Cultural Mapping and Musical Diversity - Britta Sweers

Cultural Mapping and Musical Diversity - Britta Sweers

6. Climate and Environment in Idelsohn’s History of Hebrew Music

Cultural Mapping and Musical Diversity - Britta Sweers

Shai Burstyn [+-]
Tel Aviv University (retired)
Shai Burstyn, Ph.D., was professor and senior faculty member of the department of musicology at Tel-Aviv University (1974–2007), including a three-year tenure as chair. He also taught at the Mannes College of Music (New York) and was a Research Fellow at the Society for the Humanities at Cornell University. Burstyn served on the board of ESEM (European Seminar of Ethnomusicology) and chaired the Israeli Society of Musicology. He has published extensively on various aspects of late medieval and early Renaissance music, notably medieval oral polyphony and Arab influence on medieval European music. His interest in oral music practices led him to research the early Israeli folksong (1925–1960), primarily its ambiguous relations with the music of the Middle-East and its national-ideological constraints. Burstyn is a founding member of Zemereshet, an Internet project dedicated to collecting and preserving the early Hebrew song repertory.


Early ethnomusicological research already addressed the interrelation of environment and music. This is illustrated in this chapter by the striking case study of A.Z. Idelsohn. Exploring the dominant position of nature, landscape and climate in Idelsohn’s theoretical-developmental view, this chapter not only analyses some possible influence factors, but also highlights how his narrative served to promote his ideological-national bias. By 1924 A.Z. Idelsohn was already well-known among comparative musicologists, mainly due to his monumental Hebräisch- Orientalischer Melodienschatz, which began to appear 10 years earlier. But as an ardent Zionist, Idelsohn deemed it important to publish in Hebrew as well, even though this automatically limited his readership. This is probably the reason why his History of Hebrew Music, which appeared in 1924 in Hebrew, did not get much ethnomusicological attention at the time, and in fact, not to this day. In its first volume (the only one of three to be published), Idelsohn constructs a fascinating view of the origin and development of music. His view leans heavily on the dependence of music on landscape and climate: “Nature, climate and the conditions of life are the main influences on the culture of every nation, especially on a spiritual property such as music.” In his account Idelsohn advances from the musical traits of a race to those of the various tribes and nations belonging to it, making interesting, albeit conjectural, causal connections between landscape, climate and musical style. By selectively weaving appropriate aspects of various contemporaneous theories of origin, Idelsohn finally arrives at an explanation of the unique nature of Hebrew melody.

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Burstyn, Shai. 6. Climate and Environment in Idelsohn’s History of Hebrew Music. Cultural Mapping and Musical Diversity. Equinox eBooks Publishing, United Kingdom. p. 108-122 Feb 2020. ISBN 9781781797594. Date accessed: 09 Jun 2023 doi: 10.1558/equinox.35829. Feb 2020

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