Monday, June 22, 2009

Two Cautionary Tales

TLS June 19 2009

from Marina Frolova-Walker's review of Klara Moricz's Jewish Identities: Nationalism, racism, and utopianism in twentieth-century music:

Schoenberg's desire to ensure the supremacy of German music through his own work is well known, but Moricz shows that these concerns were not merely aesthetic:

[Schoenberg's letter to Alma Mahler, August 1914] I never had any use for all foreign music. It always seemed to me stale, empty, disgusting, cloying, false, and awkward . . . . Now I know who the French, English, Russians, Belgians, Americans, and Serbians are: barbarians . . . . For a long time this music has been a declaration of war, an attack on Germany  . . . . Now we shall send these mediocre purveyors of kitsch back into slavery, and they shall learn to honor the German spirit and to worship the German God.

Even the rise of the Nazis failed to cure Schoenberg of his German supremacism. From his American exile he lamented the fact that the Nazis had failed to recognize the kinship between his music and their ideology. In an English-language article published in 1948 he laid down a fascistic interpretation of his own twelve-tone system, in which the basic set of pitches acts as a "Fuhrer". . . . 


Unlike Schoenberg, Bloch embraced wholeheartedly the project of creating Jewish music. Had he been Russian or Hungarian, he might have followed a well-trodden path, collecting folk songs or chants, avoiding "impurities" caused by foreign influences, and assimilating the rest into his own voice. Bloch's problem was the Diaspora: Jews scattered over several continents, their communities subject to correspondingly diverse musical influences. In the absence of cohesive national characteristics Bloch turned to racial theory, and in particular to H. S. Chamberlain's The Foundations of the Nineteenth Century. No matter that this treatise was openly anti-Semitic (it was a foundation stone of Nazi ideology), it provided Bloch with the material he wanted. But Bloch's ambition to be a musical prophet for his "race" failed, as he regurgutated the old Orientalist cliches that had plagued previous attempts to construct a Jewish music. 

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