The term "Jewish National School," coined by the Russian musicologist Leonid Sabaneev, refers to a group of musicians from St. Petersburg who founded the Society for Jewish Folk Music in 1908. They developed a method for composing what they characterized as "Jewish" art music. Ethnographers associated with the society, such as Susman Kiselgof and Joel Engel, conducted fieldwork to collect religious and secular folk songs, many of which the society's affiliate composers, including Joseph Achron and Lazare Saminsky, arranged for chamber ensemble. These works were popular with audiences in Europe and the United States until the early years after World War II. For example, one of the most famous pieces from the Jewish National School, Achron's 1911 "Hebrew Melody" for violin and piano, was an important work in the repertoire of violinist Jascha Heifetz, who performed it frequently in international recitals and recorded it three times by 1946; the work was also featured in a 1935 Zionist film, and arranged as a pair of popular songs in America.
After the war, most works by members of the Jewish National School, including "Hebrew Melody," all but disappeared from the performance repertoire, but a recent rebirth of interest has provoked the publication of a number of books and articles about the society's activities. These studies are generally historical and biographical in scope; until recently, scholarship that closely investigates the works' aesthetic and technical attributes has been conspicuously absent. Beate Schröder-Nauenburg's Der Eintritt des Jüdischen in die Welt der Kunstmusik helps to fill this gap: it constitutes the first book-long study that takes a music theoretical approach to the analysis of these works, examining the techniques employed by the Jewish National School to establish a "Jewish" style of music.
Until her untimely death in 2007, Schröder-Nauenburg worked at the University of Potsdam, and was a key contributor to the recent revival of interest in the Jewish National School. Her book, whose title quotes Sabaneev's article, joins a growing body of scholarship on the subject, and is published by Harrassowitz Verlag as the fifth volume of a series of books about "Jewish" art music (volume three is Jüdische Musik in 20. Jahrhundert, edited by Jascha Nemtsov [End Page 85] and reviewed in the previous issue of this journal). Schröder-Nauenburg collaborated frequently with Nemtsov: in 1995 they began a project to collect documentary material and musical scores associated with the Jewish National School, from archives in Russia, Germany, Austria and New York. Schröder Nauenburg recommends that her readers consult Nemtsov's monograph Die Neue Jüdische Schule in der Musik, the second volume in the Harrassowitz series, to find essential background information for the analyses she provides.
In an introduction and two concluding sections, Schröder-Nauenburg details the historical and aesthetic contexts for the works she investigates, and explains her analytical methodology. The body of the text features four sections that analyze works composed during the early phase of the movement, from 1908-1928. As Schröder-Nauenburg notes in her introduction, it is impossible to define precisely the term "Jewish music." In addressing the question "What is Jewish music?" she brings together quotations by a broad variety of early twentieth century commentators, including Saminsky, Achron, the composer Ernest Bloch, and the ethnographer Abraham Zvi Idelsohn. Their diverse answers reflect the broad range of techniques that factor into the representation of "Jewishness" in compositions of the Jewish National School. Musical elements that composers employed to connote Jewish culture include melodies appropriated from ancient liturgical chants and more modern Chassidic prayers and Yiddish songs, and harmonic modes and rhythmic effects that ethnographers determined to be common to Jewish folksong. Schröder Nauenburg shows, moreover, that many critics point to something subjective in the music that they propose as creating its distinctly Jewish character, which they refer to often as a Jewish soul, spirit, melos, or voice. These notions also associate...