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  • Haydn's Jews: Representation and Reception on the Operatic Stage
  • Paul Christiansen
Haydn's Jews: Representation and Reception on the Operatic Stage. By Caryl Clark. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009. [xviii, 244 p. ISBN 9780521455473. $99.] Music examples, illustrations, maps, appendix, bibliography, index.

So much has been written about Haydn, yet significant lacunae remain. Because much of what was written prior to the late [End Page 114] twentieth century was grounded in a formalism that divorced German and Austrian composers from their origins and presented them instead as somehow "universal" artists who transcend geographical and historical situation, we have an incomplete and distorted picture of the true significance of the work and lives of composers from Haydn to Brahms. Discussing the social, political, and historical imperatives that obtained while these works were composed and performed is crucial to approaching a truly nuanced and rich understanding. And because this type of research has been avoided for so long, much remains to be done.

With her book Haydn's Jews: Representation and Reception on the Operatic Stage, Caryl Clark offers a well-written and carefully researched account of Haydn's relationship to Jews in his everyday life, his representation of them on stage, and how such characterizations squared with prevailing public sentiment about the "inside Other." Out fitted with maps, copious figures, and music examples, and comprising an introduction, four chapters, an epilogue, and an appendix, Clark's book attempts to act as a corrective to conventional wisdom about Haydn.

Chapter 1 situates the Jew in theatrical productions of the eighteenth century and takes as a point of departure Der krumme Teufel (The Limping Devil), Haydn's first stage work. Pre-Enlightenment portrayals of Jews as physically defective as well as morally bankrupt have their origins partly in associations with the devil in the form of Asmodeus, the prince of demons, who figures in Jewish legends. Clark explains how Haydn's early acquaintance with comic actor Joseph Felix von Kurz, made famous for his characterizations of the fool Bernardon, heavily influenced his characterization of the apothecary as a stereotypical Jew, worthy of contempt and derision.

The social position of Jews in Haydn's time and his contact with them is the subject of chapter 2. Here Clark shows how Haydn's proximity to Jews living in ghettos around Vienna, Eisenstadt, and Eszterháza—his most consistent orbital path during his years working for Eszterházy—gave him ample opportunity to observe Jewish people on a near daily basis. Further, this chapter explores the relationship of the composer to the Barmherzige Brüder. During his youth in Vienna, Haydn worked for this order of Brothers, and Clark suggests ways in which the composer's association with the Brotherhood might have influenced his compositions.

Chapter 3 is a tour de force. Drawing on conclusions from chapter 2, Clark guides us through Haydn's characterization of Sempronio, the apothecary in the 1768 opera Lo speziale as a stereotypical Jew with exaggerated gestures and an unnaturally high tessitura, and she juxtaposes this depiction against the representation of Turkish difference, also present in the story. (The Turk ends up with the more even-handed portrayal.) Clark situates the opera in the complicated and fraught ethnic and racial circumstances of eighteenth-century Vienna and Eszterháza and their environs.

To conclude the narrative, in chapter 4 Clark treats the fin-de-siècle revival of the opera with a new German translation under the name Der Apotheker. Significantly rewritten by Jewish critic Robert Hirschfeld, the new version was denuded of the most offensive aspects of Sempronio's character from the original version and given to Gustav Mahler to conduct at the Vienna Hofoper in 1899. By resurrecting one of Haydn's long-forgotten operas, Hirschfeld hoped to present the composer as the quintessence of German classicism, in opposition to Wagnerism. How Hirschfeld failed in his attempt is explained at the end of this chapter.

An epilogue considers the significance of Der Apotheker in the twentieth century. Here Clark finds resonances for the opera that extend into World War II and beyond. She points out the irony that many of the actors who played in the 1930...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-150X
Print ISSN
0027-4380
Pages
pp. 114-116
Launched on MUSE
2010-09-04
Open Access
No
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