Rediscovering the forgotten music of the Holocaust: the life and music of the Dutch-Jewish composer Sim Gokkes

Evans, Christopher John (2021). Rediscovering the forgotten music of the Holocaust: the life and music of the Dutch-Jewish composer Sim Gokkes. University of Birmingham. M.A.

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The Dutch-Jewish composer Sim Gokkes was born in Amsterdam in 1897, later to be murdered, along with many other Dutch-Jewish composers, in Auschwitz in 1943. A victim of Nazi persecution, relatively little is known about his music as most of his compositions were lost or destroyed by the Nazis during World War II. This thesis includes an exploration of the contemporary political background in Germany and the Netherlands, an account of Gokkes’s life, musical background and how this, in turn, influenced his compositional work, with a particular reference to Gokkes’s juxtaposition of traditional, Jewish liturgical music and new compositional techniques in European art music of that time. Thus, the thesis serves to re-discover Gokkes’s largely forgotten works and contribute towards the development of a greater understanding of Dutch modern music in the first decades of the twentieth century. This is currently an understudied area.

The first section of this thesis provides a historical background with details of the effects on Dutch music of the Nazi policy of condemning any music that was ‘degenerate’ and considered to manifest symptoms of national decline (Levi, 2001: 35-36). This included all works by Jewish composers in Germany, and later in the Netherlands.

The second section is biographical, providing a detailed and chronological account of the composer’s life, his work as a composer and conductor and how this influenced his mature composing style and output, and finally his persecution at the hands of the Nazis. This section also touches upon how several Dutch composers, including Gokkes, were influenced by a rise in Jewish nationalism in music which started in Russia and spread across Europe in the early part of the twentieth century. It illustrates how Gokkes was arguably regarded as the most Jewish sounding of the Dutch-Jewish composers of the early twentieth century, due to his efforts to bring aspects of specifically Jewish musical thought into Dutch art-music practice.

The third section is an overview and cultural analysis of Gokkes’s music, exploring Gokkes in the context of his Jewish faith and how his writing of both secular music and music for the synagogue was innovative while investigating the argument that he juxtaposed ancient Jewish techniques with modern Western art-music methods.

Type of Work: Thesis (Masters by Research > M.A.)
Award Type: Masters by Research > M.A.
Licence: All rights reserved
College/Faculty: Colleges (2008 onwards) > College of Arts & Law
School or Department: School of Languages, Cultures, Art History and Music, Department of Music
Funders: None/not applicable
Subjects: M Music and Books on Music > M Music


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