Jewish Identities: Nationalism, Racism, and Utopianism in Twentieth-Century Music

Jewish Identities: Nationalism, Racism, and Utopianism in Twentieth-Century Music

Jewish Identities: Nationalism, Racism, and Utopianism in Twentieth-Century Music

Jewish Identities: Nationalism, Racism, and Utopianism in Twentieth-Century Music

Synopsis

Jewish Identities mounts a formidable challenge to prevailing essentialist assumptions about "Jewish music," which maintain that ethnic groups, nations, or religious communities possess an essence that must manifest itself in art created by members of that group. Klára Móricz scrutinizes concepts of Jewish identity and reorders ideas about twentieth-century "Jewish music" in three case studies: first, Russian Jewish composers of the first two decades of the twentieth century; second, the Swiss American Ernest Bloch; and third, Arnold Schoenberg. Examining these composers in the context of emerging Jewish nationalism, widespread racial theories, and utopian tendencies in modernist art and twentieth-century politics, Móricz describes a trajectory from paradigmatic nationalist techniques, through assumptions about the unintended presence of racial essences, to an abstract notion of Judaism.

Excerpt

In “Jewish Music and a Jew’s Music,” the penultimate chapter of his pathbreaking book Arnold Schoenberg: The Composer as Jew, Alexander Ringer campaigns for Jewish music that goes “beyond more or less obvious affinities with liturgical or folk-tunes, not to speak of mere textual reference or the parochial effusions of composing chauvinists.” Where this “beyond” leads composers Ringer is all too ready to declare. In the spirit of his protagonist, Arnold Schoenberg, Ringer denies the significance of the “what” (material) and elevates the “how” (treatment) in the creation of a uniquely Jewish music. Following Russian music theorist Boris Asafiev (1884–1949), Ringer dubs this specific treatment “intonation,” and defines it as a quality reflecting “not merely the individual psyche but the total historical experience of the community, physical and spiritual, to which the artist belongs, whether he identifies with it consciously or not.” There are several assumptions behind Ringer’s definition, most of them common in discussions of national or ethnic music. The most important are a preference for the expression of a community over that of the individual, or, to approach it from a different angle, the belief that the individual psyche reflects the communal experience; the conviction that the experience of a nation or an ethnic group can be reduced to some essence that is present in every member of the group; and the idea that works of art inevitably carry this essence, betraying the artist’s national or ethnic origin. This approach, based on what Jehoash Hirshberg calls the “genetic-psychological model,” demolishes the comforting, practical boundaries of Curt Sachs’s 1957 definition of Jewish music as “music made by Jews, for Jews, as Jews.”

The present book is a study of Jewish identities in professional (“art”) music, with an emphasis on their complex, often conflicting nature, something much ignored in essentialist studies of identity. I am not the first to argue . . .

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