History, Evolution, and The Darwin Debate

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Booknotes: Forbidden music

July 13th, 2014 · 2 Comments


This is another pitiful side effect of the issues we have discussed in relation to the modern transition and the dominance of Gentiles in the early modern, followed by a resurgence of Jews and often a relative degree of dominance thereafter in the post-transitional period. In every field this early creativity occurred naturally almost without anyone knowing what had happened. With all due respect to the Jiews, this established the universality of the elements of modernity created by equals members in a universal cultural milieu. This happened so fast it was over before the rise of antisemitism of the nineteenth century brand. The exception here was in the realm of music and the mystery remains why music alone was so cursed at the last moment, long after the real phase of musical creativity in the early modern. With Beethoven the early modern musical revolution peaked and was nearly over, but, to a close look: the creative phase of modern music damped out far more slowly than in other fields where, to use the ideas of the macro model, the ‘great divide’ created a drastic cutoff line for the early modern, a rough measure to be sure. In fact the whole explosion of modern music persisted well into the nineteenth century, the typical falloff effect shown in the macro model occurring only in the twentieth century, when the nosedive of creativity in classical music can be seen in the realm of Italian opera, for example, where the late Verdi yields to Puccini thence to nothing. Why did this phenomenon occur? We can see the context from the macro effect, given the slightly longer phase of modern music in its classical glory. Noone seems to see this connection. I think Beethoven began to sense something changing, but couldn’t really grasp the issues. Suddenly all the classic melodic strains seemed cliched to him (but I am not too secure in my musical historiography). We see this mood in Wagner becoming stronger. Is there a connection? We don’t know. The waning of the macro effect in the modern transition has nothing to do with musical issues as specifics.
In any case, with the late character of the modern musical ‘transition’, the intersection of the two with the sudden expansion of antisemitism, in Germany, reflected in Wagner shows a tragedy in the making, and a puzzle that is hard to unravel. Why did people who were so preeminent in music become condemned to paranoia next to the Jews? It makes no sense. But conceivably a sense of the waning of the musical transition got confused in some people’s minds with rise of Jewish culture.
What a hopeless and sad situation.
So I would caution against false explanations here. Which doesn’t mean we have the right explanations. The source of nineteenth century antisemitism in Germany is still an obscure question.
But we can zone the problem of music at least, roughly, if we consider the following quote: after two centuries of musical explosion (which started in sixteenth century Italy, it seems), we suddenly find people praising Jewish musical genius (somewhat arrogantly, as with Disraeli). What had happened? Name the great Jewish composers, please, once again. Very few. But clearly, something else was afoot. In fact we have explained this several times in our account of the aftermath of the macro effect. Gentile genius fades out, as Jewish expertise and relative domination moves into the vacuum. So it would appear that the surge of prejudice is related to a sense of miscalculation (the musical transition was already fading, and this had nothing to do with Jews) as a paranoid causality was seen the effect of post-transition as Gentiles went into antisemitic shock.
I think this is dangerous terrain as to sociological explanation. The question of the macro effect is unknown to most students here but provides a partial clue. But not the whole picture, which is far outside of the early modern. The question of late Jewish dominance is however transparent, as we have explained many times: the waning of Gentile genius yields to Jewish technical expertise. A few differential points of IQ will show five Jewish violin players for one among Gentiles. Problem solved. But this has nothing to do with the appearance of the ‘modern musical transition’, in which Germans were so preeminent.

What began as an Enlightened cultural ideal grew by mid-century into a distinctive social pattern for European Jews. In 1844, three years before Felix Mendelssohn’s death, Benjamin Disraeli playfully noted the omnipresence of Jews in European musical life in his novel Coningsby:

Were I to enter into the history of the lords of melody, you would find it the annals of Hebrew genius. But at this moment even, musical Europe is ours. There is not a company of singers, not an orchestra in a single capital, that is not crowded with our children under the feigned names which they adopt to conciliate the dark aversion which your posterity will some day disclaim with shame and disgust. Almost every great composer, skilled musician, almost every voice that ravishes you with its transporting strains, springs from our tribes. The catalogue is too vast to enumerate; too illustrious to dwell for a moment on secondary names, however eminent. Enough for us that the three great creative minds to whose exquisite inventions all nations at this moment yield, Rossini, Meyerbeer, Mendelssohn, are of Hebrew race; and little do your men of fashion, your muscadins of Paris, and your dandies of London, as they thrill into raptures at the notes of a Pasta or a Grisi, little do they suspect that they are offering their homage “to the sweet singers of Israel!”

Disraeli’s proud Romantic tribute to Jewish genius contained more than a hint of hyperbole. (For starters, Rossini was not a Jew.) But for all of its sentimental talk of a “Hebrew race,” its cultural logic belonged firmly to the same Enlightenment ethos that inspired the Mendelssohn clan’s devotion to music. In the eyes of Disraeli, the Jewish musical triumph was a humorous rebuff to lingering Christian religious prejudices. The spectacle of Jewish musical talent testified to civilization’s progress. This humane achievement is precisely what Wagner took aim at, six years later, in his commentary on the oversized Jewish presence
in European music.

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