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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.

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Ignaz Friedman: Romantic Master Pianist. Allan Evans.  Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2009. 399 pp. ISBN 978-0-253-35310-8

Ignaz FriedmanReviewed by Jonathan D. Bellman

Familiar phrases like “Romantic Master Pianist” or the “Golden Age” of Romantic pianism (cf. an excellent recent book by Kenneth Hamilton[1]) are problematic, because they imply the existence of a single tradition shared by the giants of bygone eras.  Rather, the greatest pianists of the past made their names by individuality, their independent artistic personalities and personal, often subjective interpretations of musical works that are now often normalized, more or less, into “the way this piece is played.”  Foremost among these fiercely independent superpianists was Ignaz Friedman, a Polish-born Jewish virtuoso whose memory and recordings are revered by pianists but whose reputation has, unavoidably, faded somewhat.  Although Friedman’s father was a peripatetic musician with limited skills at providing for his family, and his mother did most of the earning via needlework, their son’s prodigious musical gifts, which showed themselves early, were nonetheless never exploited commercially in his childhood.  His family’s search for favorable circumstances meant that he would live in Poland, America, Greece, Turkey, Hungary, and Germany before going to Vienna for a university education and to complete his piano training with the renowned Theodor Leschetizky, who also trained a variety of other virtuosi.  What all this meant was that Friedman would be among the best educated and most culturally well rounded of artists. Read the rest of this entry »

Jewish Music and Modernity. Philip V. Bohlman.  New York:  Oxford University Press/AMS Studies in Music, 2008.  xxxiii + 280 pp.  ISBN 978-0-1951-7832-6

Reviewed by Lisa ParkesJewish Music and Modernity

Discourse about “Jewish music” has traditionally raised complex questions about the identity of “Jewishness” in music. The ontology of “Jewish music” in modern Jewish history is as elusive as the nature of music itself. The reason for this, as Philip Bohlman argues in Jewish Music and Modernity, is that Jewish music in modernity exists not within a definable space or time, but rather at moments of disjuncture – in between regions, amid moments of transition and transformation, and at the border of ethnic, religious, and social boundaries. Jewish music, as an aesthetically autonomous object in Jewish society, was conceived of for the first time at the modernist moment, when Jews entered the public sphere of modern European society, broadening the purely ritualized devotional function that music formerly served. But the structural transformation that modernity brought about in musical culture had the paradoxical effect of confounding the very notion of “Jewish” music. Exposed to modern musical practices and genres in the non-Jewish public sphere during a period of political and aesthetic transformation, Jewish music became “Jewish” precisely in its confrontation with non-Jewish genres, forms, languages, and performers. Bohlman demonstrates that Jewish music, in responding to the political and aesthetic challenges of modernity, is inherently hybrid, unstable, and dynamic. It represents a dynamic site where national, ethnic, and gender identities are constructed and contested. Thus, borders between Jewish and non-Jewish became permeable, so that “musical repertories that for some were entirely Jewish—say, cabaret at the turn of the twentieth century—were not the least bit Jewish for others” (xvii). In other words, music participated in the transformation of modern Jewish identity itself.
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