The concept of ‘Jewish music’ was controversial in the case of Western art music compositions that acquired ‘Jewish’ connotations through the explicit intent of composers or through an audience's interpretation. Devoid of religious contexts, Jewish connotations were created by titles or by the Jewish origin of their composers, necessarily linked with vague musical properties. The confusion was illustrated when, in 1946, a survey held by the Palestine Broadcast Service revealed that listeners labelled Varlaam's aria from Boris Godunov as ‘Jewish’ (Hirshberg, 1995, p.252). The existence of Jewish music was questioned, especially in response to Wagner's ‘Judentum in der Musik’. Most of the papers read at The Jewish Music Forum (founded in New York, 1939) struggled with the definition of their own titles. Faced with the challenge of his bibliography Sendrey wrote that ‘every statement regarding the style … must be viewed … as a more or less arbitrary opinion’ (1951, p.xxi).
Since the 1920s three models have emerged:
(1) The contextual model, which regards the inclusion of Jewish chant melodies or folk tunes as a precondition for the Jewishness of a concert composition (Werner, 1978). However, this model has been precarious from the outset; Idelsohn, for example, defined Bruch's Kol nidré as ‘German’ music despite the quotation of a Jewish liturgical melody (1929/R, p.466). Wolpe, however, argued that the audience's recognition of folk material within a concert piece was not a necessary condition for the identification of music as ‘Jewish’, and that radical transformations of the folk material should be allowed when used in art music (1946).
(2) The sociological model, which considers Jewish communal life, such as existed before World War II in eastern Europe, as a precondition for Jewish folk music (Stutschewsky, 1935) and regards Jewish art music as a development dependent on the establishment of Jewish territorial entity in Palestine (Idelsohn, 1929/R; see also Hirshberg, 1995, p.243). In 1943 Sachs convened a symposium in which he claimed that music merely of the Jews (Meyerbeer's) or for the Jews (Sulzer) was ‘not Jewish music’, and that national music can develop only ‘within a nation on its own soil’.
(3) The genetic-psychological model, which identifies certain general musical traits as emanating from the inner Jewish soul. Nadel (1923) adopted Idelsohn's characteristics of synagogue music (recitative, melodic diatonicism, anapaestic rhythm and structural parallelism), to which he added meditative tendencies, mixed tonalities and irregular rhythmic changes – all of which also fitted polyphonic art music (see Ringer, 1990, p.194). Berl (1926) considered ‘Jewishness’ to be embedded in the Asiatic character of the ‘autonomous melody’ and vocal expression of Jewish composers, including Meyerbeer and the converted Mendelssohn. Berl considered Jewish music a fresh inspiration for the renewal of European music following the ‘Romantic crisis’. His approach was adopted by Felber (1928) and Fromm (1978), and theoretically refined in Ringer's concept of ‘affective inheritance’ (Ringer, 1990, p.201), which was applied to Mahler, Bloch and Schoenberg as the epitomes of Jewish musical expression.
Jewish music, §V, 2: Art and Popular Music in Surrounding Cultures: The Christian world