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Course Catalog

ZOOM: More from the Promiscuous World of Jewish Music   

**This class will be taught On Zoom**

This course leads the audience through little known themes of Jewish music in the world, exploring why the music at Jewish weddings were such sombre affairs where the bride had to cry before her betrothal, and the synthesis of, and differences between "Gypsy" and Jewish music. It details the unique case of a 19th century traveling Hassidic musician who wowed the classical world with his homemade instrument, and analyses the only surviving pre-war Yiddish opera through a discussion as to whether we should be ashamed or proud of it. Then, the sordid underbelly of Jewish superstitions is explored through the story of the demon Lilith and connects forbidden Jewish magical practices with the hidden symbolism used by all of the classical composers. Finally, we end the lectures with an instrument that practically defined klezmer music, only to fade into obscurity following its fascinating adventures into all of the other east European folk traditions. All of the lectures feature imagery, music and videos, followed by a lively Q & A.

Week 1. Cry, Baby, Cry!  The Lost Art of Making Brides Cry and Doinas, God and the Lost Jews

For centuries, Jewish weddings in Eastern Europe featured the unique folk art of the badkhn (Jewish wedding master of ceremonies), whose improvised delivery was accompanied by musical interludes. Poorly documented and little studied, this folk tradition, part liturgical, part comedic, remains a crucial key to understanding Ashkenazi Jewish culture and music. Joshua Horowitz will play historical recordings and show various types of Badkhones, showing how the music for them formed the central building block of the klezmer musical system. In part Josh will elucidate the Romanian Shepherd's Song, which has served as a metaphor for diaspora Jews since as early as the 18th century. The "Doina" found its way into the Jewish liturgy, wedding, klezmer dance repertoire and even Yiddish songs, giving rise to an entire body of tunes still performed today. Josh will show the development of the Doina, how it operates musically and how it formed tunes spanning old Ukrainian Kolomeykes to the Pop Songs of the golden age of Yiddish.

 

Week 2. A Stolen Chicken Tastes Best, and other Clichés of Jews, Gypsies and Mythical Beasts

The Gypsy-Klezmer musical connection has been accepted as fact since the early days of the "Klezmer Revival," giving rise to sometimes bizarre musical incarnations. Josh looks at the historical connections from past centuries as well as modern convulsions of the Gypsy-Jewish relationship of the past 33 years with a self-critical examination of the cyclical mythical beast that continues to both charm and elude us, applying the Gypsy saying, "there are false truths and honest lies" to the relationship between Gypsy and Jewish music. Disclaimer: The term "Gypsy" is used here in its historical context.

 

Week 3. The Jew Who Fooled the World: 

The Real Story of Guzikov, The Wood and Straw Man

Okay, so there was this guy named Guzikov, hailed by almost every musicologist as the “first klezmer to make it big” in Europe playing his primitive xylophone. Why was Fanny Mendelssohn skeptical about him? Could he really not read music? Did he actually die with his instrument in his hands? And by the way, how in heaven’s name could a Hassidic Jew in the 1830s rub elbows with the nobility and become rich and famous when composers like Mendelssohn had to convert to Protestantism to gain the same entry? Some 300 new documents have been dug up recently, through which Josh will reveal the shocking 19th century “myth lab” that has duped every musicologist since Fetís, answering such questions as “Why were most of Guzikov’s successors under 4 feet 10 inches tall, and did European women really don peyes as a fashion statement after his Paris concerts?

 

Week 4. Bas-Sheve: Is It the worst masterpiece you may ever love?

The 1924 Opera, Bas-Sheve (Bathsheba) by Henekh Kon was hailed as the only surviving Yiddish opera masterpiece composed on pre-war European soil. Josh Horowitz composed the 6 missing scenes (to Michael Wex’s text “reconstruction”) from the manuscript and orchestrated the score for the 2019 world premiere in Weimar, Lodz and Toronto. This lecture takes a deep dive into how the score reconstruction and orchestration was approached, accompanied by a merciless analysis of Kon’s work. Josh compares the opera and the techniques of score reconstruction to that of other composers and lays bare Kon’s method and compositional skills, while taking the question head-on as to whether a double standard is applied to Yiddish music when we speak about musical quality. There will be a plethora of compositional tricks of the trade laid bare, including the first ever break-down of the technique of creating multi-voice canons with uneven entrances yet to be found in counterpoint books (composers beware). Leave your politically correct gloves at the door please; this is a no-holds-barred zone.

 

Week 5. Lilith is Alive! Sex, Music, Magic and Weird Jewish Stuff

In 2014 Josh composed a Choral Mystery Folk Opera on the story of Lilith, the Jewish demon who is still believed to roam the earth in search of men to seduce in their sleep and babies to kill. In some of the performances, feminists and moralists stormed out, while anarchists cracked up, and atheists cried their eyes out. In this presentation, Josh lays out the secret magical practices used in Judaism and in classical music to manipulate the unsuspecting into the outer realms of consciousness, using this opera as a vehicle to lay bare the arcane techniques. Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Bartok - you name it, they all did it - symbols, magic, numerology and witchcraft abound in their works. Be prepared to experience the underbelly of the dark arts of music and Judaism all in one.

 

Week 6. The Idiot and the Tsimbl

The tsimbl (trapeziform hammered dulcimer) formed the sonic backbone of many klezmer ensembles as early as the 16th Century and was ubiquitous enough to have generated the Ashkenazi family name “Zimbalist.” It generated reams of engraved icons with Jews, Gypsies, cherubs, skeletons, tramps and thieves and even led to the emergence of the xylophone in the classical orchestra via the mysterious "Wood and Straw" man. The lore surrounding the instrument is full of references to the wandering Jew and the instrument itself has alternated as a symbol of both poverty and wealth, Jew and Gentile alike. Join Josh in a colorful lecture to find out why Poles still say, "Ty cymbaly!" (you idiot) and what caused an instrument so common for hundreds of years to fall from grace and almost disappear from modern consciousness.

 

This class is not available at this time.