The Jewish School
The question of Jewish composers in the Soviet Union is a complex one. It encompasses at least two types of composer: one who is Jewish by birth, such as Feinberg, whose output shows no connection with Judeo-Hebraic culture; and the other type, like Aleksandr Krein and Aleksandr Veprik, whose music shows signs of having availed itself of their rich sacred and secular traditions. The position of Jews in the Soviet Union has always been a difficult one in that, unlike other ethnic minorities, Jewish culture has never received official backing, except in the 1920s, nor have the Jews had land allocated to them, apart from the disastrous Birobidzhan experiment. It would probably be fair to say that, the 1920s apart, Jews have suffered from anti-Semitism in both Tsarist and Soviet Russia. For example, the five-volume History of the Music of the Peoples of the USSR gives information on very small ethnic minorities, while the Jews, numbering around three million, are ignored. After the late 1930s, mention of Jewish music disappears from Soviet reference books altogether. It is significant that the 1932 edition of the Great Soviet Encyclopedia devoted eighty-two pages to Jews; the 1952 edition has one page! In the bibliography to that meager article is a classic anti-Semitic text from Germany.
Yet, just prior to the Revolution, Jewish music and musicians in Russia were experiencing a nationalist boom. Figures such as Rimsky-Korsakov and Stasov were actively encouraging the establishment of such a school. Rimsky-Korsakov is quoted as saying (while listening to "A Romance on a Jewish Tune" by his pupil E. Shklyar ), "Why should you Jewish students imitate European and Russian composers? The Jews possess tremendous folk treasuries. . .. Jewish music awaits its Glinka." In general, both the Tsarist and Soviet authorities were not too happy about this development, and gave grudging permission for the folk side of Jewish culture to be established, rather than an openly Jewish nationalist compositional movement. Paradoxically, the number of Jewish performers within Russian culture was huge, and included many world-famous names. The only two pianists that Lenin heard after the Revolution were Jewish: Feinberg and Dobroven. Of course, many of the foundation Bolsheviks were Jews. But quite a few Jews were suspicious of the Bolshevik Revolution, and, in common with many other artists, left the country.
During the 1920s, a Jewish nationalist school was encouraged. One only has to look at reference entries on composers such as Mikhail Gnessin to witness the changing