Friday, February 06, 2009

Beethoven's Jewish Side

MUSICAL NOTE by Cantor Sherwood Goffin

When the first Reform temple in Vienna, the Seitstettengasse Synagogue, was about to be dedicated, the trustees in 1824 asked Beethoven to write a cantata for the dedication. Ludwig eventually declined to do so, but it seems that he did spend some time studying Jewish traditional music. Added to the fact that he was dating a Jewish woman at that time (which was eventually stopped by her parents), Beethoven must have absorbed a goodly amount of Jewish music. So much so, that shortly afterwards, his String Quartet in C-Sharp Minor. no.XIV, op. 131, was written and performed in Berlin. In its Adagio Movement there are the unmistakable strains of Kol Nidre! I have listened to it many times and I am convinced - as was the great music expert, Emil Breslaur- that this was a direct result (in part) of his dual association with the young lady, and primarily because of the original invitation proffered to him by the Jewish Community of Berlin.


© 2008 Sherwood Goffin and LSS

Updated: city and year. 20F08


Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

Then of course there is the beautiful and moving Kol Nidrei composed by Max Bruch which is explicitly based upon the traditional Ashkenazic melody for that prayer as well as another Jewish melody with which I am not familiar.

thanbo said...

There's also Prokofiev's "Overture on Hebrew Themes", while we're talking about Jewish-inspired music by non-Jews.

There were Jews who wrote classical-style arrangements of Jewish tunes. Alexandre Krein did some chamber-music arrangements of Chassidic niggunim; I've heard some of the same motifs at Chabad functions.

ViolaGuy said...

This has been proved as pure coincidence. The similarity derives from the fact that both Beethoven's theme and Kol Nidre were derived from ancient Gregorian pneumas.
He was unlikely to have heard anything from his GF for two reasons:
1. He was stone deaf at the time
2. Which girl tries to woo her man by singing him Kol Nidre?
And anyway, there is no evidence that Beethoven gave the commission any serious thought...