Cole Porter’s “Jewish Tunes”

Nov. 20 2020

One of the wonders of modern Jewish history is the way that certain fields of human activity have, for periods of time, been almost entirely the domain of Jews. This was true of psychoanalysis in early 20th-century Vienna, photography in much of pre-World War II Central Europe, the movie business in the early days of Hollywood, and, of course, the golden age of American musical theater. But then, writes Terry Teachout, there was Cole Porter:

From Rodgers and Hammerstein to Stephen Sondheim, virtually all of the great pre-rock Broadway songwriters were first- and second-generation Jews who were either born in New York or grew up there. None was observant, but they were all very much aware of their Jewish roots. Cole Porter was a rare exception to this rule. Like his admiring friend Irving Berlin, he wrote both the words and the music to his songs, but the two men had nothing else in common. Berlin had been born in the Pale of Settlement. Porter was the only child of a wealthy family of WASPs from Indiana and was groomed by his father to be a lawyer. But he studied music at Yale and decided to become a professional songwriter instead.

[One] of Porter’s songwriting fingerprints is hinted at in a remark he made to Richard Rodgers when he claimed to have discovered “the secret of writing hits. . . . I’ll write Jewish tunes.” Porter almost certainly had in mind his marked propensity to fluctuate at will between major and minor modes, a familiar characteristic of Jewish folk music. “I Love Paris,” for instance, begins in the minor key, then shifts to major with the suddenness of a sunrise as the singer explains that he loves Paris “every moment, . . . because my love is near.”

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Read more at Commentary

More about: American Jewish History, Broadway, Jewish music

 

The End of the Arab-Israeli Conflict, and the Rise of the Arab-Israeli Coalition

Nov. 30 2022

After analyzing the struggle between the Jewish state and its Arab neighbors since 1949, Dan Schueftan explains the current geopolitical alignment and what it means for Jerusalem:

Using an outdated vocabulary of Middle Eastern affairs, recent relations between Israel and most Arab states are often discussed in terms of peace and normalization. What is happening recently is far more significant than the willingness to live together and overshadow old grievances and animosities. It is about strategic interdependence with a senior Israeli partner. The historic all-Arab coalition against Israel has been replaced by a de-facto Arab-Israeli coalition against the radical forces that threaten them both. Iran is the immediate and outstanding among those radicals, but Erdogan’s Turkey in the eastern Mediterranean, Syria—and, in a different way, its allies in the Muslim Brotherhood—are not very far behind.

For Israel, the result of these new alignments is a transformational change in its regional standing, as well as a major upgrade of its position on the global stage. In the Middle East, Israel can, for the first time, act as a full-fledged regional power. . . . On the international scene, global powers and other states no longer have to weigh the advantages of cooperation with Israel against its prohibitive costs in “the Arab World. . . . By far the most significant effect of this transformation is on the American strategic calculus of its relations with Israel.

In some important ways, then, the “New Middle East” has arrived. Not, of course, in the surreal Shimon Peres vision of regional democracy, peace, and prosperity, but in terms of a balance of power and hard strategic realities that can guardrail a somewhat less unstable and dangerous region, where the radicals are isolated and the others cooperate to keep them at bay.

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Read more at Tablet

More about: Abraham Accords, Israel-Arab relations, Middle East, Shimon Peres, U.S.-Israel relationship