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Reviewed by:
  • Haydn's Jews
  • Jonathan Sturm
Haydn's Jews, by Caryl Clarke. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010. 244 pp. $99.00.

Prior to the twentieth century, the intersection of Jews and classical music brings to mind Wagner (for his antisemitism), the Mendelssohn family, Mahler, and perhaps Halevy's early Grand Opera La Juive. Dr. Caryl Clarke (whose prior publication has established her a place in Haydn studies) has recently published a new book that takes this intersection back a century, maintaining there was a persistent perception in Haydn's day that Jewishness was a designation of "Otherness." Cultural exoticism—think alla Turca—in [End Page 166] Haydn's time included the resident Other (the Jew) as well as the non-resident Other (peoples from Turkey and farther East). While her book's title suggests a focused topic relating the resident Other's stage portrayal and reception, she weaves a multitude of tangents into her research and writing. At times these are intriguing; at times they seem self-indulgent, straining the reader's stamina to remember her main topic.

The Introduction, an important component of this book, sets the stage and provides a relevant overview. This said, I recommend reading the Introduction and concluding Apologia as a unit. The reader who embarks upon the central chapters having read her opening questions and her conclusions together will likely fare better in the detail of her supporting arguments. In the Introduction, Dr. Clark raises some intriguing questions and contends that Haydn was most likely familiar "with the lexicon of Jewish theatrical representation and that he exploited the comic potential of this well-known stage stereotype in two works dating from the 1750s and 1760s," referring to his (now lost) apprentice-era opera Der krumme Teufel, and his early Esterháza opera Lo speziale.

Her desire "to uncover possible dialogues and interconnectivities within and between Gentile and Jewish communities," while acknowledging that many of her arguments "rest primarily on circumstantial evidence," leaves us excited to discover that ethnic conflict and stereotype—now accepted as integral to certain music in the nineteenth century—may be proven or disproven to have been an issue a century earlier.

Clark builds her case for the intersection of Jew and (Catholic) Austrian at multiple levels, beginning in Chapter One with cultural context, or the ways Jews were represented on stage prior to and during Haydn's early life. What eventually comes to light is that music most likely made the stage stereotype of the Jew—represented sometimes as Fool (Bernardon), sometimes as syphilitic, limping devil—more intense by accentuating the visual and vocal codes already present in the plays of the day. Chapter Two initiates a detailed discussion of the Jewish ghetto in Eisenstadt, postulating that Haydn may well have acquired considerable familiarity with its space and population as he walked to work and to the apothecary for medicines to treat his chronic gastritis.

Clark then discusses his Missa brevis St. Joannis de Deo, composed particularly for the Barmherzige Brüder, who ran a hospital and almshouse on the periphery of Eisenstadt. Catholic church history intersects Jewish locale, and Clark postulates that, in a Missa brevis, the telescoping of text (singing multiple lines of the Creed polyphonically at once) and omission of certain liturgical lines of the full Mass (most notably the lines stating Jesus is the Son of God) may point to these Masses being used as "conversion Masses" for Jews [End Page 167] in attendance who were not quite "ready" for the full Christian doctrine. Issues of speculation arise here, all of which may be moot, however, since the Mass is not an operatic stage work, and thus is really not on point.

A discussion of early operas at the newly built Esterháza in the 1760s sets the context for a discussion of Haydn's opera Lo Speziale (The Apothecary) in Chapter Three, in which the main focus is upon the elements of ethnic coding found in both libretto and score that make a case for the lead character, Sempronio, being a pejorative caricature of the local Jewish pharmacist. This is the crux of her book, and she marshals a variety of points to support...


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