German Jewish Sacred Musical Intersections

"German Jewish Sacred Musical Intersections"

Project duration:
1 July 2019 – 30 June 2022

Associate partner:
Hebrew University of Jerusalem: Prof. Edwin Seroussi, Jewish Music Research Center

This project aims to locate, map, analyze and make accessible to the public German Jewish (Ashkenazi) liturgical music from the early nineteenth century up to World War II and to interpret it in its broad European cultural context. The synagogue is considered not only as a ritual space but also a location for the symbolic public display, through music, of new evolving aesthetic ideals, of Jewish public emotions, of cross-cultural intersections between Jews with the surrounding Christian society, and of marking of communal and regional distinction.

The theoretical underpinning of this project is that a new paradigm of Jewish liturgical music developed in German-speaking communities parallel to the gradual rise of German music as a "universal" language against which other musical nationalisms in Europe defined themselves. Similarly, local synagogue repertoires evolved in conversation with the German-Jewish paradigm as it crystalized since the second quarter of the nineteenth century mainly in Vienna, Berlin and Paris.

Such developments became socially feasible through the development of a network of individual musicians engaging in diverse types of relations (such as teacher-disciple, soloist- chorister, guild membership, etc.) who promoted these new aesthetic ideals of ritual through the publication and distribution of music, the establishment of cantorial schools and associations, as well as the specialized and general Jewish press. In this last respect, we emphasize reception and criticism as an integral component in the consolidation of the narratives that maintained and stimulated musical changes in synagogues during the period and in the areas covered by the proposed project.

To attain our goals we will capitalize on the wealth of unknown or under-researched musical sources found in libraries and archives, notably printed and manuscript scores, archival recordings, private estates of composers, cantors and choirmasters as well as cantors’ journals, with the goal of tracing the historical unfolding of new aesthetic ideals and systems of social representation through synagogue music. Editions, performances, recordings of selected materials and public educational programs capitalizing on developments in digital humanities are an additional expected contribution of this project.

In spite of its predominant focus on the past, the results of this project are pertinent to the present and future of Ashkenazi liturgical music in Europe and elsewhere. Contrasting processes are taking place within this musical practice as the result of modernity and globalization. A lachrymose attitude to the “vanishing” of “traditional” Ashkenazi liturgical music is pervasive among some scholars and practitioners. Indeed, traditions and memories were lost forever during the Nazi era and the Shoah. As a research strategy, however, this “decline” is often conceived as entailing the erosion of a unique identity and the proposal of urgent actions to re-instate its past glory. Other forces contend that only a thorough innovation of repertoires and performance practices, a process that can answer to the aesthetical sensibilities of the contemporary generation, will secure its future. Our approach attempts to merge these opposing perspectives, believing that the revival of the Ashkenazi synagogue and the increasing interest on this musical repertoire can benefit from the results of such an integrative project both in practical and theoretical terms.


Person to contact

Prof. Dr. Sarah M. Ross
Director of the EZJM
T. +49-(0)511-3100-7120
E-Mail: Prof. Dr. Sarah M. Ross

Dr. Jean Goldenbaum
Research Assistant
T. +49-(0)511-3100-7124
E-Mail: Dr. Jean Goldenbaum


International open study session: November 21, 2021

Further information ...

Last modified: 2022-03-29

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