The Schmooze

How 'Oyfn Pripetshik' Traveled the World

Anyone observing the past century of Russian music may wonder why, in spite of all discouragements, so many Jewish overachievers managed to compose and perform immortal music? This basic question is masterfully addressed in a forthcoming book, out today from Yale University Press, “The Most Musical Nation: Jews and Culture in the Late Russian Empire.”

Written by James Loeffler, a University of Virginia history professor who studied with Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi at Columbia University, this new study deftly negotiates such facts as how shortly before World War I, when Jews made up less than 5 percent of Russia’s population, over half of the violin students in the St. Petersburg Conservatory, including greats like Mischa Elman and Efrem Zimbalist, were Jews.

A central figure in “The Most Musical Nation” is the composer and pianist Anton Rubinstein, who, after the notorious 1880s pogroms, told a journalist: “I never felt so close to Jews as I did then, when such a terrible storm burst out against us…In proportion to how much I grew older, my sympathy for my fellow tribe members grew even more.”

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How 'Oyfn Pripetshik' Traveled the World

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