Music and the Jews: so, how’s business?

Music and the Jews: so, how’s business?


norman lebrecht

March 21, 2014

In the third programme in my Radio 3 series, we look at the cultural action of Jews with western music after the Napoleonic empancipation.

Until the late 1820s, no Jew penetrated the musical mainstream. When Jews finally broke through, there was a driving incentive to change the civilisation that had excluded them for so many centuries. An Israeli composer argues: Wagner was right – the Jews are different.

And then there was business. Jews constituted a considerable part of the new concert and opera audience in Vienna, Berlin and Paris. They became music publishers, impresarios, agents. They founded a large part of the music business.

Later, in America, they invented popular music.





Want to know how? Was it necessarily so?

It’s all in Music and the Jews, this Sunday, 6.45 pm on BBC Radio 3 and online. Link here.

The second programme is reviewed here.


  • steve says:

    Spurred on by this series one might hope that the BBC programme the Moszkowski piano concerto no.2 at either the Proms or Barbican. It’s unfortunate that his music has fallen into such neglect. During his lifetime, Moszkowski enjoyed considerable success.

  • Joel Cohen says:

    Did Jewish musicians influence — transform American popular music? Most certainly. Did they INVENT it? Well, did Bach invent the fugue? Did Napoleon invent funny hats?

  • David Boxwell says:

    Superb final episode. Now I know what “Das Lied Von Der Erde” and “Fascinating Rhythm” have in common!

  • Anonymus says:

    The 19th century Jewish integration into the European cultural mainstream was correlated with the fruition of the enlightenment ideas and increasing secularization of societies. Which opened the doors for assimilation of the Jews into their actual host nations. Which in turn outraged the hardliners and anti-assimilation fraction, which in turn replied with the secular Zionist ideology.

    The possibilities of assimilation encouraged the Jewish mainstream, education and cultural refinement were considered assets to bridge the gap and “make it” into the society despite the “Kain’s scar” of their Jewish identities in societies that were still dominated by Christian mainstream. Thus many of them excelled in music and the arts, in science as well. That intellectual and cultural “awakening” due to the repercussions of the age of enlightenment has brought fruits of Jewish achievements in science and arts that we still can harvest today. But the future looks less promising, considering that Zionism leads Judaism into increasing isolation again (which is exactly what Zionism wants).

  • How is it possible to engage in meaningful dialogue with the writer of such extreme, not to say inflamatory, views, here and in other threads, who hides behind the name “Anonymus”? Please demonstrate the courage of your convictions, sir or madam, to be considered seriously.