This book is a study of Jewish identities in professional “art” music, with an emphasis on their complex, often conflicting, nature, something much ignored in essentialist studies of identity. This chapter argues against essentialist assumptions of Jewish identity and introduces the protagonists of this book, who also had multiple identities. Their Jewish ethnicity was certainly an important component of their identity, but what being a Jew meant, both in international modernism and in Jewish culture, varied a great deal. Examining these composers in the contexts of emerging Jewish nationalism, quickly spreading racial theories, and utopian tendencies in modernist art and twentieth-century politics reveals a trajectory that leads from paradigmatic nationalist techniques, such as the reliance on traditional Jewish music through assumptions about the unintended presence of racial essences, to an abstract notion of Judaism which ultimately leads to utopian visions of purity.
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