Jewishness, Jewish Identity and Music Culture in 19th-Century Europe. Ed. by Luca Lévi Sala. Bologna: Ut Orpheus. 2020.

Reviewed by Martha Stellmacher

The Enlightenment and the granting of civil rights to Jews in nineteenth-century Europe opened up new opportunities in society, and also in cultural and musical life. These processes were accompanied and reflected in the ongoing discussion of the so-called “Jewish question,” a debate in Jewish and non-Jewish circles concerning the understanding of Judaism and the status of Jews in the European societies. Though from the second half of the 19th century this term was increasingly used in antisemitic circles and finally taken up by the Nazis, it originally referred to a broad discussion on the political, national and legal position of a Jewish minority in a non-Jewish majority society. It partly touches in its nature upon aspects that we would call today “identity” —a term frequently used in the past decades to examine questions of belonging and self-understanding. Sala’s book assembles eleven studies touching upon many different aspects and layers of Jewish identity in the 19th century. These studies include the individual Jewish identity of certain composers and the expression of Jewish identity through music works up to the perception of Jews and Judaism by the gentile world.

Editor Luca Lévi Sala explains in his short preface that he consciously refrained from using subdivisions, as that “would have meant reducing […] the complexity of the work presented here as a multifaceted discussion an as a whole.” (p. vii) Similarly, the alphabetical order of the contributions avoids any assessment of importance or claim of completeness. Notwithstanding these thoughtful considerations, an attempt to create a context and links between the contributions, which cover a very broad spectrum of topics, aspects, and views on Jewish identity, would have been helpful for the reader. Atypically for a preface, the motivation and context of this book’s origin remain obscure, and an assessment of the state of research in this field is not given. In this review, I attempt to offer the overview that is missing in the preface. For this reason, I review the books’ chapters according to their content rather than the order in which they appear in the book.The religious sphere that is evoked by the romantic depiction of praying Jews on the book cover – a painting by Polish artist Maurycy Gottlieb from 1878 – is addressed by four contributors. Their articles are concerned with the analysis of works by famous and less well-known synagogue music composers, including Isaac Offenbach (Cologne), Charles Garland Verrinder (London), Louis Lewandowski (Berlin) and Salomon Jadassohn (Leipzig).

Mark Kligman shows in his survey that Isaac Offenbach of Cologne was one of the most prolific hazzanim prior to 1840, judging from his preserved notated music. He identifies two composition styles used by Offenbach: the first one based on traditional melodies, the second one based on dance forms. Analyzing more than two decades’ worth of Offenbach’s settings of Unetaneh Tokef, Kligman shows how his compositions evolved.

One generation later, Louis Lewandowski entered the synagogue music scene. Though he is considered one of the most important composers of liturgical music in the nineteenth century, Benjamin Wolfoutlines a lacuna regarding Lewandowski’s personality and his religious and social milieu. Wolf takes into account not only Lewandowski’s compositions for the synagogue, but also those for a wider public, as well as secular pieces. He shows that Lewandowski brought elements of religious music into the secular world by publishing some tunes from his anthology of liturgical tunes Todah W‘Simrah arranged for small instrumental ensembles. Furthermore, Wolf presents some of Lewandowski’s less well-known patriotic pieces and Lieder without connection to Judaism and thus sheds light on Lewandowski’s personality outside the synagogue and as a German and Prussian citizen.

In a joint-authored chapter, Danielle Padleyand Susan Wollenberg write about Charles Garland Verrinder, the first synagogue organist in London, who served from 1859 for nearly half a century at the West London Synagogue, and significantly influenced the practice of Reform liturgical music there. Based mainly on community archives, Wollenberg examines Verrinder’s activities as organist and choir master. Padley analyzes his works and compares their style to that of other composers and identifies a partly church-influenced performance style.

A contemporary of Verrinder was Salomon Jadassohn (1865-1900), a student of Franz Liszt and a synagogue choir director in Leipzig. Steven J. Cahn asks whether Jadassohn’s works “are shaped by Jewish identity, musical style and religious outlook” (p. 2) and relates the concept of Bildung, to his musical style. Bildung, embracing both personal and cultural education, signified a means of emancipation for Jews in 19th century Germany. Cahn chooses three of Jadassohn’s choral works as case studies and traces their connections and similarities to contemporary composers and their works. Citing the adoption of the harmonic language of 19th-century Germany into the Jewish service, he considers them “a landmark in the history of Jewish assimilation.” (p. 29)

In contrast to Cahn, Marsha Dubrow examines not the Jewishness of the music, but rather the personal Jewish identity of composer and conductor Ignaz Moscheles, teacher of Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy. On the basis of small notes in his diaries, she suggests that there exists evidence that Moscheles stayed connected to Jewish culture and religion even after his 1832 conversion to Christianity.

Similarly,Diana R. Hallman presents evidence of the composer Jacques Fromental Halévy‘s connection to Judaism and Jewish life based on biographical facts, mainly his education in a synagogue school, his Jewish marriage and burial, and his engagement in the Committee of synagogue chant at the Consistoire (the official organization of Jewish religion in France). Disagreeing with earlier biographical studies that portrayed Halévy as lacking of Jewish identity, she shows how Halévy’s awareness of his own Jewish heritageis and the status of Jews in contemporary France is reflected in his operas, particularly in the subject, music, text and presentation of Jewish roles in his opera La juive.

The reception of the same opera, though not its music, is the subject of Rachel Orzech’sstudy. Sheexamines the press reception of Halévy‘s La juive by analyzing critiques of its premiere in 1835 in Paris. She shows persuasively how “critical responses to the Jewish characters in the work reveal ongoing unease and prejudice toward Jews in France at this time.” (p. 149) She suggests that Halévy‘s music may indeed have been influenced by his Jewishness.

Two other articles in this book also consider the outside perception and presentation of Jews and Judaism in opera. Jehoash Hirshberg discusses the presentation of Jews in Romantic operas, using the categories of biblical operas (e. g. Verdi’s Nabucco), historical spectacles (again, Halévy’s La juive), and Jewish stereotypes as found in Halévy’s Le juif errant and in Jacques Offenbach’s Les contes d’Hoffmann. Jesse Rosenberg’s chaptercomplements this topic byfocusing on pro-Jewish sentiment expressed Italian operas by Rossini, Verdi, Achille Peri and Giovanni Pacini. As a counterpoint, he presents the opera Giuditta by Samuele Levi, who according to Rosenberg probably was the only Italian Jewish composer of an opera on a Jewish subject. Nevertheless, he points out that the music in Levi’s version of the story of Judith and Holophernes Giuditta, performed in 1844, clearly shows an Italian style.

The place of Jews in the cultural life and networks of the fin-de-siècle musical and social environment of Paris is the topic of two chapters. César A. Lealchooses the case study ofJewish impresarioGabriel Astruc and his relationship to Jewish sponsors in order to explore “the aspects that define and connect certain circles of patronage with the impresario.” (p. 136) Leal determines that organizing events and music publishing served as Astruc’s main means by which to promote specific aesthetics. Laure Schnapper sketches a vivid portrait of the composer Fernand Halphen and his place in the French bourgeoisie. The well-contextualized article gives insight into Parisian upper-class society, its norms, networks and dependencies, as well as introducing Halphen as a composer of pieces for the salon typical of French music around 1900. Unfortunately, non-Francophone readers might miss this important contribution, as it is the only one not in English.

Though it certainly does not portray the whole continent of “Europe,” as the title suggests, but rather offers microstudies concerning (Jewish) composers from Western and Southern Europe and their works, this book is a worthwhile collocation. In its entirety, it gives insights into Jewish reality and experience in 19th century cultural and religious life and presents findings of recent research in the respective fields for an informed audience. Each single article is a profound and precious contribution to (Jewish) music studies.

Martha Stellmacher, Saxon State and University Library Dresden