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Let Our Music Be Played: Italian Jewish Musicians and Composers under Fascism. Edited by Alessandro Carrieri and Annalisa Capristo. Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan. 2021.

Reviewed by Jesse Rosenberg

The last twenty years have witnessed significant developments in scholarship concerning antisemitism in Italy during the ventennio, the twenty-year period of Fascist rule (1923-1943). Thanks to historians such as Michele Sarfatti and Giorgio Fabre, the benign view which had hitherto prevailed with regard to the antisemitic laws promulgated by the Fascist government in 1938 — that these were adapted without conviction, in adherence to the dictates of a new alliance with Germany, and represented an unexpected about-face in the treatment of Italian Jews — have been definitively rebutted. The editors of this superlative collection of essays are aware of these newly-acquired insights (one of them, Annalisa Capristo, has co-authored an important book with Fabre), but also, to judge by the variety of approaches taken by the contributors to the book, equally cognizant of the complexities involved in applying these lessons to the field of music.

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Sonic Ruins of Modernity: Judeo-Spanish Folksongs Today. Edwin Seroussi. London: Routledge. 2023.

Reviewed by Lori Sen

A minority within the Jewish people, Sephardim are a triple diasporic population, who carried with them their culture, traditions, language (Judeo-Spanish), and oral literature. Judeo-Spanish folksongs are among the Sephardim’s oral literature and reflect the diverse influences of the many cultures they encountered throughout their five-hundred-year-long journey from medieval Iberia to all over the modern world. With Sonic Ruins of Modernity, musicologist Edwin Seroussi introduces the contemporary concept of folksong (in the post-tradition era) as a sonic ruin, regularly visited by tourists interested in exploring the history of other cultures.

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Sounding Jewish in Berlin: Klezmer Music and the Contemporary City. Phil Alexander. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2021.

Reviewed by Zeke Levine

For the past two centuries, Berlin has maintained its role as a central crossroads of global politics, culture, and geography. The German capital is the focus of Phil Alexander’s Sounding Jewish in Berlin. Alexander probes the lively, yet complex contemporary Berlin klezmer scene, delving deeply into the ideological and aesthetic issues that shape it. While the klezmer revival has its roots in the United States, Alexander effectively and engagingly transports the reader to Berlin, an important locus for klezmer performance since the 1980s. Berlin, notes Alexander, is a complex setting for klezmer, given the city’s conflicted relationship with Jewish, particularly Eastern European Jewish, communities and folkways. Throughout the text, Alexander highlights thirty musicians and other creatives on the Berlin scene, framing the book around their experiences as well as his own extensive ethnographic experience as both a performer in, and keen observer of, the scene.

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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.

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Musical Exodus: Al-Andalus and its Jewish Diasporas. Ruth Davis. Lanham MD: Rowman & Littlefield. 2015.

Reviewed by Samuel Torjman Thomas

The Iberian Peninsula has served as a focal point for enhancing our understanding of early modern racism, the age of nautical exploration, migration, memory, the advent of European colonialism, and perhaps most intensely as the site of interreligious intersectionality between Muslims, Jews, and Christians and its consequences. The notion of diaspora has informed the work of many scholars in the modern academy. A topic of great interest in fields such as cultural anthropology and ethnomusicology, and even its own field, Diaspora Studies, diaspora has also long been a bedrock topic for Jewish studies. In this edited volume, Musical Exodus: Al-Andalus and its Jewish Diasporas, we find valuable contributions to discourses about Iberian history, Jewish culture, diaspora, and musical development.

Within this edited volume, we find a close analysis of the dynamics involved in several animating factors of the Sephardi diaspora, including schism, exile, mass emigration, resettlement, intraethnic synthesis, postmodernist imaginaries, and transnationalism. The title suggests a pluralization of the Sephardi diaspora, as an experience that perhaps informs an array of diasporas. We are encouraged to consider this community’s experience of collective identity development as multitudinal, touching several disparate geographical centers and moments on a timeline that stretches over five centuries. Through the included chapters and their focus on a field of expressive culture (music), we can better appreciate how the Jewish experience of diaspora involves much more than the reinforcement of some overarching and monolithic transnational community. We learn how the dynamics of the Jewish diaspora experience provide the necessary context for new transnational layers to emerge. While fraught on so many levels and in so many ways, these dynamics are reconceived in this book and represented as the location of the endurance of expressive culture. Music serves as the vehicle of choice here, as a means of navigating the emergence and realization of these new diasporic Jewish identities rooted in reproducing vibrant and vital connections to a Sephardi (Andalusian) homeland. [1]

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Transcending Dystopia: Music, Mobility, and the Jewish Community in Germany, 1945-1989. Tina Frühauf. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2021.

Reviewed by Martha Sprigge

Transcending Dystopia examines how Jewish communities throughout postwar Germany reconstructed their musical identities in the aftermath of the Third Reich and the Holocaust. Author Tina Frühauf focuses on the individuals who helped to restore musical life in different urban locales. This is a welcome expansion of previous scholarship on Jewish music making in post-World War II Europe, which has been focused largely on individual composers, philosophers, and their works.[1] Though the book’s title uses community in the singular, Frühauf draws attention to the heterogeneity of Germany’s postwar Jewish communities by consistently attending to vectors of difference such as class, generation, regional identity, and religious tradition. Transcending Dystopia paints a complex portrait of Jewish musical life in the postwar period, and demonstrates the importance of attending to local dynamics when crafting historical narratives.

The concept of “cultural mobility” serves as a frame for this extensive study, which Frühauf views as “intrinsic to Jewish music in the postwar Germanys” (p. 7). She adapts the term mobility liberally to explore many angles of Jewish culture in Germany after 1945, from the lives of Jewish musicians forcibly displaced by the Nazi genocide, to the itinerant cantors and musicians who traveled throughout German cities to perform services for congregations lacking key personnel, to the mobility of musical objects, such as scores and performances broadcast on the radio. The result is a capacious volume that traverses the immediate aftermath of World War II to the earliest years of German Reunification, and takes the reader to cities across Germany East and West.

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Anthology of Jewish Art Songs Volume IV, The Lazar Weiner Collection, Book 1: Yiddish Art Songs, 1918-1970. Yehudi Wyner, ed. Philadelphia: Transcontinental Music Publications. 2011.

Reviewed by Judith Tischler

The Emergence of the Yiddish Art Song is a fairly recent phenomenon. The full flowering took place in the United States in the twentieth century although the seeds were generously planted in Europe toward the end of the nineteenth century. One of the most prolific composers of Yiddish Art Songs in the United States was Lazar Weiner (1897-1982). He wrote one hundred and fifteen Art Songs for voice with piano accompaniment or with instrumental accompaniment other than keyboard.

A study of his songs will reveal a tension between his need to experiment with twentieth century idioms and his wish to reflect the folk heritage of his own past. The results are a number of “folk-like” songs which, because of their simplicity and tunefulness, were sung in almost every Yiddish speaking household in the Eastern United States and later in Israel. There is a much larger number of songs that are through-composed and that use a variety of compositional devices that could be adapted to any language. There are some outstanding examples, however, where the past and present meet; where “traditional” melodic patterns, modal scales, and cantillation-like phrases combine with complex harmonic structure and advanced piano techniques.

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Rumskinsky: Di Goldene Kale (critical edition). Michael Ochs, eds. Middleton, WI: A-R Editions, 2017.

Reviewed by Hankus Netsky


I have to admit that the irony of being asked to write a review of Michael Ochs’s wonderful critical edition of Rumshinsky’s Di Goldene Kale for Musica Judaica was not lost on me.  As some of our readers might know, the very first editor of this journal and, in fact, the founder of The American Society for Jewish Music was none other than Jewish music scholar Albert Weisser.  Here’s a quote from one of his best-known books:

“The American Yiddish theatre, as it was known at the beginning of the twentieth century on through to the 30s, is today almost non-existent. Aside from Joseph Achron [1], it never had any contact with first-rate composers. Because it built on ‘debris’ rather than the pearls of the Jewish folk song and because it hardly ever outgrew its almost primitive technique, listening today to the body of music it has produced is an embarrassing and painful experience.” [2]

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Dislocated Memories: Jews, Music and Postwar German Culture. Tina Frühauf and Lily Hirsch, eds. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 2014. ISBN: 9780199367481.

Reviewed by Karen Uslin


In 1945, upon seeing the ruins of his childhood home in Białystok, Polish Jewish author and artist Israel Beker held a piece of the family’s salt cellar in his hand and exclaimed: “If this salt cellar is in my hand, it proves that they existed once—because it seemed to me that they never existed—no father, no mother, no brothers or sisters—no home—no neighborhood—all disappeared—and if so—then possibly I don’t exist at all.” (p. 121) But Becker and his family did exist, and the Jewish cultural brokers and artists of Germany also continued to exist after World War II. In Dislocated Memories: Jews, Music, and Postwar German Culture (OUP 2014), editors Tina Frühauf and Lily E. Hirsch bring together a collection of essays that address music’s role in cultural, political, and social change in post-World War II Germany, while also considering the questions of what the terms “Jewish” and “German” entail in the contexts of both musical culture and transnationalism. The authors address the legacy of the Holocaust and anti-Semitism in the cultural arts of a people who have been displaced and must move forward after unspeakable trauma.

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New York Noise: Radical Jewish Music and the Downtown Scene. Tamar Barzel. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2015. ISBN 9780253015570.

Reviewed by Jeff Janeczko


On February 29, 1940, the composer Stefan Wolpe addressed a meeting of the Jewish Music Forum on the Upper West Side of Manhattan with a talk titled, “What Is Jewish Music?” While he did eventually offer a vague answer, his opening statement pointed out the ineluctable ideology of the question itself: “The question of Jewish music conceals the questioner,” he remarked.  “[T]he answer is needed by the unclear conscience of those who would have the clear conscience that they are Jewish composers.” [1] Which is to say that those who ask the question are seeking to define a field in which their own work is included.

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