Like any other culture, the Jewish people have both traditional and art music. Traditional music is well known and for over two and a half thousand years the music of the synagogue has been played. Yiddish and Sephardic songs such as the Klezmer, unique instrumental folklore of Eastern European Jews is the music most people imagine.
How Is Jewish Music Defined?
On the other hand, the importance, even the very existence of Jewish art music is questioned. During the 19th century works by composers such as Mendelssohn and Mahler were considered “Jewish Music”, the assumption being that the ethnicity of the composer influenced his works. However, in examining them, there are no specific Jewish characteristics to define them. It is only with the dawning of the 20th century did Jewish composers begin to look at the roots of Jewish music. This movement began in Russia.
Jewish Cultural Music Renaissance
The Jewish Cultural Music Renaissance was part of a cultural Renaissance that also supported the spreading of Zionist ideas. It was at this time the New Jewish School developed, incorporating elements of Eastern Jewish folklore and liturgical music into musical art.
The Jewish Musical Art in 20th Century America
According to MyJewishLearning, Klezmer comes from the Hebrew words kli zemer (“vessel of song”), originated in the Pale of Settlement, the junction of the Ottoman, Austro-Hungarian, and Russian empires, and it arrived in America with the earliest immigrants. The contributions of Jews to music in America is immense. In almost every category of music in America you will see influences of Jewish Art Music:
The wonderful music of composer Aaron Copland fuses American folk music with the textures of western art music. Leonard Bernstein brought together various religious and musical elements and became a major presence in the world of orchestral music and Broadway. George Gershwin continued to write classical music even while collaborating with his brother Ira. To this day, people in Philadelphia rush to hear their music.
Ira Gershwin along with his brother George wrote over two dozen scores for Broadway and Hollywood. It is their genius that elevated the musical comedy to an art form. Jewish composer Jerome Kern wrote the Broadway musical Showboat in 1927, a defining story of issues of race and searching for American identity. Broadway singer Al Jolson was a huge success in the 1920’s with his songs like “California Here I Come”, “Camptown Races”, and “ Rhapsody in Blue” still being sung today.
Jazz And Big Band:
Without the sounds of Benny Goodman, Ziggy Elman, and Artie Shaw, the combination of African American Jazz and big bands would not be considered a truly “American” sound today.
Folk, Musical Theater, And Film:
Some of the best known and popular Jewish artists in this genre include Simon and Garfunkel, Bob Dylan, Barbra Streisand, and Burt Bacharach, who is one of the most prolific singers, songwriter, musician, and record producer from the 1950s until the end of the 20th century.
When it comes to presenting Jewish Art Music, the Multicultural Arts Exchange is dedicated to providing programs to bring this wonderful art form to Philadelphia. Determined to provide unique multicultural events to unite people, we bring together professional artists of different genres and various cultural backgrounds to focus on the greater northeast Philadelphia. Won’t you join us today and help provide culture to those areas in Philadelphia that do not have such access.