Monday, July 25, 2011

Church music for the synagogue

Nowadays, Lipa et al perform in the style of non-Jewish singers, and the tunes they've commandeered and adapted are accepted in the synagogue.  A hundred years ago or more Hasidic Rebbes did something similar with melodies to which gentile loves songs and military marchs were set.  In the clip that follows, we have a selection from Salamone Rossi (1570-1630) who composed in the baroque style. His work, which to our untrained ears sounds like church music, was performed in shul, on weekdays and  Shabbos throughout Italy in the 16th century.

Program notes after the jump

Program Notes: While composers of the early Baroque period were experimenting with new musical techniques that would later characterize the stile moderno, Salamone Rossi (1570-1630), in his various Hebrew motets for synagogue worship, deliberately committed himself to the older style, or, what is also known as the stile antico. As such, his motets carry musical gestures and a linear expressiveness so very characteristic of music from the High Renaissance. Active at the court of the Gonzaga family in Mantua, Italy, he is often overlooked in the shadow of other great composers of the time including Monteverdi, Gastoldi, and Viadana. As the ideals of humanism permeated throughout the society of fifteenth and sixteenth century Europe, Jewish communities themselves began to experience a change in orientation and perspective. Communities that had, up to this period, lived in isolation, began to freely intermingle within the Christian society of the time. In addition to studying painting, theater, philosophy and literature, Jews for the first time began to study Western music.

In 1623 a Venetian printing house published a set of motets by Salamone Rossi. What made this publication so unique was that these motets were not written in Latin for the liturgy of the church but were written in Hebrew for synagogue worship. Elohim Hashivenu is a product of this revolutionary publication. As a setting of Palm 80: 4, 8, 20, this motet would have been traditionally chanted in synagogues on the Sabbath and holidays during the covering of the Torah.

The music itself possesses a great depth as the sacred names of God are invoked at the beginning of each verse and progress in intensity throughout the piece. The opening phrase in particular, is one full of deep symbolism and profound meaning. By setting the sacred name Elohim in the lowest extremities of the vocal range, it is as if Rossi is suggesting that this name is too great, too sacred to be pronounced in human confidence. As the vocal line rises from its depth, the musical line seems to paint the creation narrative, where, "in the beginning [rising from the primordial depths of eternity] Elohim created the heavens and the earth".

No comments: