Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
The Most Musical Nation

The Most Musical Nation: Jews and Culture in the Late Russian Empire

James Loeffler
Copyright Date: 2010
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 256
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    The Most Musical Nation
    Book Description:

    Drawing on a mass of unpublished writings and archival sources from prerevolutionary Russian conservatories, this book offers an insightful account of the Jewish search for a modern identity in Russia through music, rather than politics or religion.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-16294-3
    Subjects: Music

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. viii-xi)
  4. A Note on Transliterations and Dates
    (pp. xii-xii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-14)

    Every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon in the spring of 1904, the legendary violin teacher Leopold Auer strolled through the heavy double doors to his studio on the third floor of the St. Petersburg Conservatory. There each time he found the students of his advanced violin class eagerly assembled in anticipation of his arrival. Among the young pupils clamoring for his attention were Mischa Elman, Efrem Zimbalist, Joseph Achron, and a host of other Jewish prodigies from the Pale of Settlement. Still years shy of adulthood, many of these Jewish musicians had already begun to attract wide notice as the preeminent...

  6. CHAPTER 1 Emancipating Sounds: Anton Rubinstein and the Rise of the Russian Jewish Musician
    (pp. 15-55)

    With these clever, ironic words, written at the end of his life, the nineteenth-century musician Anton Rubinstein fashioned his own bitter and honest epitaph.¹ But the tight symmetry of Rubinstein’s phrases only begins to hint at the jumbled assortment of epithets and accolades that he earned throughout his six-decade artistic career. A prolific composer, born in the Pale of Settlement and trained in Moscow and Berlin, he published hundreds of compositions ranging from popular piano works to symphonies to operas. As the founding father of the St. Petersburg Conservatory and the Imperial Russian Music Society in the late 1850s and...

  7. CHAPTER 2 National Voices, Imperial Echoes: Joel Engel and the Russian Jewish Musical Fin de Siècle
    (pp. 56-93)

    In 1891 the Russian Jewish historian Simon Dubnow published an essay in the St. Petersburg Jewish journalVoskhod(Dawn) entitled “On the Study of the History of the Russian Jews and the Creation of a Russian-Jewish Historical Society.” Arguing passionately for the need for historical and ethnographic research on Russian Jewry, Dubnow called on his fellow Jewish intellectuals to collect historical and cultural documents of all kinds. Dubnow’s list of potential materials, “the most essential and worthy sources for the history of Polish-Russian Jews,” was detailed and exhaustive: Rabbinic writings, Russian and Polish law codes, documents from the Russian Imperial...

  8. CHAPTER 3 The Most Musical Nation: The Birth of the Society for Jewish Folk Music
    (pp. 94-133)

    In Isaac Babel’s 1931 short story, “Awakening,” the narrator recalls the obsession with music among the middle-class Jewish parents in Odessa at the turn of the twentieth century: “All the folk in our circle—brokers, shopkeepers, clerks in banks and steamship offices—used to have their children taught music. Our fathers, seeing no other escape from their lot, had thought up a lottery, building it on the bones of little children. Odessa more than other towns was seized by this craze. And in fact, in the course of ten years or so our town supplied the concert platforms of the...

  9. CHAPTER 4 Frozen Folk Songs: Modern Jewish Culture between Art and Commerce
    (pp. 134-172)

    In 1871 a music collection entitledKanaf renanim oder zeks folkslider(Songbird, or Six Folk Songs) appeared in print for the first time in Vilnius. Its author, a veteran Jewish folk artist named Peysakh-Eliyahu Badkhn, took the unusual tack of opening his work with a dialogue between himself and his creations. In the book’s preface, Badkhn speaks directly to his creations, encouraging them to leave their nest: “Many years have already passed since you were born. You’ve been well-liked, and now the time has come to go be seen by the masses. Get thee out into the world!” The personified...

  10. CHAPTER 5 The Neighbors’ Melodies: The Politics of Music in War and Revolution
    (pp. 173-209)

    It is rare for an academic scholar to retract his work, rarer still for him to apologize publicly for a mistake. Yet this is precisely what occurred in April 1914 at the annual meeting of the Society for Jewish Folk Music in St. Petersburg. After the standard slate of introductory speeches and a concert performance of new works, the remainder of the evening was devoted to an unprecedented spectacle: a public mea culpa from the leading Russian music historian of the day, Liberio Sacchetti (1852–1916) of the St. Petersburg Conservatory.

    In his talk Sacchetti acknowledged what everyone present undoubtedly...

  11. Conclusion
    (pp. 210-220)

    At the height of World War I, Mikhail Gnesin published an editorial entitled “Antisemitism and Music” in a Rostov-on-Don newspaper. In this 1916 commentary, he discussed a recent flare-up of the perennial question, why were there so many Jews in Russian music? Antisemites continued to denounce Jewish musicians as a crude swarm of “Asiatic” opportunists subverting European music with their artless commercial virtuosity and Eastern “exoticism.” Meanwhile, philosemites reached opposite yet still disturbing conclusions. The critic Leonid Sabaneev, for instance, had written that modern musical history proved no race to be more musically gifted than the Jews. Far from being...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 221-244)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 245-262)
  14. Index
    (pp. 263-274)