- Modern Jews and Their Musical Agendas (review)
- Shofar: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Jewish Studies
- Purdue University Press
- Volume 13, Number 4, Summer 1995
- p. pp. 134-137
- View Citation
134 SHOFAR Summer 1995 Vol. 13, No.4 Modern Jews and Their Musical Agendas, edited by Ezra Mendelsohn. Studies in Contemporary Jewry: An Annual, IX. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993. 377 pp. This ninth volume of the Avraham Harman Institute of Contemporary Jewry (Hebrew University ofJerusalem) brings together a sumptuous feast of scholarly offerings, representing a wide range of topics, methods, and analytical perspectives on Jewish social and cultural history. The volume, divided into five sections, includes a set of articles on a specific subject (music); three essays on various topics; three review essays; an enormous (and enormously helpful) Book Review Section, covering over 80 recent publications (arranged topically); and a Recent Dissertation Section comprising over 125 titles of completed dissertations on Jewish themes. The resources presented in the review sections alone make this a valuable contribution to current Jewish social, cultural, and historical scholarship. It is, however, the content of the first section, a collection of seven articles, entitled "Symposium: Modern Jews and Their Musical Agendas," that will be the focus of this review. Taken together, the articles examine the role of music as an agent of ide!"\tity formation and maintenance, as well as an active force in Jewish assimilation in both contemporary and historical]ewish communities. The authors bring a wide variety of methods and analytical views to bear upon their subject, from the more traditional treatment ofJewish artists and composers to the more ethnomusicologically oriented articles relating music, its production and reception, to broader social and political issues. Ezra Mendelsohn's "On the Jewish Presence in Nineteenth-Century European Musical Life" cites three agendas underlying Jewish musical practices: maintaining Jewish religious identity and practice through a revitalization of Jewish liturgy; achieving full integration into European art music; and forging a new Jewish political identity through the creation of a national Jewish musical style. Mendelsohn seems most interested in the second agenda but travels over well trodden ground, citing many of the major Jewish composers and performers who contributed to nineteenth-century, mostly German and Russian, classical musical culture. Philip V. Bohlman brings a more sophisticated analysis to his study of "Musical Life in the Central European Village," seeing the village as "a consistent venue for the continuation of traditional customs, institutions and the music that placed these at the center ofJewish life." By examining historical documents, changing folkloric models of culture, and contemporary accounts of village life, Bohlman is able to capture some of the vitality and creativity ofJewish musical life that flourished over a hundred years Book Reviews 135 ago. Focusing primarily on the context for many different kinds of musicmaking , rather than on composers or performers, Bohlman is able to uncover patterns of musical exchange, between villages, between Jews and Gentiles within single villages, and between so-called art and folk musics. "Jews and Hungarians in Modern Hungarian Musical Culture," by Judit Frigyesi, traces the role of Jews and their music in the forging of Hungarian national identity in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Seeing a "strong cooperation and sense of unity between the Jewish and Hungarian bourgeoisies" (p. 41), Frigyesi traces the alliance of these groups in trying to modernize and revitalize Hungarian classical music styles in an era of high political consciousness. With Bartok at the forefront of this modernizing trend, Frigyesi shows that composers sought to distance themselves from the mo~e popular Gypsy music with its associations to folk music and to verbunkos, a national style that was regarded in the late nineteenth century as the quintessence of the Hungarian soul, by making a commitment to artistic perfection, a "sacralization of the written score," and to a new conceptualization of music as independent of social, historical, and political context (p. 54). Although consciously using folk and Gypsy elements in their music as referents to Hungarian ethnicity, such composers paradoxically sought to redefine Hungarian culture by bringing these referents into the artistic European mainstream. In an unusually clear and articulate essay, "New Directions in the Music of Sephardic Jews," Edwin Seroussi discusses the redefinition and reformation of the Sephardic music culture in "radically new circumstances " (p. 61). Seroussi discusses three contexts for Sephardic music, the synagogue, the "academy...