Jewish Words and Music

It is hard not to notice that Jews are hugely overrepresented in music. Felix Mendelssohn, Gustav Mahler, Berlin, Leonard Bernstein, Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, Mark Knopfler: the list goes on and on of wonderful composers, and indeed performers.

Much less notable is the same phenomenon in literature. Of course, there are some great Jewish writers, but with not nearly the same dominance.  Why is that?

Maybe it is because Jewish musicians just do music: there is nothing particularly Jewish about it. Even the best Christmas songs, incongruously enough, seem to have been largely written by Jews. Whereas Jewish writers so often seem obsessed by Jewish themes that most of us are not particularly interested in; we find the typical self-pity and survival guilt rather turgid.

The History of Love, by Nicole Krauss, is no exception to the theme thing; it is all about Jewishness.  But unusually, it is also exquisitely written – a real jewel for all of us, regardless of whether we warm to the Jewish thing or not.


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