The Predicament of the Jewish Musician
IN THE last hundred and fifty years-that is, beginning with the emancipation of the Jew in Western Europe-Jews have risen to a remarkable prominence in the world of music; today one might say they virtually dominate it. Considerable discussion has been devoted to the question of what accounts for the peculiar Jewish affinity with music-an affinity which has come to be taken for granted by Jews and Gentiles alike. The standard explanations (for example, that Jewish culture is emotionally freer and more expressive than other cultures, or that music was almost the only profession with status open to European Jews) are hardly satisfactory, since they cannot take into account the special demands of gift or genius exacted by a musical career. Nor will the history and character of Jewish religious practice-another witness often called upon-suffice to explain this affinity. However crucial the role played by music in the ancient Temple service-later partly incorporated into a synagogue service that was entirely sung or chanted-the fact remains that all the centuries in the Diaspora had effectively cut the Jewish community off from both its own musical sources in the past and from the living, developing musical tradition of the peoples who surrounded it. The Jews who burst forth from their enclosed communities into the world of 19th-century Europe left behind them a tradition that had grown almost puritanically arid in its relation to music. Such musical predisposition as had somehow been kept alive in their tradition only came into flower in its belated encounter with European culture.
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