Get PJ Media on your Apple

Spengler

Simon Schama’s Silly ‘Story of the Jews’

April 23rd, 2014 - 1:36 pm

Simon Schama made his reputation as a cultural historian, and one would expect his new “Story of the Jews” to have something to say on the subject of Jewish culture. His incompetence strains the capacity of the Yiddish language for derogation. He is a yutz. Of the many silly things in his PBS series, the silliest perhaps was the claim that Harold Arlen’s and E.Y. Harburg’s song “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” expressed characteristically Jewish longing for a better world–as if longing for a better world were a distinctively Jewish activity. As far as music and poetry are concerned, Schama hasn’t a clue; the text and voice-leading of the song following long-established, overused conventions for the evocation of nostalgia. These are taught to undergraduates in musical analysis. Schubert and Wagner among many others employed them. (In the context of a review of Wagner’s Siegfried for Tablet magazine, I recorded a brief discussion of the musical examples, embedded below. The review itself analyzes the musical trick in “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”).

I didn’t like anything else about Schama’s presentation, but I can claim professional credentials in this particular matter.

Comments are closed.

All Comments   (14)
All Comments   (14)
Sort: Newest Oldest Top Rated
lol

I watched about 20minutes of Simon Schama, and I wascringeing...then I went back to HGTV, Flipping Houses.

:[)
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
I'm about half way through Paul Johnson's "History of the Jews."

Seems like a fair and insightful accounting to my non-scholarly, Protestant eyes.

What say Spengler?
33 weeks ago
33 weeks ago Link To Comment
sorry but that is his target audience...people who have little experience, knowlege about Jews

Not as awful as Karen Armstrong, but of that genre
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
I went with my brother--we are a couple of old guys-- to see one of Wagner's Ring Trilogy “Ring of the Nibelung” at a local movie theater a couple years ago. The Metropolitan Opera put the full cycle on the big screen for audiences around the country.

I was stunned by what I saw.

I never seen such a terrible terrible damnation of the audience--especially any family in the audience-- as this show presented. Small wonder the Germans were so stiff in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Small wonder they went to hell in two world wars. Wagner told the Germans to go to hell. (With a little added push from Nietzche.)

I only learned later that J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings was written to reverse engineer Wagner's damnation.

The New Yorker Put it this way.

"There is a widespread conception of Wagner’s cycle as a bombastic nationalistic saga in which blond-haired heroes triumph over dwarfish, vaguely Jewish enemies. Wagner unquestionably left himself open to this interpretation, but the “Ring” is not at all what it seems. It is in fact a prolonged assault on the very idea of worldly power, the cult of the monumental—everything that we think of as “Wagnerian.” At the beginning, the god Wotan is looking to expand his realm. But every step he takes to assert himself over the affairs of others, to make his will reality, leads inexorably to his downfall. He is marked from the outset, and the ring becomes a symbol of the corruption of his authority. Tolkien believes in the forces of good, in might for right. Wagner dismisses all that—he had an anarchist streak early on—and sees redemption only in love."
http://www.newyorker.com/archive/2003/12/22/031222crat_atlarge?currentPage=2

These days many see the Chinese as moving into the same box as the Germans did at the beginning of the 20th century. However, unlike Germany at that time which was steadily de-Christionizing--China is steadily Christianizing. Its hard to say as to whether the CPC will wind up treating Christians as they do the Falun Gong. My WAG is they won't because the Russians are talking more and more about Christianity. History doesn't repeat but it does sometimes rhyme.
33 weeks ago
33 weeks ago Link To Comment
and the ring becomes a symbol of the corruption of his authority.
...............
in J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings--the ring is the symbol of evil.
33 weeks ago
33 weeks ago Link To Comment
You go, David. Keep it coming---don't always agree in toto, but your writing is a breath of fresh air. I thought "Over the Rainbow" was, well, kind of supposed to evoke nostalgia; and who cares if they cobbed a transition---what is wrong with the realm of pure fantasy and delight, as long as no one is harmed---but I appreciate your wide learning.
33 weeks ago
33 weeks ago Link To Comment
Worth noting that Alban Berg used the four-note whole-tone scale of "es ist genug" in his sublime violin concerto, written as a requiem for Manon Gropius (daughter of Alma Mahler). Small world, music.
34 weeks ago
34 weeks ago Link To Comment
(My favorite version. except that it makes me heart sick.)
Somewhere over the Rainbow - Israel "IZ" Kamakawiwoʻole
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V1bFr2SWP1I
34 weeks ago
34 weeks ago Link To Comment
34 weeks ago
34 weeks ago Link To Comment
The famous final chorale, "Es ist genung," is striking both for its initial melodic tritone [2] and its unusually chromatic harmonies. The chorale ends the cantata in A major, a fifth higher than it began. As Dürr indicates, its opening phrase is a distortion of the final four tones of the first phrase of "O Ewigkeit," replacing the tone d" by d" sharp, a device that Dürr interprets as "the musical figure of the crossing over [or exceeding] of the realm of life to that of death. This interpretation is certainly correct; it relates to the modulation upward by whole tones (e, f sharp, g sharp) in the preceding recitative, the key of G sharp minor signifying there a tonal extreme, an exceeding of the E major that Bach commonly associates with salvation, and with which the bass gives its answering message of comfort. In fact, the idea of sharp ascent in this cantata is announced in the opening phrase of the first recitative, "O schwerer Gang," which distorts the first four tones of "O Ewigkeit" in just the same manner that "Es ist genung" distorts the last four. The additional sharps make the "schwerer Gang" of course, the way of the cross. Since the direction of transcendence is sharpward, the dissonant D sharp in the final chorale forces the tonality upward to the dominant of A major (third and sixth line endings), enabling the sense of resolution for the final descent to the new tonic on "Es ist genung".
Eric Chafe “Tonal Allegory in the Vocal Music of J.S. Bach”, California University Press, 1991, pp. 194-5
34 weeks ago
34 weeks ago Link To Comment
Yes, but I was writng about Bach's Chorale "Irgendwo Jenseits des Regenbogens."
34 weeks ago
34 weeks ago Link To Comment
I do not need to calculate the trajectory of a fly ball to know the joy of catching it. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

My favorite version on Somewhere Over the Rainbow was recorded by Israel Kamakawiwo'ole of Hawaii. You can still get it on you tube.

I do not want to know much more about it. Life has few simple pleasures.
34 weeks ago
34 weeks ago Link To Comment
Music manipulates your emotions. Don't you want to understand how the trick is done?
34 weeks ago
34 weeks ago Link To Comment
I know how the trick is done. I am a mere hobbyist but I play drums and have since I was 10 years old. That is over 40 years now and never regretted any time spent banging away, even if I will never be a Buddy Rich or a Neal Peart. Of course music manipulates your emotions, if it is done well.

What separates musicians like that from the dilettantes is passion, not so much analysis.



34 weeks ago
34 weeks ago Link To Comment
View All