Abstract from Violin and the Cinema: The Pedagogical Study of Violin Repertoire from the Cinema by Jared Starr

              This treatise demonstrates how teachers can use five pieces of violin repertoire from the cinema as pedagogical tools to introduce or enhance a student’s understanding, appreciation, and technical facility of the following four genres of violin repertoire: character pieces, gypsy music, Jewish music, and Russian music.  For each genre, I compare the film work(s) with a piece in the classical violin repertoire that is similar in terms of pedagogical application and stylistic characteristics.  The film works and classical pieces discussed are the character pieces of “Theme” from Ladies in Lavender by Nigel Hess and “Meditation” from Thaïs by Jules Massenet; the gypsy music of “Tango (Por Una Cabeza)” by Carlos Gardel (arr. John Williams) from Scent of a Woman and Allegro maestoso from Concerto No. 9 in A minor, Op. 104 by Charles-Auguste de Bériot; the Jewish music of “Three Pieces” from Schindler’s List by John Williams, Fiddler on the Roof by John Williams, and “Nigun” from Baal Shem by Ernest Bloch; and the Russian music of “Devil’s Dance” from The Witches of Eastwick by John Williams and Suite Italienne by Igor Stravinsky. 

            My treatise fuses together aspects of violin and cinema into a new branch of scholarship that provides teachers with wider options in their pedagogical approaches.  In the appendices, I have included lists of selected repertoire in the discussed styles as a resource for teachers and students.  I also compiled a discography of film soundtracks that feature the violin as a solo instrument along with a bibliography of violin repertoire from the cinema currently published for concert use.  This treatise and its accompanying appendices show how violin music from film is gradually earning a place in the concert repertoire and holds a real place in violin pedagogy.

Excerpts from Violin and the Cinema: The Pedagogical Study of Violin Repertoire from the Cinema by Jared Starr



           While gypsy music permeated the classical violin repertoire in the mid-nineteenth century, the more specific nationalist style of Jewish music also appeared amongst Jewish scholars and musicians.  According to Israeli musicologist Edwin Seroussi, since its inception the concept of Jewish music has become hard to define and “is a figure of speech widely employed today, being used in many different contexts of musical activity.”  However, he suggests the following definition: “the traditional music of all Jewish communities, past and present, and to new contemporary music created by Jews with ethnic or national agendas.”[1]

            Within the culture of Jewish music, the violin is commonly associated with a specific style of music called Klezmer music.  The Yiddish term Klezmer, derived from the Hebrew term for ‘musical instruments,’ referred to a professional musician in seventeenth century Eastern European Jewish culture.[2]  Over the next few centuries, the term Klezmer developed into a genre of music played by instrumental ensembles for weddings and other occasions.  These instrumental ensembles often featured a solo violin, which Itzhak Perlman, the Israeli-born violinist, championed in multiple Klezmer albums including Perlman plays Klezmer, released in 2008.[3]

In Appendix C, I compiled a list of twenty-seven pieces that I term as Jewish music for violin and piano.  These pieces capture many elements of Jewish music and more specifically, Klezmer music including the use of melodies and dances found in the Jewish culture.  However, the composers and arrangers of these pieces intended them for the context of classical or film repertoire.  Many of them, such as Joseph Achron, Ernest Bloch, George Perlman, and Mischa Elman come from Jewish heritage and utilize the Jewish culture to produce appealing music that can be internationally enjoyed by violinists and general audiences.

On my list in Appendix C, only four pieces of Jewish violin music appear on standard repertoire lists.[4]  These pieces include “Nigun” from Baal Shem by Ernest Bloch; Kol Nidrei by Max Bruch; Hebrew Melody, Op. 33 by Joseph Achron; and Israeli Concertino by George Perlman.  Twenty of the pieces, including Nigun and Hebrew Melody, appear in the 2001 compilation Hebrew Melodies for Violin and Piano by Eric Wen, a fantastic source for violin students and teachers interested in exploring this genre.[5]  Two of the pieces come from John Williams’s film scores for Schindler’s List and Fiddler on the Roof.  The following sections will provide background on “Three Pieces” from Schindler’s List for violin and piano and Williams’s adaptation of the “Main Title” sequence from Fiddler on the Roof, which he titled Fiddler on the Roof for violin and piano.  I will also provide the background on a comparable piece, “Nigun” from Baal Shem by Ernest Bloch, a famous piece in the classical violin repertoire. Then, I will compare the stylistic and technical similarities among the pieces and the pedagogical applications of “Three Pieces” from Schindler’s List and Williams’s adaptation of Fiddler on the Roof.

             [1] Edwin Seroussi, et al, “Jewish music,” Grove Music Online, (accessed March 3, 2017).

            [2] Henry Sapoznik . “Klezmer.” Grove Music Online, (accessed January 27, 2016).

            [3] Itzhak Perlman, Perlman Plays Klezmer, Warner Classics, CD, 2008.

            [4] As stated in Chapter 3, I researched the following repertoire lists: the Royal Conservatory’s Violin Syllabus, the American String Teacher’s Association Certificate Advancement Program, the Sequence of Violin Repertoire by Mimi Zweig, and Dorothy DeLay’s Concerto Sequence.

             [5] New York: Car Fischer, 2001.

“Three Pieces” from Schindler’s List by John Williams

            One day in the year 1980, the Australian writer Thomas Keneally visited a leather goods store in Beverly Hills, California.  There, he met the store owner, Leopold Pfefferberg, a Czech Jew who survived the Holocaust.  When Leopold found out that Keneally was a writer, he told Keneally that he had a story for him.  It was here that Keneally was introduced to the story of Oskar Schindler.

Oskar Schindler was a wealthy German businessman who became a part of the Nazi party in World War II.  In 1939, Schindler obtained an enamelware factory in Krakow, Poland where he employed over a thousand Jews.  Through his connections with German military intelligence, he protected his Jewish workers from being sent to concentration camps.  Though his initial motives for opening the factory were for monetary gain, he eventually became truly invested in saving his workers as shown by his willingness to bribe Nazi officials multiple times.  In July of 1944, Germany started to lose the war and thus started to evacuate concentration camps.  Many of the people in these camps were taken to the bigger camps like Auschwitz and murdered.  To ensure that this would not happen to his workers, Schindler relocated his factory to Brünlitz in Czechoslovakia, and made a list of 1,200 workers that would be safely relocated there.  This list would become known as “Schindler’s List.”  After the workers were safely relocated, Schindler continued to bribe the Nazis until the end of the war to ensure their safety.

            Thomas Keneally, the writer who originally learned about Oskar Schindler, was able to gather the information for this true story from many sources including fifty Schindler survivors.  His book Schindler’s List was published in 1982,[1] after which the film director Steven Spielberg took on the task of creating a movie based on this amazing story.[2]  When Spielberg showed the film project of Schindler’s List to John Williams, Williams was so moved that he could barely speak.  Williams said, “Steven, you need a better composer than I am to do this film.”  Spielberg replied, “I know, but they’re all dead.”[3]  Later, Spielberg would confess that upon hearing Williams play the music for him, he found himself “hanging over his piano weeping.”[4]  In talking about his experience writing the music for Schindler’s List, Williams said that “the film offered an opportunity to create not only dramatic music, but also themes that reflected the more tender and nostalgic aspects of Jewish life during those turbulent years.”[5]  In the score, Williams showcased the violin playing of Izthak Perlman, who said in a recent interview that wherever he goes in the world, audiences almost always ask him to play the theme from Schindler’s List.[6] 

                [1] Thomas Keneally, Schindler’s List, (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1982).

                [2] Schindler’s List. Directed by Stephen Spielberg. Amblin Entertainment, 1993. DVD. Universal Studios Home Entertainment, 2013.

                [3] American Film Institute, “John Williams Accepts the 44th AFI Life Achievement Award,” Filmed June 9, 2016, YouTube Video, 5:39, Posted August 2016,

               [4] Jack Sullivan, “Conversations with John Williams,” The Chronicle of Higher Education 53, No.

19 (Jan. 2007), (accessed Oct. 19, 2012).

                [5] Liner notes for John Williams: Treesong; Violin Concerto; 3 Pieces from Schindler’s List, by John Williams, Deutsche Grammophon LC 0173, 2001, CD, 10-11.

                [6] C Major Entertainment, “A John Williams Celebration: Interview with Itzhak Perlman,” Filmed April 30, 2015,  YouTube video, 3:43, Posted April 2015,

“Nigun” from Baal Shem by Ernest Bloch

            Ernest Bloch was born in Geneva, Switzerland, in 1880 to Jewish parents.  In his younger years, he studied violin and composition with multiple teachers, including the acclaimed violinist Eugène Ysaÿe.  In 1916, he moved to the United States where he eventually served as the founding director of the Cleveland Institute of Music from 1920 to 1925.  Before his move to the United States, Bloch searched for his musical identity as a composer.  From 1912 to 1916, he drew on his Jewish heritage and composed multiple works with Jewish themes that became known as his “Jewish cycle”.[1]  Despite his Jewish heritage, Bloch did not consider himself predominantly Jewish, but rather embraced multiple religions.[2]  However, in 1923, during his years at the Cleveland Institute of Music, he continued his fascination with Judaism and composed the three movement work Baal Shem (Three Pictures of Chassidic Life) for violin and piano.

Bloch based Baal Shem on the essence of Chassidic Judaism and named it after the founder of Chassidism, Rabbi Yisroel ben Eliezer, also known as the “Baal Shem Tov.”[3]  Chassidism was a Judaic movement that emphasized “finding Godliness in every aspect of one’s existence.”[4]  It encouraged its followers to have a personal, ecstatic relationship with God partly through intense meditation and prayer.  In each movement of Ernest Bloch’s Baal Shem, Bloch articulates a different aspect of this personal relationship.  The second movement, “Nigun,” acts as a musical improvisation to bring one closer to God and therefore encapsulates the intensely powerful and heartfelt emotions of personal worship.

                [1] David Z. Kushner, “Bloch, Ernest,” Grove Music Online, (accessed January 13, 2016).  His “Jewish cycle” included settings of Biblical Psalms cxxxvii and cxiv for soprano and orchestra, Psalm xxii for baritone and orchestra, the symphony Israel with five solo voices, and Schelomo for cello and orchestra.

                [2] Paul Michael Bagley, “Mysticism in 20th and 21st Century Violin Music,” PhD diss., University of Maryland, 2014, (accessed January 13, 2016), 4-5.

                [3] Ibid., 5.

                [4] “Chassidism,” Accessed October 6, 2016

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