Stories of Music
Unit 7

Giants of 20th Century Art Music
Giants of 20th Century Art Music

Since the emergence of Jewish art music in the first decades of the twentieth century, composers, critics, musicians, and listeners of many stripes have struggled with—and argued about—how to define Jewish identity and what it means. For composers, the question of Jewish identity can be a vexing issue that intersects with larger questions about Jews and society more generally.

What does it mean to be a Jew in the world? How do one’s experiences as part of a religious and ethnic group influence one’s identity? How does that identity influence one’s approach to making music?

This lesson explores the music of two prominent Jewish composers who had very different American and Jewish experiences: Ernest Bloch and Leonard Bernstein.

Factors Explored and Questions Asked
Factors Explored and Questions Asked

Learners will explore how self-identified Jewish classical composers like Bloch & Bernstein used their particular Jewish cultural background in relation to universal human questions in their musical works.

Learners will be asked to consider questions such as:

  • How did the time and place in which Bloch and Bernstein lived influence the way in which they approached music from a Jewish perspective?
  • How does music with Jewish content/themes still speak in “a universal language?”
  • How might Bernstein & Bloch have thought differently about this?
  • To what extent do a composer’s ideas about Jewish music represent their own view versus the view of the society in which they live?
    What does it mean for Jews to be a light unto the nations? Does this relate, in any way, to Jews as creators of American music and culture?