Western classical music is an outgrowth of the Gregorian chant, which had its origins in the liturgical chants of the synagogue service.1   In modern times, Jews have played a major role in music as performers, conductors, and composers.  Of the one hundred leading virtuoso performers of the twentieth century listed at, approximately two-thirds of the violinists, half the cellists, and forty percent of the pianists were, or are, Jews.  Of the one hundred leading conductors of the twentieth century listed at, approximately one-fourth were, or are, Jews.  Among the leading classical composers, the Jewish representation is only about ten percent, the most notable having been Felix Mendelssohn, Jacques Offenbach, Gustav Mahler, Arnold Schoenberg, George Gershwin, and Aaron Copland (cf., World's 50 Greatest Composers).  Jewish composers have, however, played a predominant role both in the development of the American musical theater and in the development of film music.  Jewish songwriters wrote either the music or the lyrics, or both, for approximately three-fourths of the songs making up the compilation known as "The Great American Songbook."2

1. See, e.g., Beethoven's Anvil: Music in Mind and Culture, by William Benzon (Basic Books, New York, 2001, pp. 245-246, 259-261).  Benzon notes that the Gregorian chant, which "has its roots in the pre-Christian music of the Jewish service," is "generally regarded as the fountainhead of Western classical music, all of whose forms have some link to their Gregorian lineage, though many other musics are eventually put to classical use."
2. There is no single, agreed-upon compilation of the Songbook, but for the collection of nearly five hundred "American Standards" listed here, approximately half of the composers and two-thirds of the lyricists were Jewish.

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