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Reviewed by:
  • Lomir ale singn: Die Musik der Juden Osteuropas
  • Rita Ottens
Lomir ale singn: Die Musik der Juden Osteuropas, by François Lilienfeld. Zürich: Chronos, 2002. 178 pp., compact disc. fi29.90.

In present-day Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, the discourse around the field of Yiddish music and Yiddish music research has become one of ethnicity and race. At a time when the role of Jews in Germany is marginalized—yet expected to be drawn upon [End Page 173] whenever needed as part of the constituting of the new German Self—it is “Jewish” music that fills the space. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, especially the music of the main targets of the German Endlösung, the Eastern European Jews, has been turned into a ritualistic remedy, and is celebrated in festivals and concert series throughout the country.

It is the milieu of this, the “Music of the Jews of Eastern Europe,” that François Lilienfeld has set out to “describe more thoroughly.” His “greatest intention,” however, is “to show that synagogue music, Yiddish folksong and klezmer music represent three facets of one culture, three elements which are inseparably interconnected” (p. 7). The book contains sections on these three musical genres as well as chapters on hasidic music, the Yiddish language, Yiddish theater, and Yiddish film. In addition, it includes an annotated bibliography and discography, illustrations, and notated musical examples, as well as a compact disc.

The book does not, however, as it proclaims, deliver a “more thorough” understanding of the colorful tapestry of Eastern European Jewish musical traditions. That topic is broader than any one volume could encompass thoroughly, as recent publications by Moshe Beregovski (2000 Moshe Beregovski (2001), Philip V. Bohlman and Otto Holzapfel (2001), Ellen Koskoff (2000), Rita Ottens and Joel Rubin (1999 Rita Ottens and Joel Rubin (2001), Kay Kaufman Shelemay (2001) and Mark Slobin (2000 and Mark Slobin (2002) have shown. Lilienfeld’s uncritical use of sources of varying approaches, reliability, and quality, as well as his inability to interpret and draw his own conclusions from these materials, leads to a confused depiction of the musical cultures that he set out to describe. What makes all of this even worse is the obvious attitude of the author that anything goes, as long as it fits into his world view. Especially after listening to the enclosed CD, one must come to the conclusion that the production was mainly undertaken for the purpose of self-promotion. The compact disc promises to give an “impression in sound of the described music” (cover text), but fails to do just that. Instead, the author offers the listener a cantillation in the German (not Eastern European) ritus—sung by himself shortly after his bar mitzvah—following on the heels of the voices of the famous early twentieth-century Eastern European cantors Rosenblatt, Sirota, and Pinkasowicz. Of the eighteen tracks on the CD, an additional five comprise interpretations by Lilienfeld himself, including two compositions in the German ritus by Louis Lewandowski, as well as a pseudo-hasidic piece with “ecstatic” oy-oy-oys written by the author himself. These illustrate acoustically Lilienfeld’s doubtful connection to Yiddish music, language, and culture, an impression which is also given by the text itself. For example, the complex, several-centuries-old modes of expression in Eastern European Jewish music are reduced to three, seven-tone “Jewish” scales (p. 142). What it is that makes this music “Jewish” or, more specifically, “Yiddish,” Lilienfeld is not able to explain. He fails to mention that all three scales are shared with surrounding ethnicities in Eastern Europe as well as those of the Middle East, and are of unknown provenance. Such reductionisms unfortunately [End Page 174] don’t give the reader any information on the typical melodic turns of phrase or ornamentation patterns associated with those scales—precisely the modal aspects which could be interpreted as “Yiddish.”

In general, it can be said that Lilienfeld relies too heavily on outdated and second-hand general sources such as Abraham Zvi Idelsohn (1929/1992) and Aron Marko Rothmüller (1960), despite the relative plethora of writings on Eastern European Jewish music published in the past two...

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pp. 173-176
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