Seeing Mahler:  Music and the Language of Antisemitism in Fin-de-Siècle Vienna. K. N. Knittel. Surrey:  Ashgate, 2010.  218 pp.  ISBN 978-0-7546-6372-0

Reviewed by Karen Painter

Seeing Mahler: Music and the Language of Antisemitism in Fin-de-Siècle Vienna expands upon K. N. Knittel’s pathbreaking work on the reception of Mahler’s conducting, published in 19th Century Music in 1995 and 2006. The book’s trajectory has a clear rhetorical strategy, moving from explicit and offensive accounts of the Jew’s body to, in my view, speculation on how musical discourse served the cause of antisemitism, while concluding with ruminations on anti-Jewish prejudice in the United States today. Ironically, the resistance Mahler faced as a Jew (or merely perceived that he faced, Daniel Jütte has recently argued in a paper on Jews at court) in aspiring to become director of the Court Opera, is all but ignored. Rather, Knittel moves into the important but murky subject of criticizing music because it sounds Jewish. Read the rest of this entry »

Cantos judeo-españoles: Simbología poética y visión del mundo [‘Judeo-Spanish Songs: Poetic Symbolism and Worldview’]. Silvia Hamui Sutton. With a prólogo by Vanessa Paloma. Santa Fe, NM: Gaon Books, 2008. 297 pp. ISBN 978-0-9820657-0-9 (hardcover) and 978-0-9820657-1-6 (softcover).  

Reviewed by Israel J. Katz

When I was invited to review this book, I was under the impression that it was written by an ethnomusicologist, given that it was advertised by its publisher under the categories Judaica, Ethnomusicology, and Spanish Traditions, and by a bookseller under Ethnomusicology, Sephardic songs, and Jewish music. To my surprise, I learned that its Mexican-born author obtained her university degrees in the fields of Latin-American Literature (Licenciatura from the Universidad Iberoamericana)[1] and Comparative Literature (earning both her masters degree and doctorate from the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México). Even the title of her masters thesis, “Los símbolos de la naturaleza en los cantos judeo-españoles: una visión de la lírica popular hispánica [‘The symbols of nature in Judeo-Spanish song; a view of the Hispanic popular lyric’],” completed in 2003, and that of her doctoral dissertation, “Simbología poética y visión del mundo en los cantos judeo-españoles [‘Poetic symbolism and worldview in Judeo-Spanish song’],” submitted in 2006, clearly indicate that both deal solely with the lyrical/ poetic content of the songs she examined.[2] And, whereas both furnished the material for the monograph under review, one can only surmise that the confusion caused by referring to the book under review as an ethnomusicological work arose from commencing its title with Cantos Judeo-españoles. Read the rest of this entry »

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 »

Judeo-Caribbean Currents: Music of the Mikvé Israel-Emanuel Synagogue in Curaçao. Gideon Zelermyer, hazzan; Raymond Goldstein, piano. Liner notes by Edwin Seroussi.  Anthology of Music Traditions in Israel 22. Jerusalem:  Jewish Music Research Centre, 2009.

Reviewed by Rebecca S. Miller

The United Netherlands-Portuguese Congregation Mikvé Israel-Emanuel in Curaçao is the oldest Jewish congregation in the Western hemisphere. Formally established in 1654 in the walled city of Willemstad, the synagogue served as a place of worship for the first Portuguese Jewish immigrants who arrived in Curaçao from Amsterdam.  This population—likely descendants of the original Sephardic Jewish population that left the Iberian peninsula during the Inquisition—was later joined by Jews emigrating from Brazil and elsewhere; by 1800, there were nearly 2000 Jews in Curaçao, comprising fully half the white population of this southern Caribbean island.  In 1864, a schism resulted in the establishment of a second congregation—Temple Emanuel—that has the distinction of being what Edwin Seroussi describes as “the first overtly Reform Sephardic congregation ever” (12).  A century later, this ideological split was resolved and, in 1964, the two were reunited; today, the United Netherlands Portuguese Congregation Mikvé Israel-Emanuel is affiliated with the American Jewish Reconstructionist movement. Read the rest of this entry »

The Socalled Movie (2010).  Dir. Garry Beitel.  Prod, Barry Lazar (reFrame Films) & Ravida Din (The National Film Board of Canada). 86 min.

Reviewed by Louis KaplanThe Socalled Movie

In dispensing with the pretext of a continuous narrative and dividing his biopic on Josh Dolgin into eighteen parts to create a fragmented and kaleidoscopic portrait of this multi-faceted Montreal musician, Garry Beitel’s The Socalled Movie has made a symbolic statement that registers in a Jewish key.  For the structure of the film signals in Jewish numerological terms (where Chai/Life = 18) that it is the superabundance of life itself with all of its gusto and exuberance that this project seeks to capture in documenting the on- and off-stage antics of its restless musical subject.  Tracking Dolgin at home and on tour, the film illustrates how he has blended the genres of klezmer, hip hop, and funk into a potent and often rambunctious mix. 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 »

The Naming. Galeet Dardashti. Galeet Dardashti, 2010.

Reviewed by Sarah Imhoff

In the Genesis creation account God speaks and the world springs into existence, light and dark, water and sky, earth and seas. The voice is coextensive with creation. Galeet Dardashti’s new recording The Naming can claim no such miraculous speech acts, but her music recalls both the creative power of the voice and a near-divine ability to bring women to life.

Dardashti’s Persian-Jewish heritage and academic training come together in a beautiful and yet theologically provocative recording. The music is at once traditional and radical: the first song begins with the prayer for laying tefillin but in a woman’s voice, while “Dinah” incorporates a traditional Moroccan piyyut, and “Sarah/Hagar” includes recent Hebrew and Arabic headlines about political violence. At times Dardashti employs a Mizrahi cantorial style, to which her rich voice brings depth and emotion. Even her own personal lineage leaves an imprint on the sound: her father, cantor Farid Dardashti, sings in “Endora.” Perhaps the most striking moments in the recording, however, are in the songs composed of biblical verses. Their radical character lies not simply in the verses themselves, but rather in Dardashti’s midrashic construction of the songs: the presence, absence, order, and juxtaposition of verses can ultimately be read as bold reinterpretations of the power, the agency, and the simple humanity of the biblical women. Read the rest of this entry »

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