Bloch, Schoenberg, and Bernstein: Assimilating Jewish Music

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David Schiller's study of three works of Jewish music - Ernest Bloch's 'Sacred Service' (1933), Arnold Schoenberg's 'A Survivor from Warsaw' (1947), and Leonard Bernstein's 'Kaddish' (1963) - reveals how, in the mid-twentieth century, the problem of assimilation was acutely felt as the unfinished business of European Jewry, at a time when American Jewry was creating its own distinctive culture (albeit with European roots). He shows how the business of 'assimilating Jewish music' is as much a process audiences themselves engage in when they listen to Jewish music as it is something critics and musicologists do when they write about it. He further asserts that this process of assimilation is performed by the music itself - that Jewish music assimilates into the Western tradition of art music when it appears in the form of concert genres like the oratorio, cantata, and symphony. In rethinking the Jewish works of Bloch, Schoenberg, and Bernstein as part of the legacy of assimilation, David Schiller sheds new light on an important aspect of their cultural and aesthetic achievements.