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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 »
Music in Terezín 1941-1945. Joža Karas. 2nd ed. Hillsdale, NY: Pendragon Press, 2009. ISBN 978-1-5764-7030-5
The Wonder and the Grace of Alice Sommer Herz: Everything is a Present. Dir. Christopher Nupen. DVD and Liner Notes. Allegro Films, 2009.
Shortly before his death in December 2008 Joža Karas completed the second edition of his book Music in Terezín 1941-1945, the culmination of a life’s work. When the book was originally published in 1985 it was path-breaking, documenting a largely unknown chapter in the history of the Holocaust: the lively and wide-ranging musical life in the “model ghetto” Terezín (in Czech, Theresienstadt in German). When Karas began his work as a “modest summer project” in 1970 (ix), very little music from the ghetto had been uncovered, and even less had been written about it. Karas, a Czech researcher and musician based in Connecticut, devoted the rest of his life to passionately researching the subject, conducting interviews across Europe, Israel, and the United States, undertaking archival research, and transcribing scores. In addition to publishing his book, he lectured widely on the subject, produced performing editions, and tirelessly promoted Terezín compositions in performances with his own string quartet, established expressly for that purpose. Karas himself conducted the American premiere of Brundibár in 1975 and the world premiere of the English version (in his own translation) in 1977. In short, the subject of music in Terezín has become well known among Western audiences thanks in large part to Karas’s pioneering efforts. Read the rest of this entry »
Haydn’s Jews: Representation and Reception on the Operatic Stage. Caryl Clark. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009. ISBN 978-0-5214-5547-3
Reviewed by Jeanne Swack
Caryl Clark’s recent monograph on the subject of possible Jewish characterizations in Haydn’s music focuses on his opera Lo Speziale (The Apothecary), composed in 1768 to a libretto by the Venetian playwright Carlo Goldoni and first performed at the Esterhazy court for Haydn’s employer, the music-loving Prince Nikolaus I. The book’s principal contention is that the title character of this work, who is never identified as Jewish, nevertheless is an encoded representation of the typical “stage Jew” of the time, and would have been recognized as such by contemporary audiences. The argument for this reading is preceded by discussions of the Jewish communities in Haydn’s immediate environments in Vienna, Eisenstadt, and the Eszterháza estate, a discussion of stage Jews and previous characterizations of explicit Jewish characters in opera (citing my own work on Reinhard Keiser’s operas for the Hamburg stage in the early 18th century), a previous Singspiel in which Haydn seems to have portrayed a Jewish stereotype (but with no surviving music), and a discussion of a Haydn mass putatively aimed at Jews undergoing conversion to Catholicism.
Jewish Music and Modernity. Philip V. Bohlman. New York: Oxford University Press/AMS Studies in Music, 2008. xxxiii + 280 pp. ISBN 978-0-1951-7832-6
Discourse about “Jewish music” has traditionally raised complex questions about the identity of “Jewishness” in music. The ontology of “Jewish music” in modern Jewish history is as elusive as the nature of music itself. The reason for this, as Philip Bohlman argues in Jewish Music and Modernity, is that Jewish music in modernity exists not within a definable space or time, but rather at moments of disjuncture – in between regions, amid moments of transition and transformation, and at the border of ethnic, religious, and social boundaries. Jewish music, as an aesthetically autonomous object in Jewish society, was conceived of for the first time at the modernist moment, when Jews entered the public sphere of modern European society, broadening the purely ritualized devotional function that music formerly served. But the structural transformation that modernity brought about in musical culture had the paradoxical effect of confounding the very notion of “Jewish” music. Exposed to modern musical practices and genres in the non-Jewish public sphere during a period of political and aesthetic transformation, Jewish music became “Jewish” precisely in its confrontation with non-Jewish genres, forms, languages, and performers. Bohlman demonstrates that Jewish music, in responding to the political and aesthetic challenges of modernity, is inherently hybrid, unstable, and dynamic. It represents a dynamic site where national, ethnic, and gender identities are constructed and contested. Thus, borders between Jewish and non-Jewish became permeable, so that “musical repertories that for some were entirely Jewish—say, cabaret at the turn of the twentieth century—were not the least bit Jewish for others” (xvii). In other words, music participated in the transformation of modern Jewish identity itself.
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Der Zionismus in der Musik. Jascha Nemtsov. Jüdische Musik: Studien und Quellen zur jüdischen Musikkultur, vol. 6. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2009. 380 pp. ISBN 978-3-4470-5734-9
“Zionism was known as one of the few realized utopias in the twentieth century, probably the only one that in addition to addressing social concerns also had a distinct humanistic character,” writes Jascha Nemtsov in the epilogue to his monograph on the role of music in the Zionist movement in the first half of the twentieth century (349). A somewhat nostalgic tone permeates this truly amazing volume, which relates many facets of Jewish musical life to Zionism, commonly defined as a late nineteenth-century political movement dedicated to establishing a Jewish homeland. Nemtsov, who is well aware of the negative connotations of nationalism in the twentieth century (he quotes Ernest Gellner’s view of nationalism as “diabolical and lethal”), pleads for exception for Zionism. Probably even more forcefully than other nationalist movements in the twentieth century, he claims, Zionism put an emphasis on culture and thus brought about a Jewish cultural renaissance around the globe. It is these cultural, and specifically musical, ramifications of Zionism that interest Nemtsov, who presents Zionism as the unifying force that enabled a heterogeneous Jewish Diaspora culture to have a common focus. Nemtsov’s nostalgia derives from his sense that Zionism’s idealistic goal fractured as Zionism developed from an energetic political and cultural movement in the Diaspora to ossified official policy in modern Israel. According to Nemtsov, there were also other factors that made Zionism anachronistic by the second half of the twentieth century: the almost total annihilation of European Jewry, which served as the cradle of Zionistic ideals; the repression of Jewish culture in the Soviet Union, which was the center of Jewish life before the Revolution; a new Israeli culture that consciously tried to eliminate characteristics associated with the Diaspora; and a postmodern sensibility in the arts that fits uneasily with the optimistic ideals of Zionism. What Nemtsov does not mention as a contributing factor to the demise of the Zionist idea is the conflict between radically different visions of Zionism in present-day Israel, manifested in a less nostalgic account of Israel’s Zionist past by “new historians” such as Tom Segev.
Judaism Musical and Unmusical. Michael P. Steinberg. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007. 270 pp. ISBN 978-0-2267-7195-3
In Judaism Musical and Unmusical, Michael P. Steinberg takes the reader on a journey through predominantly but not exclusively Central European Jewish history and culture in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, at times privileging music as a focal point of cultural discourse. The eight essays in this volume, most of which have been published before, are loosely connected musings about the different facets of modernity and Judentum, and involve the concepts of memory, secularity, and aesthetics, among others. In each chapter Steinberg weaves different threads together, from art to psychoanalysis, from architecture to music. Steinberg’s book, which in a larger sense is a discourse about identity and Judaism, begins with an essay on Edward Said and his propositions of Jewish identity, and follows with individual case studies of known intellectuals and their work. Steinberg traces the subject of Judaism in Sigmund Freud’s late classic Moses and Monotheism and in the writings of Henry James, Eduard Fuchs, and Walter Benjamin; and he explores the intellectualism of Italian Jewish historian Arnaldo Momigliano. Further chapters center on the artist Charlotte Salomon and her Life? or Theater? and Leonard Bernstein in Vienna. The journey ends in Berlin with a critique of its Jewish Museum and an assessment of some recent scholarship on German Jewish subjects, which cannot compensate for the absence of a full bibliography at the end of the book.