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  • Scott Williamson

Jewish Music in the 20th Century


Bernstein rocking the Mahler t-shirt

This month I'm leading a series of three Adult Education programs at Temple Emanuel on Jewish Music in the 20th c. Tuesday night we started with an overview of Broadway composers beginning with Irving Berlin.

Berlin conducting "God Bless America" with troops in 1942

(Irving Berlin conducting his beloved anthem, "God Bless America" with troops in Long Island in 1942)

We spent time with Jerome Kern and his ground-breaking "book" musical Showboat (with Oscar Hammerstein II).

Sheet music cover for "Ol' Man River" from Show Boat

The Gershwin brothers were next, starting with the Klezmer clarinet opening of Rhapsody in Blue.

Gershwin with his portrait of Schoenberg

(George Gershwin with his portrait of fellow composer-painter, Arnold Schoenberg)

Our quartet of eminent Jewish-American composers concluded with Richard Rodgers, comparing his witty and urbane, soulful and harmonically-rich songs with Lorenz Hart to his more famous partnership with Hammerstein. The sincerity and immediacy of Hammerstein's appealing lyrics with Rodgers most facile melodies made for an unforgettable contribution to the American Songbook. Here's a moving rendition of Carefully Taught, their passionate song (from South Pacific) addressing social justice, prejudice and its consequences.

Merkin's portrait of Rodgers (at piano) and Hart

Oct 9 at 7 pm we will explore Jewish music and the Third Reich. We'll look at successful Jewish musicians in the century leading up to the 1930's and then turn to the infamous "Degenerate Music" (Entartete Musik) exhibition which "outted" Jewish and other minority composers, assigning them to the blacklist, exile or death.

We will look at Terezin (Theresienstadt), the camp outside of Prague where musicians and artists were allowed to be creative. Their talents were then put on display in an act of appeasing propaganda for the International Red Cross.

We'll close the session by focusing on a composer whose life in exile was as prodigious as his early years of success in Berlin. Kurt Weill wrote one of the most popular songs in the world with "Mack the Knife" (from The Threepenny Opera) before his exile to Paris and the USA, where he was even more prolific.

Oct 16 at 7 pm we will celebrate the centennial of America's greatest classical musician, Leonard Bernstein. We'll pay special attention to Jewish themes in his music, from the Shofar calls which open works like West Side Story and Candide to the Jeremiah and Kaddish symphonies, among other works, both familiar and under-appreciated.

These programs are free and open to the public. Please feel free to join us at Temple Emanuel either / both of the next two Tuesdays.


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