Assaf Shelleg

Musicologist and Pianist

Musicologist and pianist Assaf Shelleg is senior lecturer of musicology at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He was previously the Schusterman Visiting Assistant Professor of Musicology and Jewish Studies in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Virginia (2011–2014), and had previously taught as the visiting Efroymson Scholar in the Jewish, Islamic & Near Eastern Languages and Cultures Department at Washington University in St. Louis (2009–2011). Shelleg specializes in art music of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries (historical musicology, musicological historiography, cultural history, post-tonal theories, postcolonialism, neoliberalism, and contemporaneity) while focusing on the cultural networks in which art music was written by or about Jews, in Europe, North America, British Palestine, and Israel. 

Shelleg’s award-winning first book  Jewish Contiguities and the Soundtrack of Israeli History (Oxford University Press, 2014) studies the emergence of modern Jewish art music in Central and Western Europe in the early twentieth century and its partial dislocation to Palestine/Israel in the 1930s. Unearthing the cultural chain reactions this dislocation catalyzed in Hebrew culture through the 1970, the book maps composers’ gradual disillusionment with romanticist nationalism amid the dissemination of modernist compositional devices and against the backdrop of contiguous developments in modern Hebrew literature.  

Jewish Contiguities won the 2015 Engle Prize for the Study of Hebrew Music and the 2016 Jordan Schnitzer Book Award of the Association for Jewish Studies. A German translation this book was published by Mohr Siebeck in 2017 (Musikalische Grenzgänge: Europäisch-jüdische Kunstmusik und der Soundtrack der israelischen Geschichte). 

Shelleg’s second book  Theological Stains: Art Music and the Zionist Project (Oxford University Press, 2020) is the first in-depth study on art music in Israel from the mid-twentieth century to the turn of the twenty-first. The book unfolds the theological and territorial infrastructures of Hebrew culture while critically reading the works and archival collections of Mordecai Seter, Paul Ben-Haim, Oedoen Partos, Josef Tal, Ben-Zion Orgad, Marc Lavri, Andre Hajdu, Abel Ehrlich, Tzvi Avni, Betty Olivero, and Ruben Seroussi.  In the process, Theological Stains discloses how importations of modernist compositional devices constituted composers’ perceptions of Jewish musical traditions as much as they facilitated their dialectical returns to diasporic Jewish cultures, returns that among other things invalidated national and territorial tropes.   

Shelleg is also a regular musical contributor at Ha’aretz newspaper.