Without music, would we even be Jewish?

Without music, would we even be Jewish?


norman lebrecht

March 01, 2014

A week tomorrow sees the launch of my BBC Radio 3 series, Music and the Jews.

I have written a long essay in today’s Guardian, covering some of the background, and a shorter one in the new Standpoint, dealing with some of the arguments as to what, exactly, might be considered Jewish in music.

Avoiding futile, sectarian debate over ‘Jewish music’, I examine two simple issues: how music shaped Jewish identity, how Jews shaped the world’s music.

Read the Guardian here and Standpoint here.

There are still a few tickets available for my Jewish Book Week session tomorrow, Music and Jews under the Nazis.

The Radio 3 microsite is here. The series goes live on March 9 at 1845 London time.


Now, I’ve heard there was a secret chord….


  • Rich says:

    So Norman you are Jewish AND from North London. You must a Spurs supporter !!!

    I’m a Spurs fan (which is what say here in America as opposed to ‘supporter’) also.

    I hope to make it to White Hart Lane this fall for the first time!

  • nyer says:

    Is that Leonard Cohen? And what’s the connection?

  • Tamsin Lewis says:

    This is wonderful!

    In saying that there was little Jewish music before 1820, it’s worth mentioning the influence of Jewish families of musicians on 16th and 17th Century England. Italian Jewish musicians like the Bassanos and Lupos, brought to England by Henry VIII, remained at the centre of English music making for more than a century, and were influential in introducing new instruments (like the violin) to England.

  • Michael says:

    Salomone Rossi…

  • Will Durant summed it up very well when he said that to be on the safe side of not offending one religious law or another or its implication, the only two safe activities for Jewish artistic expression were music and architecture. Which would make someone like Xenakis the epitome of Jewishness, from the point of view of self-expression. And in Xenakis’s case, there was even a preference for discouraging depictions of himself.