Jews and Geniuses

Two music-related essays of broad general and complementary interest have recently appeared in periodicals, the more important of them, on the connection between Schoenberg and Einstein in relation to Zionism, in an esoteric journal with limited readership,

Completing research for a book on Stravinsky, Richard Taruskin, the esteemed musicologist, and by no one more than this writer, has uncovered documents that animadvert on the Russian composer’s political and ethnic prejudices. Some of these findings Taruskin has set forth in an article enthusiastically glossed by the critic John Rockwell (“Reactionary Musical Modernists,” The New York Times, September 9, 1988).

Rockwell describes Taruskin’s paper, “The Dark Side of Modern Music,” as “ostensibly a review of Harvey Sachs’s book Music in Fascist Italy, [which] lays out biographical evidence indicating Fascist, or at least authoritarian, tendencies of Stravinsky, Schoenberg and Webern.” In fact, Toscanini occupies a larger share of Taruskin’s space than do the composers. But the more disturbing misrepresentation is in the added interchange of “authoritarian” equaling “Fascist” (Rockwell’s, not Taruskin’s, upper case). Though the three composers were obviously authoritarian, like, one supposes, the major masters of the past, to associate Schoenberg with Fascism is plainly preposterous.

Mr. Taruskin,” Rockwell goes on, “cites two letters not included in Robert Craft’s collection of [Stravinsky’s] correspondence.” Rockwell then quotes Stravinsky on Mussolini, not from correspondence but from an interview with a newspaperman in Rome in 1930. But no matter: the Stravinsky-Mussolini conjunction has not been news for a long time, and my books are the duly acknowledged source for nearly all of Sachs’s discussion of the question.

Turning to the “second” letter, Rockwell writes that

…shortly after Hitler took power in 1933, Stravinsky queries his German publisher: “I am surprised to have received no proposals from Germany for next season, since my negative attitude toward communism and Judaism—not to put it in stronger terms—is a matter of common knowledge.”

The letter, however, is not to Stravinsky’s German but to his Russian publisher, the director of Koussevitzky’s Russische Musik Verlag, and the difference is significant: anti-Semitic remarks between White Russians, like anti-goy remarks between Jews, are not invariably, or even usually—so one must believe—expressions of deep hatreds.

Stravinsky’s statement is shocking, however, because a cultured cosmopolitan of artistic genius is simplistically identifying Jews with Bolsheviks, and, at the same time, revealing his willingness to conduct anywhere for money. But it puzzles on other counts as well. Stravinsky was perfectly aware that the Third Reich had classified him as a Jew. And if his “negative attitude” toward Judaism had ever been “common knowledge,” Taruskin would not have to be digging it up now.

Russian anti-Semitism, imbibed with mother’s milk, promoted by official decree, the Orthodox Church, and even university philosophy courses—Stravinsky’s background in this …

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Jews and Geniuses’: An Exchange June 15, 1989

Einstein & the Jews May 18, 1989

The Stravinsky Beat April 27, 1989