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Reviewed by:
  • On Jewish Music: Past and Present
  • Edwin Seroussi
On Jewish Music: Past and Present, by Joachim Braun. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, 2006. 433 pp., illustrations, maps, tables. $76.95.

Compilations of articles comprising a retrospective of one authors’ work are a welcome addition to the library shelf. Such is the present book that includes essays by Professor Emeritus Joachim Braun from Bar-Ilan University in Israel. But unlike the majority of books of this genre that are subtitled “collected essays by” or similarly, the name of this book promises much more than what it actually delivers. The inclusion of studies of Iron Age archeological findings of musical instruments from Canaan next to the musical habitus of the population [End Page 204] in a contemporary suburb of Tel Aviv under “Jewish music” makes the choice of the title problematic.

Divided into three sections: Past; The Diaspora: Eastern Europe, Russia, Soviet Union; and Israel Today, the book closes with a conclusion followed by twenty pages of plates that illustrate diverse articles. This division maps the three mains areas of Braun’s research activities after his immigration to Israel from Latvia in the early 1970s, as well as their proportions: study of Music in Ancient Israel (archeomusicology); Jewish music and perceptions of “musical Jewishness” in Eastern Europe (ethnomusicology and music history); and sociology of music with a focus on the Israeli case.

In the footsteps of the pioneer Bathja Bayer (Material Relics of Music in Ancient Palestine and Its Environs, Tel Aviv: Israel Music Institute, 1963), Braun has contributed to the understanding of music in biblical times by compiling and analyzing in historical context an impressive array of archeological and iconographical data that provides vivid information on musical instruments and practices during the Iron Era (11th–6th centuries BCE) and the Roman period in Palestine. Because the articles have a cumulative effect and some are in fact lectures given at conferences, there are many repetitions, especially in the descriptions of the findings related to musical instruments.

One of Braun’s main ideas is the contradiction between the extreme scarcity of archeological findings from the Babylonian/Persian and early Hellenistic periods (ca. 586–168 BCE) and the lavish Biblical descriptions of musical pageantry during this same period (the “Second Temple” period). While Braun’s critique of the gallery of scholars who have accepted ipso facto the biblical and post-biblical descriptions of the Temple’s musical pomp may be justified, his phrasing of this critique is discourteous, to put it mildly. This critique is not limited to modern scholars but is extended to the biblical redactors themselves: “We have here a case of . . . everything . . . from censorship on earlier descriptions of musical activities to the invention of a fictitious subordinated musical culture” (p. 81). Since the author finds that the “Holy Book” (i.e., the Bible) should be “checked over and over again by archeological evidence” (p. 73), it is clear that Braun too has an ideological agenda that precludes a reading of the Bible in terms other than his own.

The second section of the book is more eclectic than the first one and addresses issues as diverse as klezmer music, the Jewish National Music School in Russia, Jewish music and musicians under the Soviet regime, Baltic musicology, and antisemitism. Again, one finds in some of these essays that Braun is sometimes more engaged in polemics over authorship, precedence, and personal issues than in focusing on straightforward scholarship. [End Page 205]

For example, the essay on “Large Klezmer Forms” (LKF), a neologism coined to describe a few distinctive pieces appearing in notated sources (mostly by the great Jewish musicologist Moise Beregovski), is emblematic. After defining the term “klezmerology” as a “vulgarism” (p. 181), arguing over who was the first to organize a panel on klezmer music (p. 182), and accusing the “Israeli musicological community or any other musicologists” of showing no interest on Beregovski’s work (p. 182), Braun finally arrives at the hypothesis of this article: “The corpus represents an intermediate stage, linking traditional music with the emerging Jewish European art music” (p. 183). This is a very problematic thesis, for it essentializes the concepts of “traditional” and “art” and...


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