Academic journal article Studia Musicologica

Jewish Identities

Academic journal article Studia Musicologica

Jewish Identities

Article excerpt

Klára Móricz, Jewish Identities (University of California Press, 2008, 352 pp. + bibliography, notes, index)

Klára Móricz introduces her study with a statement of her own personal identity as a scholar:

My interest in the topic of identities, their musical expression, their social basis and implications originates in my experience in Hungary, where in the years after the fall of socialism in 1988 newly discovered political, religious, and ethnic identities divided a population that had previously lived in the illusionary unity of the politically repressed? Arriving in the United States in 1994, I was emboldened to tackle this subject by the critical approach and antiessentialist intellectual atmosphere I encountered at the University of California at Berkeley.1

The two great names that stand out in her long list of acknowledgments are her Hungarian mentor, László Somfai, and her mentor in Berkeley, Richard Taruskin, whose extensive and innovative work on nationalism in general and on Russian nationalism in particular has provided a stimulating framework for many young scholars. She quotes Somfai's 'insistence on remaining close to the music and to primary sources in musicological arguments, not to get tempted by intellectually attractive theories that had little to do with my protagonists and their music'.2 This attitude to which I subscribe full heartedly is of enormous importance in a book which deals with a touchy question of national identity as represented in complex art music.

The bulky volume, which is beautifully printed with copious musical examples and illustrations, consists of three case studies: 1) Jewish identity in music as viewed and created in the work of the Society for Jewish Folk Music in St. Petersburg (founded 1908) and in Moscow; 2) The works with Jewish titles and connotations by Ernest Bloch (1880-1959); 3) The painful struggle Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951) had with Jewish identity as revealed in his musical works on Jewish topics, in his poetic texts, in his spoken drama, and in his political writings.

The three case studies lead to the crystallization of Klára Móricz's thesis, as presented in her concluding philosophical essay on Purity.3

1. Individualism and polemics in the Society for Jewish Folk Music

Part 1 (divided into three chapters) is a thorough critical discussion of the Society for Jewish Folk Music (Klára Móricz uses the abbreviation OYNM of the Russian title Obshchestvo Yevreyskoy Narodnoy Muziki) which has been frequently discussed and referred to as a 'group'. As such they were strongly influenced and supported by the Russian nationalist group, most importantly by Balakirev, Rimsky-Korsakov, the important musicologist Leonid Sabaneyev, and the influential critic Vladimir Stassov. Yet Klára Móricz justly stresses the highly individual, even quarrelsome, attitudes and temperaments of the leading members of the Society for Jewish Folk Music. Indeed, the foundation of the Moscow branch of the Society in 1913 resulted from bitter friction within the Society. In his seminal book, written fourteen years after his emigration to the United States, Lazare Saminsky (1882-1959) did point out the enormous contribution of the Society in publishing hundreds of arrangements of Jewish folksongs from Eastern Europe and their international performance.4 Yet, at the same time he maintained his bitter polemics with the famed Moscow critic Julius (Yoel) Engel (1868-1927), which Saminsky reproduced as appendix to his book,5 and in which he stressed his 'shifting of interest from the domestic folksong, which engaged the initial labors of the Society's composers to the religious folksong, to its pure and ancient elements'.6 Saminsky's insistence on the search for 'purity' gave the initial impetus for Klára Móricz's detailed investigation of this concept.

Having provided a detailed (and amazingly lengthy) list of the publications of the Society,7 Klára Móricz discusses the original art songs within them, which, albeit few in number, are of much significance,8 especially those by Alexander Krein (1883-1951). …

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