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Musical Society

Studying the emergence of a Jewish national music in Imperial Russia

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Joel Engel, at left, with phonograph and an unknown collaborator.(Collection of the Peter the Great Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography (Kunstkamera), Russian Academy of Sciences)

In the early 20th century, a group of Jewish composers including Joel Engel in Moscow and Mikhail Gnesin in St. Petersburg sought to find, record, and preserve the music of the shtetls in the Pale of Settlement. They then used that music as inspiration for their own high art compositions, hoping to create a Jewish national music that would be celebrated across Russia and Europe. In The Most Musical Nation: Jews and Culture in the Late Russian Empire, James Loeffler, a professor of Jewish history at the University of Virginia, tells the story of these musicians and their legacy. (Adam Kirsch’s reviewed The Most Musical Nation here.) Loeffler spoke to Vox Tablet host Sara Ivry about what he discovered while writing this new book.  

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Miriam Hirschfeld says:

Fascinating! Thanks.

phyllis nimkoff says:


Alyssa says:

I love all the stories about the Pale and the shtetls it is very invoking and an important part of our history but as a Jew of both Yeminte and Syrian decent I would really like to see more on the site about the music, writings and experiences of the Mizrahi population. We have such a rich history and culture which is waisting away fast. My grandmother has come to accept that she is the last person she knows that can speak Judeo-Arabic fluently. If we don’t have someone like Engel and Gnesis it will be gone forever.

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Musical Society

Studying the emergence of a Jewish national music in Imperial Russia

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