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Mediterranean Israeli Music and the Politics of the Aesthetic. Amy Horowitz. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2010. xvii+251 pp. (+ 19 songs on CD). ISBN 978-0-8143-3465-2

Reviewed by Motti RegevMediterranean Israeli Music and the Politics of the Aesthetic

Musiqa mizrahit, aka Israeli Mediterranean Music, is a category of popular music mostly known for its strong Middle Eastern and Greek tinges. It has been at the center of Israeli public discourse on popular music since the late 1970s. By 2010, the leading theme of this discourse is the “triumph” of the genre in the field of Israeli popular music. With prominent performers such as Sarit Hadad, Eyal Golan, Kobi Peretz, Moshe Peretz, Shlomi Shabat, Lior Narkis and others filling up the largest music venues in Israel, leading the sale charts and ruling the radio airwaves, Israeli Mediterranean Music is by 2010 the “mainstream” of Israeli popular music. Throughout its history, speakers for Israeli Mediterranean Music have insisted, against their marginalization, that this genre is the “true” Israeli authentic popular music, the one that should be at center stage of Israeli culture. Given the genre’s success in the 1990s and the 2000s, Edwin Seroussi and myself concluded some years ago that “the nationalist impetus that underlined musiqa mizrahit for decades has achieved its own self-declared goal of both bringing musiqa mizrahit into the mainstream of Israeli popular music and of affecting the sounds of all popular music in Israel.”[1] Read the rest of this entry »

A Fine Romance: Jewish Songwriters, American Songs. David Lehman.  New York:  Nextbook/Schocken, 2009.  249 pp. ISBN 978-0-8052-4250-8

Creating America on Stage: How Jewish Composers and Lyricists Pioneered American Musical Theater. Jill Gold Wright.  Saarbrücken, Germany:  VDM Verlag Dr. Müller, 2009.  135 pp.  ISBN 978-3-6391-7142-6

Reviewed by Larry HamberlinA Fine Romance

An ever-growing body of critical literature, beginning nearly forty years ago with Alec Wilder’s seminal American Popular Song, has established the lasting cultural value of the classic songs of George Gershwin, Jerome Kern, Irving Berlin, Richard Rodgers, and the other great songwriters of what is sometimes called popular music’s “golden era.”[1] (Whether or not one considers that era to have been “golden” has much to do with one’s opinion of rock and roll.) At the beginning of those decades—the 1920s through the 1950s—popular music was dominated by the sheet music publishing industry, centered on a few blocks of West 26th Street in New York City, an area that gave the business its nickname, Tin Pan Alley. But the era also saw the rise of radio and the growth of the recording and movie industries, mass media that eventually eclipsed sheet music as means of disseminating popular songs. The majority of hit songs throughout this period—and in contrast to later phases of popular music history—made their debut in Broadway and Hollywood musicals. Indeed, the history of the popular song in those years is inseparable from the history of the musical comedy. Read the rest of this entry »

Music in Terezín 1941-1945. Joža Karas. 2nd ed. Hillsdale, NY:  Pendragon Press, 2009.  ISBN 978-1-5764-7030-5

The Wonder and the Grace of Alice Sommer Herz:  Everything is a Present. Dir. Christopher Nupen. DVD and Liner Notes. Allegro Films, 2009.

Reviewed by Shirli GilbertMusic in Terezin

Shortly before his death in December 2008 Joža Karas completed the second edition of his book Music in Terezín 1941-1945, the culmination of a life’s work. When the book was originally published in 1985 it was path-breaking, documenting a largely unknown chapter in the history of the Holocaust: the lively and wide-ranging musical life in the “model ghetto” Terezín (in Czech, Theresienstadt in German). When Karas began his work as a “modest summer project” in 1970 (ix), very little music from the ghetto had been uncovered, and even less had been written about it. Karas, a Czech researcher and musician based in Connecticut, devoted the rest of his life to passionately researching the subject, conducting interviews across Europe, Israel, and the United States, undertaking archival research, and transcribing scores. In addition to publishing his book, he lectured widely on the subject, produced performing editions, and tirelessly promoted Terezín compositions in performances with his own string quartet, established expressly for that purpose. Karas himself conducted the American premiere of Brundibár in 1975 and the world premiere of the English version (in his own translation) in 1977. In short, the subject of music in Terezín has become well known among Western audiences thanks in large part to Karas’s pioneering efforts. Read the rest of this entry »

A Fusion of Traditions: Liturgical Music in the Copenhagen Synagogue.  Jane Mink Rossen and Uri Sharvit.  Odense: University Press of Southern Denmark, 2006.  156 pp. + supplemental CD.  ISBN 978-8-7767-4038-2

Reviewed by Andrew BuckserA Fusion of Traditions

Jewish liturgical music presents a wonderful example of the way that local traditions emerge out of historical and political processes. Its content and style are often deliberately traditionalist, aiming to connect contemporary listeners to a history stretching back to the days of the prophets. That history is a complex one, however, involving thousands of years of migration, factionalism, and local variation, each of which have left their traces in the ethnic and cultural composition of any Jewish community. A Jewish service, especially a holiday service, contains a number of distinct musical events, and each of these requires a choice among the musical traditions associated with the different elements of the local community. In the music of its liturgy, therefore, every congregation literally sings out the unique fusion of traditions that make up its distinctive history. Read the rest of this entry »