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Author(s): Alexander, Philip
Date: 2016
Abstract: This research offers an original contribution to the study of contemporary klezmer music by analysing it in relation to a particular urban environment. With its origins in a largely destroyed Eastern European Jewish culture, contemporary klezmer is both historically-grounded and paradoxically rootless, cut loose from geographical specificity by the internationalism of its recent revival. Seeking to counteract the music’s modern placeless-ness, this dissertation analyses the musical and spatial means by which klezmer has been re-rooted in the distinctive material and symbolic conditions of today’s Berlin. The theoretical framework takes in questions of cultural identity, music and place, authenticities of tradition and instrumental practice, to show how this transnational and syncretic music – with few historical ties to Berlin – can be understood in relation to the city’s particular post-reunification bricolage aesthetic and subversively creative everyday tactics. Beginning by mapping the criss-crossing networks of musicians and their multiple artistic perspectives, the dissertation proceeds through an exploration of the official and unofficial spaces within which these fluid musical practices operate, leading onto ways that the city of Berlin is made manifest in the music itself – how the city is interpellated sonically and textually. Processes of musical transmission and education are analysed through the filters of tradition and pedagogical ideologies, from which my own instrument, the piano accordion, is used as a lens through which to uncover the balance between personal expression and historically-informed performance. The final chapter looks at the relationship between history, Jewish identity and music in the city. It explores the resonances between the contested discourse of memorial and present-day cultural and musical production, discovering how at times sound and music can act as a living sonic embodiment that speaks against the silence of historical memory