“Jewishness” in Music

Jewish Emancipation and Music

The early Christians based the music for their new religion on Jewish liturgical music, but from then to the 19th century we see no more such influences. After the Jewish emancipation at the turn of the 19th century, Jewish composers had a profound effect on Western music which fundamentally changed the course of music history. 

‘Jewishness’ in Classical Music

When Jewish musicians finally entered the world of classical music in the 19th century, they did everything possible NOT to include their “Jewishness” in their music. Interestingly from Handel to Shostakovich, non- Jewish composers, used both Jewish religious themes and musical ideas to enhance their music.

Degenerate Music

One of the Nazis first acts when coming to power in Germany in 1933 was to dismiss Jewish musicians from their employment, be they teachers, performers, composers etc. Then in 1938 the Nazis launched an exhibition called “ Entartete Musik” or Degenerate Music which vilified any music which did not fit the Nazi ideal especially those written by Jewish composers.

Music in the Camps

Music was an integral part of camp life in almost all Nazi concentration camps prior to and during World War II. Yiddish songs were sung in Eastern European camps, classical and Jewish music was performed at Theresienstadt and specific orchestras, like the ‘ Girls Orchestra’ in Auschwitz and the Jazz Big Band in Buchenwald, were established. Why?