Jewish Culture and the Organ

Article excerpt

The Organ and Its Music in German-Jewish Culture by Tina Fruhauf. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009. 284 pp. ISBN# 978-19-533706-8

Book reviews come and go. But every once in a while we are overwhelmed with a title that captures our attention. The Organ and Its Music in German-Jewish Culture? The topic is unusual and provocative. Does the Jewish liturgy (service) use the organ? Is there a repertoire of distinctive music for this instrument? Why Germany? Once the first page is opened, it is difficult to put the book down.

Tina Fruhauf is an Adjunct Assistant Professor of Music at Brooklyn College and editor at Repertoire International de Litterature Musicale in New York. It is a "groundbreaking and engaged study" that chronicles the fascinating presence of the organ in Jewish culture from its references in antiquity, the Talmud, and other scriptural sources, to vivid illuminated miniatures, engravings, and a plethora of unusual references. There is also a recurrent dichotomy: Is it allowed or not?

The peripatetic organ passage did not find a solid footing until the German Enlightenment, which gave birth to the Jewish Reform Movement. Perhaps it was necessary to amalgamate a Jewish culture and society to a more liberal home, and to bring it up to date--a kind of precursor of Vatican II and "aggiornamento," or perhaps it was the economic reality of adjusting to a contemporary German Catholic and Protestant culture. Whatever the reason, the nineteenth century and the twentieth up to Kristallnacht (and the horrors of an attempt to eradicate Jewish culture, faith, and life itself), was a period of great music making. During and after World War II, it was to be transferred, in particular to the United States. Here, Jewish synagogue musicians and composers would continue a vibrant musical life.

Many of us are perhaps familiar with a few Jewish composers, Ernest Bloch in the Four Wedding Marches (not very Jewish sounding!) and Herman Berlinksi in The Burning Bush. …


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