Polish Music Journal
Vol. 4, No. 2, Winter 2001. ISSN 1521 - 6039





POLISH JEWISH MUSIC — SOURCES AND STUDIES

ABSTRACTS OF ARTICLES
PMJ, Vol. 6, No. 1 (Summer 2003)

BeckermanGolabFuks NetskySchüsslerWerb



Beckerman: "Neuro-Nationalism, or Why Can't We All Just Get Along?"

The starting point for this article is a list of troubling examples of racist attitudes documented in news reports around the world, accompanied by personal anecdotes about encounters with ethnic hatred among the intellectual elite of Eastern Europe, and references to neurological theories of brain structure and emotions as source of ethnic intolerance (Paul MacLean, Antonio Damasio, Jaak Panksepp). In order to prove that "nothing in music is ever pure and authentic, all is tainted" in terms of national/ethnic 'identity" Beckerman considers a fictitious example of a national interpretations of a song included in a wedding taking place in Mazovia in 1830. These interpretations differ when the ethnic, national, and religious identities of the singers and the participants of the ceremony are taken into account. The opposition of pure "Us" against the impure "Them" underlies all attempts at defining "national" music in terms of a putative, united identity transcending the limitations of time and space; Beckerman's examples of this attitude include Jewish Musical Traditions by Amnon Shiloah and music critic's Edward Krehbiel's reception of Dvorak in America. In conclusion, he points out that "German music was so powerful as a national force that it was able to take center stage with barely a dissenting voice, and proclaim itself as universal," while music by other European nations, especially Slavic ones became "national" [Maja Trochimczyk].

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Marian Fuks: "Musical Traditions of Polish Jews"

This paper presents an overview of musical traditions of the Jewish community in Poland, with its roots in folklore and in the religious culture centered in synagogues. Religious services could often be described as sui generis concerts for the cantor and the choir. The cantorial traditions were divided into schools established by famous singers, who all had strong voices and great musical abilities, especially of improvisation. The voice of Joel Jaszunski (d. 1850) delighted Stanisław Moniuszko and other Polish composers of the nineteenth century; tenor Gershon Sirota (1877-1943 was the most famous cantor during the interbellum period; known as the "JEwish Caruso," he often gave concerts of secular music.

The development of religious music in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries was stimulated by the creation of many large synagogues, e.g. the Large Synagogue on Tłomackie Street in Warsaw (built in 1878, destroyed during World War II and never reconstructed) which allowed for organ accompaniment. Its choir was directed by David Ajzensztadt (1892-1942). Chassidic music, located on the borderline between sacred and the secular, and integrally connected with dance, was only rarely notated or transcribed, and its creators were mostly anonymous. Jewish folk music absorbed influences from many national traditions, including the Polish one. Klezmer ensembles performed at Polish weddings, in Polish inns, occasionally at courts. Among the many klezmer poets who improvised their texts and music, Mordechai Gebirtig (1877-1942) is the most famous. Instrumental ensembles of klezmer musicians were active in Poland since the sixteenth century. The musicians did not have formal training, did not know musical notation, but delighted with their originality. Józef Michał Guzikow (1806-1837) was a virtuoso on the "straw harmonica" (the predecessor of the xylophone), known in all of Europe he was heard by Lipiński, Chopin, Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, Liszt, Sand, and Lamartine. Considering himself a Polish Jew, he improvised many fantasias on Polish themes, he played mazurkas, polonaises, as well as Jewish, Byelorussian, and Polish folk songs.

In 1805, Jozef Elsner wrote for the Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung that "Jewish musicians play the polonaise in such an exquisite Polish spirit that no-one can be their equal." Polish Jews valued music very highly and developed various forms of music making for their community. They also participated in Polish musical life, for example staffing the orchestras, or funding their creation (e.g. Aleksander Reichman, the founder of the Warsaw Philharmonic). This orchestra saw the beginnings of the international careers of Paweł Kochański (violinist), Gregory Piatigorski (cellist), and Grzegorz Fitelberg (conductor). Orchestral musicians included the families of Szulc, Ginsburg, and Szpilman, most of whom perished in the Holocaust. Many world-famous musicians had roots in Polish Jewry: Paul Klecki (conductor), Artur Rubinstein (pianist), Bronisław Huberman, Henryk Szeryng, and Ida Handel (violinists), Wanda Landowska (harpsichordist), and others. Polish composers of Jewish descent active in the 19th century include Henryk Wieniawski (1835-1888), whose father, Tobiasz Pietruszka, converted to Catholicism. Ludwik Grossman (1835-1915) was known for his operas, his pianos (he owned a factory), and his musical salon in Warsaw. Adolf Sonnenfeld (1837-1914) composed operettas, ballets, and popular dances. The latter was the primary domain of Leopold Lewandowski (1831-1896), violinist, composer and conductor, who penned over 300 popular Polish dances. In the 20th century there were many important composers of Jewish descent: Józef Koffler (1896-1944), Karol Rathaus (1891-1954), Szymon Laks (1901-1983), and Aleksander Tansman (1897-1986). Numerous musicologists (Józef Reiss, Zofia Lissa, Mateusz Gliński) created the foundations for this discipline in Poland. Between the wars, the Polish "music industry" was dominated by composers of Jewish descent: Henryk Gold, Jerzy Petersburski, Henryk Wars, etc. The composer of the beloved war-anthem "Czerwone maki na Monte Cassino" [Red Poppies on Monte Cassino] was Artur Schlitz. Despite the destruction of the Jewish community in Poland during World War II, the music of the many Polish Jews is a testimony of the existence and vitality of Jewish musical culture that had flourished in Poland.

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Maciej Goł±b: "Koffler—the First Polish Composer of Twelve-Tone Music"

Controversies that still characterize the reception of the works of Józef Koffler, the most important Polish composer of the first half of the 20th century after Szymanowski, are the result of strong tensions between the different components of his musical aesthetics. From the diachronical point of view, the evolution of Koffler's dynamic but unlimited style moved from interests in Polish music folklore and early European examples of serialism to attempting to implement the doctrine of social realism which was unprecedented in the Polish musical tradition.. Simultaneously, Koffler's earlier folklorism was fused with experiences of the European avant-garde. Koffler's dodecaphony incorporates neoclassical features of texture and form (of French as well as German provenance), and his last realizations of social realism are not deprived of individual artistic ambitions under conditions that radically reduced them of means of expression.

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Hankus Netsky: "Three Twentieth-Century Jewish Musicians from Poland: Frydman, Rosner, and Bazyler"

Although it was never the heartland of Jewish dance music, Poland was the birthplace of a large number of skilled and influential klezmorim. In this account of lives of three dance musicians who came from professional Jewish musical families in Poland in the early twentieth century, Netsky's paper reveals the musical interactions between Jewish and Polish cultures before World War II. Carl Frydman (born near Częstochowa around 1920, died in Boston, 1979), immigrated to the U.S. in 1935. In Poland he "performed Jewish operettas, Hassidic melodies, and Jewish dance tunes of all types," but this repertoire was foreign to Bostonian Jews of Ukrainian descent. Accordionist-singer Leo Rosner (b. 1918 in Kraków, Poland) came from a family of musicians and survived the war thanks to Schindler. In 1949 he emigrated to Melbourne, Australia and was established in a large Jewish community there, dedicating his life to klezmer traditions. His repertoire included Rumanian and Hungarian tunes which were not popular in Australia; in contrast the Hassidic and Zionist songs remained current. Of interest was also the striking popularity of the tango and fox-trot among the expatriate community who considered "klezmer" melodies as "Russian" in origin. Ben Bazyler, born in Warsaw in 1922, performed on percussion with his uncle's ensemble of "Kalushiner Klezmorim;" their international repertoire ranged from tangos, through mazurkas to Jewish melodies. Deported to Siberia in 1941, Bazyler lived in Tashkent since 1947, returned to Poland in 1957, and emigrated to the U.S. in 1964 where continued to earn a living as a musician. Netsky pays special attention to the way the Polish origins and adopted homes of these musicians influenced their careers. [Maja Trochimczyk]

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Martin Schüssler: "'Karol Rathaus—An American Composer of Polish Origin:' The Development of an Americanized View of Rathaus and its Consequences for the Reception of His Music"

The first biographer of Karol Rathaus considers the question "Is Karol Rathaus, a Polish, Jewish, or American composer?" by referring to a variety of biographical material, especially Rathaus's letters to his friends and selected aspects of his career. He studied in Vienna, emigrated to Berlin in 1926, to France in 1932 (to avoid the Nazis), and to the U.s. in 1940. His artistic identity was influenced by the struggle for economic survival reflected in the shift of main area of activities from concert to film music. He found it difficult to adjust to his new countries (Austria, Germany, France, U.S.) and during his American years, while teaching at Queens College, became resigned to composing only "occasional" and insignificant pieces, without attempting to promote his earlier more experimental and far more successful works. In this phase of his life, Rathaus was a member of the Polish Institute of Arts and Sciences, wrote pieces on Polish themes, and participated in numerous charitable activities on behalf of Poland. Nonetheless, Rathaus's most creative and original compositions date from 1920s and belong to the modern style called Entartete Musik by the Nazis; yet due to his perception as an "American composer of Polish origin" his work was forgotten and neglected. [Maja Trochimczyk]

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Bret Werb: "Majufes: A Vestige of Jewish Traditional Song in Polish Popular Entertainments"

"Mayufes" an article in Polin (v. 10) by Chone Shmeruk, tells the story of a musical phenomenon that is uniquely Polish-Jewish. Yet the Polin article lacks musical examples of any kind. In this article Mr. Werb attempts to supplement Shmeruk's literary survey with examples of notated or recorded music, providing a history of the "Majufes" melody, originating in religious service ("Mah Yafit" melody), but transformed into a caricature of musical "Jewishness." While originally used as a parody to entertain some of the less enlightened members of the Polish nobility, the "majufes" acquired an independent place in Jewish culture because of its presence in the repertoire of Jewish musicians, who used it to ridicule the rural, non-educated Jews for the sake of urban, sophisticated Jewish audiences. Cultural parallels to this practice include the "blackface" performances of African Americans. The majufes tradition is also present in Polish popular culture, taking such forms as "polka-szabasówka" in the repertoire of urban folk ensembles, wood sculptures of Jewish folk musicians sold in tourist stores and a fashion for providing new varieties of vodka with "Jewish" names, such as Cymes, Jankiel, or Rachela. [Maja Trochimczyk]

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Copyright 2003 by the Polish Music Journal.
Editors: Maja Trochimczyk and Linda Schubert.
Design: Maja Trochimczyk & Marcin Depinski.
Editorial Assistance: Krysta Close.
Comments and inquiries by e-mail: polmusic@email.usc.edu