Continuing from last week’s post on the Choral Journal article “The Rediscovery of Antonio Vivaldi,” I want to focus on another article that will be of special interest to scholars of choral history: “Fleeing War, Composing Peace: The Evolution of Jean Berger” by Zebulon Highben, which was published in the August 2015 issue.
Jean Berger (1909-2002) was a leading figure in American choral music in the second half of the twentieth century, but many may not be aware of his origins: “He was born into an orthodox Jewish family in Germany, under a different name, and was later persecuted by the Nazis.” He eventually made his way to America. This background impacted his life and work, and the article discusses two war-era compositions—In a Time of Pestilence and Vision of Peace—as examples of the “connection between Berger’s biography and compositional syntax.”
Included in the article is an interesting section on Berger and Religion (p. 15). Although Berger retained a strong attachment to Judaism throughout his life, he described a “gradual but unstoppable detachment” from the religion of his birth. His relationship to Christianity was also complex. He “felt a personal connection to many New Testament passages” but he “never considered himself Christian and would not set some traditional liturgical texts.”
Click here to read the full article online or download the PDF of the Berger article. (Note: You must be logged into the acda.org site as a member in order to access the Choral Journal online.)
Seven of Berger’s works are discussed in this Choral Journal article. For a complete list of Berger’s works, see the American Music Research Center’s online guide to the Jean Berger Collection (compositions are listed on pages 5 through 22).
Are you aware of Jean Berger’s Jewish background? Just as this article shows that a composer’s early experiences can influence his or her later compositions, do you think the experiences of a conductor can have an influence on teaching or conducting styles and interpretations? Why or why not?