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Jewish Musical Modernism, Old and New. Edited by Philip V. Bohlman, with a foreword by Sander L. Gilman. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008. 218 pp. with CD supplement. ISBN 978-0-226-06326-3

Reviewed by James LoefflerJewish Musical Modernism

In his 2002 essay “Inventing Jewish Music,” Philip Bohlman called our attention to a surprising fact rarely noted by previous scholars: the term “Jewish music” hardly existed before the late nineteenth century [1]. Tracing its first appearance among German Jewish cantors, Bohlman argued that that the new locution reflected a crucial turning point in the emergence of modern Jewish historical consciousness as a whole. He has gone on to develop this thesis in various publications that emphasize the centrality of music in the modern European Jewish experience. In his new anthology, Jewish Cultural Modernism, Old and New, he now expands this line of inquiry from Jewish modernity to European modernism. His goal is to break down the familiar dichotomy between studies of modern Jewish music and those of individual Jewish musicians within the movement of European modernism. Read the rest of this entry »

Music in Jewish Thought: Selected Writings, 1890–1920. Jonathan L. Friedmann, comp. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, 2008. 212 pp. ISBN 978-0-7864-4439-7

The Value of Sacred Music: An Anthology of Essential Writings, 1801–1918. Jonathan L. Friedmann, comp. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, 2008. 186 pp. ISBN 978-0-7864-4201-0

Reviewed by Geoffrey Goldberg

Although the study of Jewish music as a scholarly discipline is still comparatively recent, the publication of two anthologies of older musical thought highlights how the field has matured. The first work is a collection of essays written between the death of Salomon Sulzer (1804–1890), the cantor-composer “rejuvenator” of Ashkenazic synagogue music, and the emergence after World War I of Abraham Z. Idelsohn (1882–1938), the first academically recognized musicologist and ethnomusicologist of Jewish music. What Sulzer and Idelsohn shared in common, according to Friedmann, was a romantic notion of Judaism’s musical past. Just as Sulzer strove “to discover and present ‘purified’ [Ashkenazic] Jewish music” (8), so Idelsohn sought “to uncover unifying elements contained in the music of all Jewish communities, no matter how disparate” (15). The achievements of both engendered a sense of pride in the continuity of Judaism’s religious and cultural past and the Jewish people’s place in the post-Emancipation present.

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