Solo Vocal Works on Jewish Themes: A Bibliography of Jewish Composers.  Kenneth Jaffe.  Lanham, MD: The Scarecrow Press, 2011.  436 pages. ISBN 978-0-8108-6135-0

Reviewed by Joshua JacobsonSolo Vocal Works on Jewish Themes

Cantor Kenneth Jaffe’s publication represents the fruits of a twelve-year project, a compilation of “Solo Vocal Works on Jewish Themes.” The book comprises four sections. In the main part of the book the author presents an alphabetical list of composers. After each composer’s name he provides nationality, dates and places of birth and death, and a list of that composer’s works organized by genre, title, opus number, performing forces, duration, source of lyrics, publisher, duration, date of composition, first performance, recordings, and location of performance materials as appropriate. Then there are three cross-reference listings. The first is organized by theme, including text source (Bible, Mishna, etc.), various holidays, Ethnic Interest (an odd category that comprises mostly Sephardic songs), Fiction, Jewish Experience, Holocaust, Liturgy, Yiddish Theater, and Zionism. The other two lists are indices sorted by voice type and by title. At the very end are a bibliography and a listing of publishers and libraries.

Jaffe’s book is certainly an important reference work; it’s well organized and contains much valuable information. But there are some serious flaws. What music did he choose to include? The book’s title tells us “works on Jewish Themes” (whatever that means) by Jewish composers. Jaffe defines a Jewish composer as someone who “has/had at least one Jewish parent and considers/considered him or herself to be Jewish, whether racially, culturally, or religiously….” But why has he chosen to exclude non-Jewish composers who wrote works on Jewish themes? There are important compositions on Jewish themes by Maurice Ravel, Modest Mussorgsky, Nikolai Rimsky Korsakov, Eric Whitacre, Igor Stravinsky, etc. One might also argue for the inclusion of oratorios based on the Hebrew Bible, composed by Carissimi, Handel, Haydn, Mendelssohn, Walton, and others.

In the preface, Jaffe writes that the musical genres represented are “… quite varied. They include all variety of stage works, from operas, operettas, music-dramas, musicals, pageants, and Purim spiels. Also included in this volume are oratorios, cantatas, multimedia works, chamber works, and symphonic pieces scored for voice [and] sacred services … with instrumental ensembles.” But why did he omit art songs? These should be of primary interest to the solo recitalist. How can one publish a list of solo vocal works on Jewish themes and omit all of Lazar Weiner’s art songs? There is no mention of songs by composers interned in the Terezin concentration camp, including Gideon Klein, Viktor Ullmann, and Pavel Haas. In the 1930s Hans Nathan commissioned some of the greatest living composers to write arrangements for piano and voice of songs by Israeli songwriters. The list of composers includes Kurt Weill, Darius Milhaud, Arthur Honneger, Stefan Wolpe, Aaron Copland and Ernst Toch. That collection is readily available in a modern edition published in 1994, yet none of these compositions appear in Jaffe’s book. Where are the art songs by the great composers of the St. Petersburg school—Milner (including his classic “In Chejder”), Engel, Saminsky, Shkliar and others? Where are Jewish songs by the great American composers—including Aaron Copland (“My Heart Is in the East”), Leonard Bernstein (“Silhouette,” “Psalm 148,” “Lamentation”), Leo Low (“A Chazendl Oif Shabos” and “A Dudele”), and Hugo Weisgall (The Golden Peacock)? Where are the songs by British composers Isaac Nathan and John Braham (found in A Selection of Hebrew Melodies Ancient and Modern, originally published in 1815 and reissued by the University of Alabama Press in 1988)? Where are the artistic arrangements of Sephardic songs by Alberto Hemsi and Léon Algazi? Where is Dave Brubeck’s great oratorio, Gates of Justice?

And while Jaffe included popular songs from Broadway and the Yiddish stage, he omitted the wonderful Yiddish songs of Mikhl Gelbart and Mordekhai Gebirtig. Also missing is a huge and significant body of popular songs from Israel by Admon, Zeira, Zehavi, Wilensky, Walbeh, Shemer, Hirsch, Argov, Hadar, Shelem, Seltzer, Lavri, and others, many of which have been published in stunning arrangements. The author acknowledges “gaping holes in music from Israel, due to the prohibitive costs of the needed first-hand research,” but he has neglected readily available sources such as the website of the Israel Music Institute (IMI), and Alice Tischler’s bibliography of art music by Israeli composers, which he even cites as one of his sources. So there is no mention of the wonderful song cycles by Yehezkel Braun (Seven Sephardic Romances, Songs of the Dove and the Lily), Menahem Wiesenberg (Twelve Songs of Land), Tzvi Avni (Three Songs from Song of Songs), and Paul Ben-Haim, (Myrtle Blossoms from Eden, Three Songs without Words), to name but a few.

Many significant liturgical works have also been omitted. I could find none of the great works that Cantor David Putterman commissioned for his Park Avenue Synagogue. Published in 1951 by G. Schirmer, that anthology includes gems by Leonard Bernstein, Kurt Weill, William Grant Still, David Diamond, Lukas Foss, Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, and others. Also missing are standard cantorial classics, such as Zavel Kwartin’s “V’al Y’de Avodecho” arranged by Leo Low, Israel Schorr’s “Sheyibone Beys Hamikdosh” arranged by Abraham Ellstein, and Max Janowski’s “Avinu Malkenu.”

One can certainly applaud Cantor Jaffe’s efforts and his painstaking work in assembling and publishing this bibliography. But unfortunately the lacunae overshadow the contributions.

Joshua Jacobson, Northeastern University and Hebrew College


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