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A Fusion of Traditions: Liturgical Music in the Copenhagen Synagogue. Jane Mink Rossen and Uri Sharvit. Odense: University Press of Southern Denmark, 2006. 156 pp. + supplemental CD. ISBN 978-8-7767-4038-2
Jewish liturgical music presents a wonderful example of the way that local traditions emerge out of historical and political processes. Its content and style are often deliberately traditionalist, aiming to connect contemporary listeners to a history stretching back to the days of the prophets. That history is a complex one, however, involving thousands of years of migration, factionalism, and local variation, each of which have left their traces in the ethnic and cultural composition of any Jewish community. A Jewish service, especially a holiday service, contains a number of distinct musical events, and each of these requires a choice among the musical traditions associated with the different elements of the local community. In the music of its liturgy, therefore, every congregation literally sings out the unique fusion of traditions that make up its distinctive history. Read the rest of this entry »
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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Maqam and Liturgy: Ritual, Music, and Aesthetics of Syrian Jews in Brooklyn. Mark L. Kligman. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2009. 267 pp. + CD. ISBN 978-0-8143-3216-0
During my public lecturing on Judeo-Arab liturgical music, I often play recordings. Invariably, after hearing the thoroughly Arab sounds—sounds that, for many attendees, evoke images of the Muslim muezzin’s call to prayer—someone in the audience asks, “What is Jewish about this music?” Mark Kligman artfully answers this question in his comprehensive study of the Judeo-Arab synthesis between the music and text of the Shabbat liturgy of Syrian Jews living in Brooklyn. The author endeavors to provide a descriptive analysis of the Sabbath liturgy as well as a cultural lens for understanding Syrian Jewish identity (11). The Aleppo Syrian Jews of both Brooklyn and Israel are known for their appreciation and punctilious maintenance of the Arab maqam—traditional Arabic music’s system of melodic modes—in their liturgy. While other studies have examined other aspects of Syrian Jewish liturgy, Kligman’s is the first to document and analyze Syrian musical practices in the Sabbath service. Read the rest of this entry »
The Organ and Its Music in German-Jewish Culture. Tina Frühauf. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009. 296 pp. ISBN 978-0-1953-3706-8
Recent studies in Jewish art music have contributed significantly to an emerging continuum of Jewish identities in Western music, from the St. Petersburg Society for Jewish Folk Music, to Ernest Bloch’s “Jewish cycle,” to Leonard Bernstein’s symphonies. Dealing with the migration of liturgical and paraliturgical Jewish musics into Western art music, these studies try to assimilate “Jewish music” into the expanding canon of Western music while struggling with both the historical lagging of Jewish musical literacy and the pitfalls of essentialism. In the process, scholars find themselves harassed by the many sonic stereotypes that connote with “Jewish music” and are in urgent need of dispelling. Tina Frühauf’s book highlights such a stereotype, but in an inversion: the introduction of the organ, regarded emblematically as Christian (3), into the synagogue and the way it stimulated liturgical, paraliturgical, and art music—even as it “remained an oddity for Jews and non-Jews alike” (viii).
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
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.