Jewish Identity and Creativity: A Symposium and Concert | The Arizona Center for Judaic Studies

Jewish Identity and Creativity: A Symposium and Concert


Mon, 01/12/2015 - 15:00

The second Shaol and Louis Pozez Jewish Fine Arts Symposium will explore the lives and music of European composers of Jewish descent who lived and created their works in a mostly Christian society. Although some of these composers, such as Felix Mendelssohn and Gustav Mahler, converted to Christianity, they all still expressed their Jewishness either in their music or in their lifestyles and ethics. Mendelssohn displayed the intellectual and enlightening personal qualities following in the footsteps of his grandfather, the German philosopher and writer Moses Mendelssohn. He was a brilliant teacher who introduced J.S. Bach’s great choral masterpieces to a wider audience. Mahler is certainly to be included among the most ambitious and accomplished of symphonic composers, and several of his symphonies reflect Jewish cultural influences.  He grew up surrounded by the Yiddish language and Klezmer music, and his memories of childhood in a Jewish community played an important role in his creativity.

Three modern composers — Arnold Schoenberg, Ernest Bloch and the Polish-Soviet composer Mieczysław Weinberg — are also of particular interest in that their work continued to manifest their Jewish roots in spite of the horrendous vicissitudes they faced during the Holocaust. In the twentieth century European Jewish communities faced painful existential questions. Entire Jewish communities perished along with their accumulated cultural material: folk songs, dances and literature. Hitler displayed the works of Jewish artists at the “Degenerative Art” exhibition in Germany. Bloch and Schoenberg immigrated to the US where they were able to continue teaching and composing. Weinberg fled to the Soviet Union where he remained productive in many music genres despite Stalin’s anti-Semitic policies and the later Soviet governments’ general distaste and reluctance to perform the music of Jewish composers. 

The music of these composers testifies that a living and breathing Jewish heritage has carried over powerfully into the 21st century. Today’s Jewish composers freely express their connections with their ethnic roots while also experimenting with modern techniques. They derive inspiration from liturgical sources and folk traditions. This year’s Pozez Fine Arts Symposium and Concert will explore the vitality and survival of Jewish themes and features in the works of these great artists.


The Symposium will be held from 3pm-6pm in the Music Building Room 146. 

The Presenters and Titles: 

Matthew Mugmon Ph.D."Jewish or American? Ernest Bloch and His Rhapsodies"

After living in both France and Germany, the Swiss-born composer Ernest Bloch (1880–1959) moved to the United States in 1916 and became an American citizen in 1924. Despite his decidedly transnational profile, scholars have shown that it was his reputation as the leading Jewish musical figure of the early 20th century — a reputation cemented by works such as the Three Jewish Poems (1913) and Israel (1912–1916) — that stood in greatest tension with his status as an American composer. This talk introduces Bloch and his music by exploring this tension, with a special focus on the music and reception of two of his most important works, both of which he called rhapsodies: Schelomo (1915–1916, subtitled “Rhapsodie hébraïque pour violoncello solo et grand orchestre”), whose title overtly references Jewish culture and history, and America: An Epic Rhapsody (1926), which Bloch composed in celebration of his new home.

Jay Rosenblatt Ph.D., “Franz Liszt: His Jewish Colleagues and Students.”

In an age of overt anti-semitism, Liszt maintained cordial relations with many Jewish musicians. He showed none of the disturbing tendencies of friends such as Richard Wagner and students such as Hans von Bülow. For this presentation, I will provide examples of the way he interacted with his Jewish colleagues and promoted the careers of his Jewish students, and I will also discuss the unfortuante controversy surrounding his book, "The Gypsies and their Music."

Thomas Kovach Ph.D., “Three Jewish(?) Composers: Mendelsohn, Mahler, and Schoenberg”

In his presentation, Prof. Kovach will examine the complexities of defining Jewish identity, especially in nineteenth and early twentieth-century Europe, and consider how Jewish identity influenced the creative output even of those who converted to Christianity. At the same time, the differences between the three composers will be examined — one who was baptized as a child and was by all accounts sincere in his Christian faith (Mendelssohn), another who converted largely for pragmatic reasons and was ambivalent about his identity (Mahler), and one who converted initially out of conviction, but then re-embraced his Jewish identity with the rise of Nazism and composed a number of pieces on Jewish themes (Schoenberg). 

Alexander Tentser Ph.D., Mieczyslaw Weinberg: Testament to Endurance

The twentieth century was a time of great achievement but also of great disaster. It produced two totalitarian dictators, Hitler and Stalin, who suspiciously eyed each other’s conquests, made a shameless non-aggression pact, and finally clashed in a fateful struggle that was to determine post-war world development. The composer Mieczyslaw Weinberg, born in Warsaw and raised in Poland, escaped from the Holocaust to the Soviet Union only to eventually find himself in the precarious position of being arrested as a “ foreign agent.” His fate is a unique and poignant example of the Jewish artist trapped between two evil ideologies. He was nevertheless able to remain fertile and prolific during his life. His enormous output—including 22 symphonies, 17 string quartets, 7 operas, 23 instrumental sonatas, numerous film soundtracks and even incidental circus music—is a testament to human endurance and persistence against all odds. The time finally has come to reevaluate his work and give appropriate acknowledgment to this magnificent Jewish artist.

Louis Epstein, Ph.D., "Inventing a Jewish Composer: The Reception of Darius Milhaud"

“I am a Frenchman from Provence of the Jewish religion.” So begins composer Darius Milhaud’s autobiography, which he began writing in exile on August 25, 1944, the day Allied forces liberated Paris. Prior to his emigration to California in 1940, Milhaud had rarely commented on his Jewish heritage in published writing. Similarly, his compositional style reflected a preoccupation with cosmopolitanism and “Frenchness” more than any engagement with Jewish musical tropes. Yet scholars have generally embraced the composer’s self-identification uncritically, working to identify distinct Jewish, Provencal, and French strands in music from throughout his career. By analyzing Milhaud's writings and several pieces, I argue that the complex, sometimes contradictory nature of the composer’s treatment of Judaism and Jewish identity offers an opportunity to reevaluate conceptions of Jewishness in music and in writing about music.

Suggested parking is in Park Ave Garage on the North East corner of Park Ave and Speedway Blvd.

The Concert will be held in Holsclaw Hall at 7pm.

Amit Peled