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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 »
Reading Mahler: German Culture and Jewish Identity in Fin-de-Siècle Vienna. Carl Niekerk. Rochester, NY: Camden House, 2010. ISBN 978-1-5711-3467-7
For a composer once considered to be on the margins of the Germanic symphonic tradition, Gustav Mahler (1860-1911) now enjoys an enormous discography, an ever-expanding corpus of biographical and musicological scholarship, and nothing short of a cult of followers ready to discuss and debate any detail that might suggest new paths to interpreting his lengthy and emotionally involving works. Carl Niekerk’s Reading Mahler is a notable addition to the composer’s bibliography because it counters conventional images of Mahler as a “nostalgic modernist” or a “neoromanticist” derived from the first-person recollections of the composer’s wife, Alma, and the conductor Bruno Walter. Niekerk instead places Mahler at the head of the “avant-garde” generation of composers that followed (212). This is a Mahler concerned with nothing less than “reinventing the German cultural tradition” in a way distinct from the nationalist models most closely associated with the influential anti-Semitic opera composer Richard Wagner (218). For Niekerk, then, Mahler’s “Jewishness is of importance, even though he said little about it in public” (12), and even though it plays little more than a background role in philosopher Theodor Adorno’s essential monograph on the composer. His reconsideration of Mahler thus encompasses much more than musical issues per se. Niekerk aims to place Mahler securely within the intellectual context of his time by focusing on the texts that may have been formative in his thinking, and that often played direct roles in the construction of his songs and symphonies. Read the rest of this entry »
Haydn’s Jews: Representation and Reception on the Operatic Stage. Caryl Clark. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009. ISBN 978-0-5214-5547-3
Reviewed by Jeanne Swack
Caryl Clark’s recent monograph on the subject of possible Jewish characterizations in Haydn’s music focuses on his opera Lo Speziale (The Apothecary), composed in 1768 to a libretto by the Venetian playwright Carlo Goldoni and first performed at the Esterhazy court for Haydn’s employer, the music-loving Prince Nikolaus I. The book’s principal contention is that the title character of this work, who is never identified as Jewish, nevertheless is an encoded representation of the typical “stage Jew” of the time, and would have been recognized as such by contemporary audiences. The argument for this reading is preceded by discussions of the Jewish communities in Haydn’s immediate environments in Vienna, Eisenstadt, and the Eszterháza estate, a discussion of stage Jews and previous characterizations of explicit Jewish characters in opera (citing my own work on Reinhard Keiser’s operas for the Hamburg stage in the early 18th century), a previous Singspiel in which Haydn seems to have portrayed a Jewish stereotype (but with no surviving music), and a discussion of a Haydn mass putatively aimed at Jews undergoing conversion to Catholicism.
Judaism Musical and Unmusical. Michael P. Steinberg. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007. 270 pp. ISBN 978-0-2267-7195-3
In Judaism Musical and Unmusical, Michael P. Steinberg takes the reader on a journey through predominantly but not exclusively Central European Jewish history and culture in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, at times privileging music as a focal point of cultural discourse. The eight essays in this volume, most of which have been published before, are loosely connected musings about the different facets of modernity and Judentum, and involve the concepts of memory, secularity, and aesthetics, among others. In each chapter Steinberg weaves different threads together, from art to psychoanalysis, from architecture to music. Steinberg’s book, which in a larger sense is a discourse about identity and Judaism, begins with an essay on Edward Said and his propositions of Jewish identity, and follows with individual case studies of known intellectuals and their work. Steinberg traces the subject of Judaism in Sigmund Freud’s late classic Moses and Monotheism and in the writings of Henry James, Eduard Fuchs, and Walter Benjamin; and he explores the intellectualism of Italian Jewish historian Arnaldo Momigliano. Further chapters center on the artist Charlotte Salomon and her Life? or Theater? and Leonard Bernstein in Vienna. The journey ends in Berlin with a critique of its Jewish Museum and an assessment of some recent scholarship on German Jewish subjects, which cannot compensate for the absence of a full bibliography at the end of the book.