Chapter 4 The Composer as Intellectual: Biblical Interpretation and Jewish Martyrdom in Alexandre Tansman’s Isaïe le prophète

In: Grief, Identity, and the Arts
Nicolette van den Bogerd
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In 1949, three years after returning to France from exile in the United States, where he escaped Nazi persecution, the Polish-born French-Jewish composer Alexandre Tansman began composing the oratorio Isaïe le prophète. Tansman, who had cultivated a strong attachment to France since leaving his native Poland, returned to a country he barely recognized. He developed a spiritual self-identification with ancient Israel, and he turned to a biblical subject to commemorate Jewish Holocaust victims and celebrate the new state of Israel in his oratorio. Drawing on materials from Tansman’s archive and published writings, this chapter reveals an intimate picture of identity construction in the wake of the Holocaust. Religious studies scholars have begun to analyze the work of French Jewish intellectuals to understand how they interpreted biblical narratives to construct a Jewish identity in relation to Israel and the Holocaust. My goal is to place Isaïe le prophète within the broader context of this intellectual milieu. I probe the intersections of Tansman’s musical, political, and philosophical observations about Judaism and French universalism and suggest that Tansman explores similar discourses in Isaïe le prophète as postwar French Jewish intellectuals do in their work. By reading the oratorio as a musical contribution to these intellectual debates, I argue that Tansman’s oratorio illuminates music’s participation in postwar French Jewish intellectual discourse

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Grief, Identity, and the Arts

A Multidisciplinary Perspective on Expressions of Grief

Series:  Death in History, Culture, and Society, Volume: 1


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