The Fifteenth World Congress Of Jewish Studies Jerusalem
Special panel (Plenary of Literatures, Languages and Arts Section) In collaboration with the Jewish Music Forum, USA
Assessing Abraham Zvi Idelsohn’s Legacy: Eighty Years after the Publication of Jewish Music in its Historical Development
Respondent: Prof. Edwin Seroussi
Where did Zionist aesthetics come from? For several decades now, this deceptively simple question has fueled academic inquiry and debate regarding the history of cultural Zionism and the formation of Israeli culture. Scholars of Hebrew literature have focused particular attention on the role of literary translation and European models in the aesthetic development of Modern Hebrew culture. This paper proposes to explore what translation and language mean when applied to early models of “Hebrew music.” Specifically, I will examine the writings of Abraham Zvi Idelsohn in the yishuv and elsewhere between 1907 and 1929. Building on my previous work on music, aesthetics, and Jewish nationalism in fin-de-siecle Eastern Europe, I will explore how Idelsohn understood the relationship between European languages, Hebrew translation, and sound in his self-conscious search for an authentic national musical aesthetic. Put differently, how and why did Idelsohn translate German culture—and the German language (“safah kulturit”)—into Hebrew music? How did he decide in which direction Hebrew music should read on the musical stave—left to right or right to left? And what do these semantic choices reveal about Zionism’s relationship to European culture as a whole.