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Durham University

Institute of Advanced Study

Past Events

IAS Christopherson Knott Fellow's Seminar - 'Evolution and Victorian Culture: Anti-Semitism and Hebrew Music in Carl Engel's Music of the Most Ancient Nations (1864)

8th February 2016, 13:00 to 14:00, Institute of Advanced Study, IAS Seminar Room, Palace Green, Professor Bennett Zon (Durham University)

Ethnomusicologist Carl Engel (1818–1882) was the first person in Britain to publish systematically on ancient and national music, his publications comprising some of the most seminal writings of the period, including Music of the Most Ancient Nations (1864), Introduction to the Study of National Music (1866) and Descriptive Catalogue of the Musical Instruments in the South Kensington Museum (1874), The Literature of National Music (1879) and his entry on music for the first edition of Notes and Queries in Anthropology (1874).

Deeply indebted to evolutionary theory Music of the Most Ancient Nations probes the past for answers in the present, and to do that Engel turned to music of the Assyrians, Egyptians and Hebrews. The music of the Hebrews is problematical, however, because the Hebrews were not a nation like the Assyrians and Egyptians. The Hebrews were Jews, but modern Jews were nationless. Writing of ‘Hebrew Music in the Present Day’ Engel consistently distinguishes between music of the Hebrews (ancient Jews) and Jews (modern Jews), harkening back to historically enshrined Christian anti-Semitism separating Semites (Hebrews) from Jews, Jews from Judaism and Judaism from Christianity.

This paper explores the conflicted nature of Engel’s anti-semitism in Music of the Most Ancient Nations. It provides brief biographical information on Engel; an introduction to his evolutionary and anthropological influences; background on nineteenth-century, and Victorian, anti-Semitism; and a close, philosophically contextualized reading of Music of the Most Ancient Nations. A short conclusion explores the persistence of anti-semitism in later nineteenth-century ethnomusicology.

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