last two decades a formidable number of excellent studies have appeared in English and German that have given us an ever fuller picture of the compromised, politicized reality of Germany’s musical culture during the National Socialist period. Lily Hirsch’s book, A Jewish Orchestra in Nazi Germany: Musical Politics and the Berlin Jewish Culture League, is a valuable contribution to this body of knowledge.

Hirsch draws on previous scholarship published in Germany—notably Henryk Broder and Eike Geisel’s Premiere und Pogrom: der Jüdische Kulturbund 1933-1941, and Geschlossene Vorstellung: Der Jüdische Kulturbund in Deutschland 1933-1941 published in conjunction with a 1992 exhibit at Berlin’s Akademie der Künste, which houses the Kulturbund archives—and significantly expands on this material through interviews with League members and subsequent archival investigations. In so doing, she makes available to Anglophone readers for the first time a comprehensive and nuanced telling of the origins and activities of the Jüdischer Kulturbund, or Jewish Culture League, the self-imagined, Nazi sanctioned, Jewish cultural organization that staged musical and theatrical performances for Jewish audiences in Nazi Germany between 1933 and its disbanding in 1941. As Hirsch’s study makes clear, the League’s history remains one of the more poignant examples of the complex, ever-narrowing field of choices Germany’s Jews were forced to navigate after the Nazis assumed power and enacted anti-Jewish exclusionary legislation (intended to protect the purity of Aryan culture) that restricted all aspects of their public and private lives.

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The Song is Not the Same: Jews and American Popular Music.  Josh Kun, ed.  Vol. 8 of The Jewish Role in American Life: An Annual Review, Bruce Zuckerman and Lisa Ansell, eds. ISBN 978-1-5575-3586-3.

Reviewed by Gabriel Solis

9781557535863 - The Song is Not the Same   Jews and American Popular Music

Volume eight of the annual review The Jewish Role in American Life, published by the Casden Institute for the Study of the Jewish Role in American Life at the University of Southern California, is a welcome addition to the general literature on music and Jewish identity. It presents seven short articles collected by guest editor Josh Kun, all relating broadly to the topic of “Jews and American popular music.” The song is not the same, as the title of the volume says. Most readers who will turn to this little collection will approach it already feeling they have some handle on the topic of Jews and popular music, whether that means the cadre of Jewish songwriters from Irving Berlin to Stephen Sondheim who wrote nearly the entire “Great American Songbook,” singer-songwriters like Carole King and Paul Simon who more or less made music in the 1960s what it was, or the Jewish hipsters from Mezz Mezrow to Lieber and Stoller to the Beastie Boys who made more than incidental contributions to black musical genres from early jazz to hip hop. Though these sorts of high points and familiar names provide points of reference throughout the essays, most readers will likely come away seeing things differently than they had. The great strength of the volume is in Kun’s editorial vision, having solicited a set of articles on topics that move beyond received expectations for the area of the Jewish contribution to American music. If there is a weakness, it may also be seen in Kun’s approach to editing the volume: there is a level of unevenness common to edited collections, and this one is no exception.

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To Broadway, To Life! The Musical Theater of Bock and Harnick. Philip Lambert. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011. ISBN 978-0-1953-9007-0

Jews on Broadway: An Historical Survey of Performers, Playwrights, Composers, Lyricists and Producers. Stewart F. Lane. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2011. ISBN 978-0-7864-5917-9

Reviewed by Alisa Solomon

Like those Broadway musicals that are driven by deep emotion and a social conscience, intellectual books about Broadway musicals face a dilemma: how to be serious and popular. Indeed, books may have a harder time. From Showboat to Rent, musicals have managed to challenge audiences with questions about such issues as racism and AIDS even as they have filled the coffers of investors. But to whom is a book on Broadway addressed—to academic specialists or to die-hard show fans? Not that these categories are mutually exclusive (the best scholarship is typically driven by passion, after all), but they can represent vastly different cultures and interests. As publishers increasingly look for “crossover” projects—and as the academic study of musical theater expands—the clashing expectations of these disparate audiences can put some authors in a bind. Read the rest of this entry »

The Milken Archive of Jewish Music: The American Experience

Vol. XVI: Heroes and Heroines: Jewish Opera

http://www.milkenarchive.org/volumes/view/16

Reviewed by Jeffrey Shandler

Editor’s Note: This essay represents the first in a series of reviews exploring the recently launched Milken Archive of Jewish Music: The American Experience, an online resource that incorporates and expands upon the Archive’s earlier CD series (published on the Naxos label from 2003-2006).


In the annals of Jewish music, is any genre as fraught as opera? In nineteenth-century Europe, this most elaborate of western art forms seduced and dazzled Jewish admirers from Theodor Herzl (whose visions of Zionism were inspired by Tannhäuser) to Emma Goldman (transfixed by a performance of Il Trovatore in Königsberg). The lure of opera for cantors became the stuff of legends (the story of Yoel-Dovid Strashunsky’s fall from grace when he abandoned the synagogue in Vilna for the opera house in Warsaw inspired works of fiction, theater, and film). Jewish opera composers became celebrities (Meyerbeer, Offenbach), and their musicianship the target of anti-Semitic attack (most famously, Wagner’s Das Judenthum in der Musik). Opera production has long been a familiar home for Jews who converted (Mahler), intermarried (Otto Goldschmidt, the husband of Jenny Lind), or obscured their Jewishness (Rudolph Bing). Is it any wonder that the most renowned opera whose central figures are European Jews, Halévy’s La Juive (1835), is named for a character who, it turns out as the final curtain is about to ring down, isn’t, in fact, a Jewess? Read the rest of this entry »

The Klezmatics: On Holy Ground (Erik Greenburg Anjou, 2010). Seventh Art Releasing. 106 min.

Eatala: a Life in Klezmer (Barry Dornfeld & Debora Kodish, 2011). Philadelphia Folklore Project. 37 min.

Reviewed by Mikel J. Koven

klez-poster

Music documentaries are difficult creatures to discuss. How does one approach them? Should the evaluation of any documentary be based on its cinematic principles, that is, as a film? Or should discussion be limited to an evaluation only of the documentary’s content? Music documentaries complicate the discourse further: is this a biography film, charting the history of a band’s development? A film documenting a particular event, like a tour or particular concert? Or is the film exploring a particular ethnomusicological idea, a filmed essay on a music topic? All of these questions are up in the air when discussing any music documentary film, and one hopes that particular films will focus on one of these potential discourses. But, alas, that almost never happens.

Erik Greenburg Anjou’s The Klezmatics: On Holy Ground doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be. On Holy Ground covers tremendous ground trying to be, simultaneously, a history of the New York-based klezmer revivalist band The Klezmatics; a documentary of The Klezmatics’ 2007 tour of Poland; an exploration of the significance of Yiddishkeyt and its revival over the past twenty years; and a document of the band’s 2006 project of recording its first all-English album, Wonder Wheel, an album of unrecorded songs written by Woody Guthrie (who had a Jewish grandmother, Aliza Greenblatt). Because Anjou tries to cover so much content, each of the topics or themes he touches is never satisfactorily developed.

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Seeing Mahler:  Music and the Language of Antisemitism in Fin-de-Siècle Vienna. K. N. Knittel. Surrey:  Ashgate, 2010.  218 pp.  ISBN 978-0-7546-6372-0

Reviewed by Karen Painter

Seeing Mahler: Music and the Language of Antisemitism in Fin-de-Siècle Vienna expands upon K. N. Knittel’s pathbreaking work on the reception of Mahler’s conducting, published in 19th Century Music in 1995 and 2006. The book’s trajectory has a clear rhetorical strategy, moving from explicit and offensive accounts of the Jew’s body to, in my view, speculation on how musical discourse served the cause of antisemitism, while concluding with ruminations on anti-Jewish prejudice in the United States today. Ironically, the resistance Mahler faced as a Jew (or merely perceived that he faced, Daniel Jütte has recently argued in a paper on Jews at court) in aspiring to become director of the Court Opera, is all but ignored. Rather, Knittel moves into the important but murky subject of criticizing music because it sounds Jewish. Read the rest of this entry »

Cantos judeo-españoles: Simbología poética y visión del mundo [‘Judeo-Spanish Songs: Poetic Symbolism and Worldview’]. Silvia Hamui Sutton. With a prólogo by Vanessa Paloma. Santa Fe, NM: Gaon Books, 2008. 297 pp. ISBN 978-0-9820657-0-9 (hardcover) and 978-0-9820657-1-6 (softcover).  

Reviewed by Israel J. Katz

When I was invited to review this book, I was under the impression that it was written by an ethnomusicologist, given that it was advertised by its publisher under the categories Judaica, Ethnomusicology, and Spanish Traditions, and by a bookseller under Ethnomusicology, Sephardic songs, and Jewish music. To my surprise, I learned that its Mexican-born author obtained her university degrees in the fields of Latin-American Literature (Licenciatura from the Universidad Iberoamericana)[1] and Comparative Literature (earning both her masters degree and doctorate from the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México). Even the title of her masters thesis, “Los símbolos de la naturaleza en los cantos judeo-españoles: una visión de la lírica popular hispánica [‘The symbols of nature in Judeo-Spanish song; a view of the Hispanic popular lyric’],” completed in 2003, and that of her doctoral dissertation, “Simbología poética y visión del mundo en los cantos judeo-españoles [‘Poetic symbolism and worldview in Judeo-Spanish song’],” submitted in 2006, clearly indicate that both deal solely with the lyrical/ poetic content of the songs she examined.[2] And, whereas both furnished the material for the monograph under review, one can only surmise that the confusion caused by referring to the book under review as an ethnomusicological work arose from commencing its title with Cantos Judeo-españoles. Read the rest of this entry »

The Pope’s Maestro. Gilbert Levine. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2010. 456 pp. + DVD. ISBN 978-0-4704-9065-5

Reviewed by John T. Pawlikowski

The Pope's Maestro (Hardcover) ~ Gilbert Levine (Author) Cover Art

At the beatification of the late Pope John Paul II on May 1, 2011, a Brooklyn-born Jewish orchestra conductor had an honored seat in the audience. How this came to be for a traditional Jew with little prior contact with Catholic religious leaders is the basic narrative of this volume told from a first person perspective by Levine.

Levine’s grandparents emigrated to the United States from Poland. His mother-in-law is a survivor of Auschwitz.  He has been a distinguished conductor who has performed with leading orchestras in North America, Europe, and Israel. In 1987 Levine was invited to serve as a guest conductor of the Krakow Philharmonic for one week. This is where his story begins. Read the rest of this entry »

Judeo-Spanish Ballads from Oral Tradition, III, Carolingian Ballads (2): Conde Claros. Samuel G. Armistead, Joseph Silverman and Israel J. Katz. Folk Literature of the Sephardic Jews, vol IV. Newark, DE: Juan de la Cuesta-Hispanic Monographs, 2008. 672 pp.  ISBN 978-1-5887-1058-1

Reviewed by Susana Weich-ShahakConde Claros

Professor Samuel G. Armistead offers us one more book in his series of Folk Literature of the Sephardic Jews, the third focusing specifically on Judeo-Spanish Ballads from Oral Tradition. Following the previous volumes, which were dedicated to Carolingian Ballads on the themes of Roncesvalles (1994) and Gaiferos (2006), the theme studied and analyzed in the present volume is that of Conde Claros, edited and studied by Samuel Armistead with musical transcriptions and musical studies by Israel J. Katz. As their former publications, this book includes two sections of ballad analyses, a rich and comprehensive bibliography, indices and a glossary. As the former volumes, the present one is based on materials collected in fieldwork conducted by Armistead, Silverman, and Katz in Tétouan, Morocco (1962, 1963), and one version collected by Katz in Israel (1971). To these materials, Armistead adds to his study versions from the rich corpus of Sephardic romances that he had catalogued at the Menéndez Pidal Archives in his three-volume work El romancero judeo-español en el Archivo Menéndez Pidal (Catálogo –índice de romances y canciones) (Madrid, C.S.M.P., 1977). Read the rest of this entry »

The Most Musical Nation: Jews and Culture in the Late Russian Empire. James Loeffler.  New Haven, CT:  Yale University Press, 2010. 288 pp.  ISBN 978-0-3001-3713-2

Reviewed by Simon MorrisonThe Most Musical Nation

This is a book about the struggle to preserve and promote the music of the Jewish enclaves in the Russian empire. St. Petersburg and Moscow dominate the framing chapters; the villages, or shtetls, of the Pale of Settlement the core. To tell the tale, James Loeffler draws on an enormous trove of documents gathered from libraries and archives in Russia, Israel, and the United States. Organizing the material must have been a challenge, but Loeffler prevailed to write an elegant, moving account of the effort to perform, in new arrangements, a repertoire threatened with extinction. Russian nationalism hampered the effort; revolution and war terminated it—with extreme prejudice.

In terms of writing, the best chapter is the first. It concerns the bittersweet career of Anton Rubinstein, and sets the context for the detailed description of the Jewish musical repertoires that follows. Loeffler offers a well-paced assessment of the chief events in Rubinstein’s complicated, multifaceted career: his founding of the Conservatory in St. Petersburg (his brother would do the same in Moscow); his Western European concert tours; his efforts to create non-nationalist “spiritual” operas (as riposte to Richard Wagner’s music dramas); and the political attacks that clouded the 1889 celebrations of his fifty years as a performer. Read the rest of this entry »

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