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The Pope’s Maestro. Gilbert Levine. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2010. 456 pp. + DVD. ISBN 978-0-4704-9065-5

Reviewed by John T. Pawlikowski

The Pope's Maestro (Hardcover) ~ Gilbert Levine (Author) Cover Art

At the beatification of the late Pope John Paul II on May 1, 2011, a Brooklyn-born Jewish orchestra conductor had an honored seat in the audience. How this came to be for a traditional Jew with little prior contact with Catholic religious leaders is the basic narrative of this volume told from a first person perspective by Levine.

Levine’s grandparents emigrated to the United States from Poland. His mother-in-law is a survivor of Auschwitz.  He has been a distinguished conductor who has performed with leading orchestras in North America, Europe, and Israel. In 1987 Levine was invited to serve as a guest conductor of the Krakow Philharmonic for one week. This is where his story begins. Read the rest of this entry »

Judeo-Spanish Ballads from Oral Tradition, III, Carolingian Ballads (2): Conde Claros. Samuel G. Armistead, Joseph Silverman and Israel J. Katz. Folk Literature of the Sephardic Jews, vol IV. Newark, DE: Juan de la Cuesta-Hispanic Monographs, 2008. 672 pp.  ISBN 978-1-5887-1058-1

Reviewed by Susana Weich-ShahakConde Claros

Professor Samuel G. Armistead offers us one more book in his series of Folk Literature of the Sephardic Jews, the third focusing specifically on Judeo-Spanish Ballads from Oral Tradition. Following the previous volumes, which were dedicated to Carolingian Ballads on the themes of Roncesvalles (1994) and Gaiferos (2006), the theme studied and analyzed in the present volume is that of Conde Claros, edited and studied by Samuel Armistead with musical transcriptions and musical studies by Israel J. Katz. As their former publications, this book includes two sections of ballad analyses, a rich and comprehensive bibliography, indices and a glossary. As the former volumes, the present one is based on materials collected in fieldwork conducted by Armistead, Silverman, and Katz in Tétouan, Morocco (1962, 1963), and one version collected by Katz in Israel (1971). To these materials, Armistead adds to his study versions from the rich corpus of Sephardic romances that he had catalogued at the Menéndez Pidal Archives in his three-volume work El romancero judeo-español en el Archivo Menéndez Pidal (Catálogo –índice de romances y canciones) (Madrid, C.S.M.P., 1977). Read the rest of this entry »

The Most Musical Nation: Jews and Culture in the Late Russian Empire. James Loeffler.  New Haven, CT:  Yale University Press, 2010. 288 pp.  ISBN 978-0-3001-3713-2

Reviewed by Simon MorrisonThe Most Musical Nation

This is a book about the struggle to preserve and promote the music of the Jewish enclaves in the Russian empire. St. Petersburg and Moscow dominate the framing chapters; the villages, or shtetls, of the Pale of Settlement the core. To tell the tale, James Loeffler draws on an enormous trove of documents gathered from libraries and archives in Russia, Israel, and the United States. Organizing the material must have been a challenge, but Loeffler prevailed to write an elegant, moving account of the effort to perform, in new arrangements, a repertoire threatened with extinction. Russian nationalism hampered the effort; revolution and war terminated it—with extreme prejudice.

In terms of writing, the best chapter is the first. It concerns the bittersweet career of Anton Rubinstein, and sets the context for the detailed description of the Jewish musical repertoires that follows. Loeffler offers a well-paced assessment of the chief events in Rubinstein’s complicated, multifaceted career: his founding of the Conservatory in St. Petersburg (his brother would do the same in Moscow); his Western European concert tours; his efforts to create non-nationalist “spiritual” operas (as riposte to Richard Wagner’s music dramas); and the political attacks that clouded the 1889 celebrations of his fifty years as a performer. Read the rest of this entry »

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. Read the rest of this entry »

Reading Mahler:  German Culture and Jewish Identity in Fin-de-Siècle Vienna. Carl Niekerk.  Rochester, NY:  Camden House, 2010.  ISBN 978-1-5711-3467-7

Reviewed by John J. SheinbaumReading Mahler

For a composer once considered to be on the margins of the Germanic symphonic tradition, Gustav Mahler (1860-1911) now enjoys an enormous discography, an ever-expanding corpus of biographical and musicological scholarship, and nothing short of a cult of followers ready to discuss and debate any detail that might suggest new paths to interpreting his lengthy and emotionally involving works.[1]  Carl Niekerk’s Reading Mahler is a notable addition to the composer’s bibliography because it counters conventional images of Mahler as a “nostalgic modernist” or a “neoromanticist” derived from the first-person recollections of the composer’s wife, Alma, and the conductor Bruno Walter. Niekerk instead places Mahler at the head of the “avant-garde” generation of composers that followed (212).  This is a Mahler concerned with nothing less than “reinventing the German cultural tradition” in a way distinct from the nationalist models most closely associated with the influential anti-Semitic opera composer Richard Wagner (218).  For Niekerk, then, Mahler’s “Jewishness is of importance, even though he said little about it in public” (12), and even though it plays little more than a background role in philosopher Theodor Adorno’s essential monograph on the composer.[2]  His reconsideration of Mahler thus encompasses much more than musical issues per se.  Niekerk aims to place Mahler securely within the intellectual context of his time by focusing on the texts that may have been formative in his thinking, and that often played direct roles in the construction of his songs and symphonies. Read the rest of this entry »

Working With Bernstein: A Memoir. Jack Gottlieb.  New York: Amadeus Press, 2010.  ISBN 978-1-5746-7186-5

Reviewed by Barry Seldes Working with Bernstein

In 1958, Leonard Bernstein, recently appointed music director of the New York Philharmonic, hired as his assistant Jack Gottlieb, a composer with a Ph.D dissertation on Bernstein’s music.  Gottlieb’s job description seemed indeterminate: from vetter of compositions sent to Bernstein for potential performance to general “gopher.” In this latter capacity, Gottlieb traveled the globe with the peripatetic maestro, seeing to Bernstein’s toiletries, packing his bags, managing transportation, and otherwise working hard but, in Bernstein’s company, having a thoroughly good time.  Apparently Gottlieb performed splendidly, and, save for four years when he took a position teaching composition, he remained at Bernstein’s side until Bernstein’s death in 1990. No doubt, the friendship that ensued was cemented by shared Jewish faith and Gottlieb’s extraordinary competence in understanding Bernstein’s music. Indeed, Bernstein would come to entrust Gottlieb with writing the program notes and commentaries to accompany the published scores, recordings and performances of Bernstein’s own music. Now Gottlieb, some twenty years after Bernstein’s death, has written this work, Part I of which is a memoir of his experiences with Bernstein, and Part II of which contains his collected program notes and commentaries. Read the rest of this entry »

The Schenker Project: Culture, Race and Music Theory in Fin-de-Siècle Vienna.  Nicolas Cook.  New York:  Oxford University Press, 2007. xi + 355 pp.  ISBN 978-0-1997-4429-9

Reviewed by Alison Rose

The cultural developments of fin-de-siècle Vienna have been the subject of several historical monographs. Alan Janik and Stephen Toulmin’s Wittgenstein’s Vienna, originally published in 1973, was followed by Carl Schorske’s Fin-de-Siècle Vienna: Politics and Culture in 1980. Works by Marsha Rozenblit, Steven Beller, and Robert Wistrich focused attention on the Jews of Vienna, emphasizing the importance of the Jewish contribution to Viennese culture. One thing that these works hold in common is their inclusion of Viennese Jewish composer Arnold Schoenberg, and omission of his contemporary, Viennese Jewish music theorist Heinrich Schenker.  This is all the more perplexing when one considers how influential Schenkerian theory was to become in the United States. Schenker, unlike Schoenberg, did not convert to Christianity: he remained a loyal (if concealed) Jew throughout his life, and he somewhat oddly seems to have embraced both his Jewishness and German nationalism.  Nicolas Cook’s book provides some hints as to how this worldview developed, and more importantly, it restores Schenker to his rightful place in fin-de-siècle Viennese culture. However, the book falls short of accounting for the rather peculiar omission of Schenker from most previous studies on the period. Read the rest of this entry »

Playing Across a Divide: Israeli-Palestinian Musical Encounters. Benjamin Brinner. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009. 360 pp. ISBN 978-0-1953-9594-5

Reviewed by Arieh Saposnik

Some time in the late 1980s, at the height of the first Palestinian intifada, Israeli poet/lyricist/author/publicist Jonathan Geffen devoted one of his regular newspaper columns to Israeli music. Geffen, renowned as an eloquent cynic in his often dour critique of Israeli society, began his piece by articulating the general sense of shock and depression that had taken over much of Israeli cultural and intellectual life in that period, particularly among those identified with the country’s left-of-center political camp, for which Geffen was a spokesperson. Depressing though the situation was, Geffen wrote, there was one bright spot: In a country so small and crisis-ridden, the extent and range of musical creativity was to him a small piece of veritable redemption. Read the rest of this entry »

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 »

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