Fifteen Eighty Four

Academic perspectives from Cambridge University Press


David Conway on the absence of Jews in Western art music

Jewry In Music cover image

What inspired you to write Jewry In Music?

Desperation at the relentlessness with which modern academic writers interpret the roles of Jews in Western culture solely in the light of the catastrophes of the twentieth century.

What was the greatest challenge in writing it?

Juggling my research with my career as a development aid expert in the countries of the former Soviet Union.

Why is your book important?

Stealing the title of Wagner’s attack on musical Jews, Das Judentum in der Musik, I create a counter-argument by examining for the first time how and why Jews entered the world of European music in the period 1780-1850 in the light, not only of musicology, but of political, economic and technological developments; and I highlight the dynamic contribution of Jews not only to music itself but to music publishing, music journalism, and the growing music industry of the period.

What is it that particularly interested you in this period and topic?

As a child attending classical concerts in London, during boring moments I would browse through the programme and note the surprising number of Jewish names amongst musicians and patrons of the orchestra. And glancing around the auditorium was enough to confirm a high representation of my fellow-Jews. What could be the link which brought together Jews and classical music? It was nearly forty years before I had the opportunity to research this question and attempt to answer it.

What was the most surprising/alarming fact you discovered in the research process?

That the musician and ‘friend of Byron’ Isaac Nathan was involved in a treasonous plot against the Hanoverian monarchy.

Was there any one musician or writer that ignited your interest?

The extraordinary music and career of Charles-Valentin Alkan (1813-1888).

What is the one book you’d recommend reading and why?

‘Life and Fate’ by Vasily Grossman – enthralling, heartbreaking, the story of a twentieth century which we hardly know about, told by one who lived though it.

Describe your book in three words.

Sparky, surprising, essential.

What is your ‘Desert Island’ piece of music?

Schubert’s String Quintet.

Typewriter, word processor or pen?

Word processor – my typing is awful, and no one (not even me) can read my handwriting.

Have you got any plans for more books in the future?

A sequel about the period after 1850….or maybe my revealing memoirs of working in the ex-Soviet Union for the past twenty years……



David Conway is author of Jewry In Music (out now). He is an Honorary Research Fellow at the Department of Hebrew and Jewish Studies, University College London. For further reading, please visit his website at  www.jewryinmusic.com.

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