In This Article Israeli Art Music

  • Introduction
  • Scope, Borders, and Multiple Ethnic Populations
  • General Overviews
  • General Overviews: Ethnic and Popular Musics
  • Reference Works
  • Archives
  • Anthologies, Collections
  • Art Music: Themed Overviews
  • Ethnic and Popular Musics: Themed Overviews
  • Arabic and/or Mizraḥi Art Music and Culture
  • Nationalism and Orientalism
  • Mediterranean Style
  • Interviews with Composers
  • Contextualizing Texts
  • Writings by and about Composers

Music Israeli Art Music
Ronit Seter
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 August 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199757824-0264


Writings about music in Israel illuminate a wide range of topics, often exploring the politics of social identities: nationalism, folklorism, Orientalism, ethnicity, multiculturalism, East-West cultural borrowings and appropriations, representation, religion, and gender. Complementing the Oxford Bibliographies articles on “Jewish Music” and “Jews and Music” (by Edwin Seroussi and Judah Cohen, respectively, both of which focus mostly on ethnomusicological research into ethnic, liturgical, and popular musics in the Diaspora), this bibliography focuses primarily on Western art music by Israeli composers, yet it also examines selected writings on ethnic and popular musics that inform it. Most of the approximately forty notable immigrant composers who fled fascist Europe to British Palestine during the 1930s and 1940s—the founders of Israeli art music—aspired both to create local music and to continue their original styles from their native countries, mostly Germany, Russia, and Poland, or those they studied in France and elsewhere. As participants in the evolving Hebraic and Zionist culture, they believed that they should partake in the creation of a native, Hebrew musical style, informed by local Jewish ethnic sources that had arrived in Israel from the Mizraḥi Jewish Diaspora, often from Yemen, Iraq, or Morocco, or from those of the Palestinian Arabs. This ideology was passionately disseminated, argued, contested, and ultimately stamped as narrowly nationalistic. Beyond general and themed overviews, as well as reference works and other research tools, this bibliography focuses on the writings by and about the founders. It emphasizes those founders whose works were most widely performed and discussed, namely the Israeli Five: Paul Ben-Haim (b. 1897–d. 1984), Alexander Uriah Boskovich (b. 1907–d. 1964), Oedoen Partos (b. 1907– d. 1977), Josef Tal (b. 1910–d. 2008), and Mordecai Seter (b. 1916–d. 1994). It also examines composers who studied with the them and therefore considered themselves “second generation,” such as Yehezkel Braun (b. 1922–d. 2014) and Tzvi Avni (b. 1927); selected peers of the second cohort who immigrated to Israel in the late 1960s and the 1970s, notably Mark Kopytman (b. 1929–d. 2011) and André Hajdu (b. 1932–d. 2016); and a number of younger composers, including Betty Olivero (b. 1954). For the founders and many of their successors, the desire to create “Israeli” rather than “Jewish” music—either following common, essentialist stereotypes and signifiers, or creating neonationalist, Bartókian-, or Stravinskian-influenced local art—was paramount, whether or not they spoke or wrote about it explicitly. Yet others—and often the same composers at later stages in their lives—attempted to follow European and, more recently, American trends. While for many the word “Jewish” has often denoted Ashkenazi characteristics, “Israeli” entailed the use of Mizraḥi melodic and rhythmic elements; that is, elements from the musical traditions of the Jewish communities who fled to Israel from Arab countries and of the indigenous Palestinians. These formative, defining ideologies characterize the music of the founders but less so younger composers, who feel free to defy it. Still, Israeli compositions often receive local prizes and wider reception when they refer to local culture, folklore, identities, ethnicities, and politics. Acknowledgments: I am deeply grateful to my friends and colleagues who helped with their comments, most notably Yosef Goldenberg, Uri Golomb, and Ralph Locke, whose eagle-eyed comments over multiple iterations transformed this article. I am also indebted to Judith Cohen (Israel), Judit Frigyesi, Yoel Greenberg, Jehoash Hirshberg, Bonny Miller, Marina Ritzarev, Edwin Seroussi, Assaf Shelleg, and Laura Yust, who all took the time to read, encourage, and provide content and editing comments that helped polish this article. This large-scale project could not have been what it is without all of your contributions. Finally, this work was partly supported by an NEH Fellowship.

Scope, Borders, and Multiple Ethnic Populations

This article reflects the state of the past and current research—and, no less important, the lack of it—on Western art music and other selected kinds of music that have been and are being made in Israel; that is, it does not represent Israeli music in its totality, but rather a selection of its historiography. Several of the most distinguished composers, musicians, and performers are absent or underrepresented here simply because there is little or no significant musicological research about them. The selected writings on art music are detailed and specific, while those on popular and ethnic musics are general and useful as a springboard to research into these areas. Moreover, approximately 20 percent of the population in Israel (not counting the Palestinian Authority, i.e., Gaza and the West Bank) is non-Jewish, including Muslim and Christian Arabs and a small minority of immigrant workers from the Philippines, Nepal, India, Eastern Europe, and sub-Saharan Africa, among others. Notable research about music-making in these communities is still in its initial stages. More research is available about Arab musicians and musics, such as music-making in mosques, churches, Druze villages, among the Bedouins, and their various liturgical, art, ethnic, and popular genres, some of which are discussed explicitly below or within writings for which a citation is provided. Both Hirshberg, et al. 2001 in Grove Music Online and The Middle East volume of the The Garland Encyclopedia of World Music (2002) provide fundamental overviews of a variety of the most prominent musics in Israel.

  • Danielson, Virginia, Scott Marcus, and Dwight Reynolds, eds. The Garland Encyclopedia of World Music. Vol. 6, The Middle East. New York and London: Routledge, 2002.

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    Includes a sizable section on Israel (pp. 1011–1075), with an overview by Edwin Seroussi and essays on ethnic and popular musics in Israel. See also additional articles in the book’s other sections about music in Israel and Palestine: on liturgical Jewish music (199–206), Mediterranean popular music (261–268), and popular music of the intifada (635–640).

  • Hirshberg, Jehoash, Natan Shahar, Edwin Seroussi, and Amnon Shiloah. “Israel.” In Grove Music Online. Edited by Deane Root, 2001.

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    Edited by Jehoash Hirshberg, the selection of approximately one hundred entries relating to Israeli music in the 2001 print edition, and in Grove Music Online, consists mostly of art music composers. Other entries are devoted to popular music composers, some performers, conductors, musicologists, and cities. See list of entries under “Israel,” which is divided into sections on art music by Hirshberg, folk and popular by Nathan Shahar and Edwin Seroussi, and Arab music by Amnon Shiloah.

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