Jewish Music or Music of the Jewish People?
By Bob Gluck
Written in memory of Judith K. Eisenstein and Regina Rubinoff1
The people gave the music life, and the music in turn pulsated in the people, passing from parent to child, and from land to land. The joys and triumphs, the tenderness and warmth, the atony and sorrows, the prayer and the protest, which were shared by Jews and made them one, were poured into music; and where they are still felt, that process continues today. When we live for a moment with that music, we are touching the pulse itself, and our own is quickened in turn.
(Judith K. Eisenstein)2
As a young child, I had three consuming interests: baseball, music, and being Jewish. Naturally, I sought ways to harmonize being Jewish with my baseball and musical concerns. Sandy Koufax and his refusal to pitch on Yom Kippur in the 1963 World Series related Judaism and baseball. But several experiences suggested that an easy connection between music and Judaism might prove more elusive.
Of my strongest childhood memories, two stand out: my gimel teacher lustily singing Yigdal in his deep bass voice, and the moment in my music theory class at Julliard when I hesitantly asked, "What about Jewish music?" Mrs. Schaefer, whom I admired greatly, paused and responded, "There is no Jewish music worthy of being taken seriously." Translation: Jewish music equals synagogue chant equals folk music, which by definition was little more than an interesting melodic source for the elaborate structures of Western classical music. Of itself, it was like an old used car without an engine. I felt crushed but kept my own counsel. Only years later did I discover that many of my Julliard teachers were no more or less Jewish than was I.
It took me many years before I was able to explore Jewish music on its own terms. Once I began to do so, it was possible to realize how difficult it is for practitioners of Western classical music to find familiar points of reference when experiencing the ancient chants of the synagogue. I could also acknowledge that much of the synagogue music created in this century, often mimicking the religious music of Western Christianity, is quite mediocre.
Music: A Universal MediaAbout ten years ago, I began asking the question: "How might one define Jewish music?" I wondered what it was that my childhood music theory teacher identified as "Jewish" within it. What distinguishing markers make a particular form of music "Jewish"? Were there particular musical forms or melodic turns that distinguished this music? Or was it the Jewish context that made it so? And equally to the point, how can one separate what is distinctive and unique in Jewish music from that which has been borrowed, incorporated, or assimilated from outside cultures? In short, what makes Jewish music Jewish?
Music, after all, is a universal media. Sound is an objective phenomenon-everyone with an ability to hear can experience it. How many stories have we heard about people from different cultures finding common ground in music. I recall the remarkable story about saxophonist and composer Ornette Coleman playing for several days in a row with the (North African) Master Musicians of Joujouka and discovering a shared language despite their cultural and musical differences.
Yet, as Jews we know that the universal can only be truly discovered in the particular. Every culture has its unique lens on reality, its own way of perceiving-seeing and hearing. Members of some cultures are able to pronounce certain language sounds but not others. Individual languages have particular sets of imagery upon which they draw as building blocks to capture ideas. English may include many words to describe variations on the color red, but we have only one prime word to identify the white material that falls from the clouds in winter. Aaron Copland wrote, "To a considerable degree... sound images are imposed on us from without. We are born to certain inherited sounds and tend to take them for granted."3
For a particular group of people to experience music as compelling and meaningful, that music must articulate sounds and forms that are part of their culture's sonic "library." Mordecai Kaplan articulated this idea when he described art as a civilization's "individual interpretation of the world in color, sound and image, an interpretation which is familiar and profoundly interesting to the people of that civilization."4
The selection of raw sound material and the forms within which it will be organized is only the first step in a process. The second step is the development of a musical vocabulary-musical gestures, melodies and textures-which, when shaped within musical forms, are expressive of the emotions and perceptions of members of the culture.
Kaplan spoke of the musician as "creator par excellence... out of a few disparate sounds, he can fashion an environment of cultural or spiritual illumination."5 As a result, Kaplan concludes, "The art creations become part of the social heritage which is the driving force of the civilization, and come to be the means of calling forth from the group the civilization's characteristic emotional reactions."6
While no two cultures have a completely equivalent set of sonic materials, even those who work with related raw material may create strikingly different types of works. What is meaningful and compelling to one culture may not even be considered musical to another.
Jewish Music As an Evolving ConceptJewish music is the song of Judaism through the lips of the Jew. It is the tonal expression of Jewish life and development over a period of more than two thousand years....Jewish song achieves its unique qualities through the sentiments and the life of the Jewish people. Its distinguishing characteristics are the result of the spiritual life and struggle of that people. (A.Z. Idelsohn)7
Reconstructionism is premised on the idea that Jewish civilization evolves. We associate particular genres as distinctive of an era. Within literature, the rabbinic age is marked by (among other things) the emergence of midrash, medieval times introduce the idea of codes, and the biblical age is noted for its epic narratives. We acknowledge that many of these forms have been borrowed from other cultures and filled with Jewish content and meaning. We agree that even in a particular age, the Jewish people as a whole has known diverse expressions, religiously and culturally. Yet, when it comes to music, we seem to assume that these principles no longer apply.
A popular misconception leads many to assume that unique "laws" of history and culture apply to music. While the ascription mi Sinai (from Sinai)8 attached to some synagogue melodies may best be translated as "very ancient," many people presume that Jewish music has remained static up until the recent past. While we generally recognize that there is not a monolith called Jewish tradition, such historical discernment falls away when the topic is music. The "tradition" coexists with "interesting" or "exotic" folk traditions of Jews in lands different from our own and with new melodies from Jewish summer camps. The benchmark in determining authenticity and appropriateness is too often determined by peoples' subjective experiences while growing up.
Reconstructionism holds that evolution is a constant, owing to changes in our historical circumstances and needs, and to changes in how we perceive reality. A significant factor in how our ritual, foods, and, I would add, music, has changed is due to the interaction of Jewish communities with other cultures. Just as Jewish liturgical poets incorporated what they learned in Islamic Spain, so too have Jewish musicians incorporated approaches and forms from the Ottomon Empire and Eastern European peasants. Cultural borrowing is a constant. What makes the music Jewish is the context within that which borrowed material has been recast. The result becomes defined as "Jewish" by virtue of its resonance as meaningful and true to Jews.9 Alexander Ringer writes:
For in art, the ultimate test is rarely what but how, not the nature of the material but its treatment, its unique 'intonation.' And 'intonation' in that sense reflects not merely the individual psyche but the total historical experience of the community, physical and spiritual, to which the artist belongs, whether he identifies with it consciously or not.10
It is my goal in this article to trace briefly the evolution of Jewish music, and to offer examples of how it has been shaped by the music of surrounding cultures. I seek to demonstrate that Jewish music, like all other aspects of Jewish culture, is first and foremost an expression of the life of the Jewish people. Jewish music is the music created by Jews, relating to the their experience as seen through the lens of their culture. It is not an independent force existing outside of time and place. It is my hope that when we "normalize" our definition of Jewish music that we can more easily broaden our individual and communal musical palates. In truth, our tradition, and the possibilities it presents, is musically deeper and richer than we realize.
Modes of Jewish MusicTo some people, Jewish music is defined by the use of a particular set of melodic material. Its Jewishness may be found in the melodic shape captured in the popular Goldfarb Shalom Aleyhem melody that sets the phrase "...malahei hasharayt...": the use of an augmented second distinctive of the Ahavah Rabbahnusah (prayer mode).11 Others simplistically speak of a mournful mood in a minor key.12
It may be that the popularity of the mode may in large part be due to its status as the major prayer mode of the European hasidim, over and above the other three modes.13 What is clear to musicologists is that Ahavah Rabbah is just one of four distinctive Jewish prayer modes, that it was the one most obviously borrowed from another culture, and the one most recently incorporated into liturgical practice.14
Many North American Jewish musicians prior to 1970 exploited the culturally ascribed emotionality of the Ahavah Rabbah prayer mode, as they sought to align Jewish experience with the mainstream. Jewish composers of works in both popular and Western classical styles found it easy to achieve a nostalgic emotional effect by using the mode. As in Jewish cooking, what many define as distinctively Jewish is that which they experienced as children. Ahavah Rabbah mode becomes like kneidlah as a universalized generic experience.
I recently discovered a fascinating example of how Jews have borrowed raw materials from their host and other cultures, shaping and casting it into distinctive forms of significance to Jewish communities. I had been researching the culture, religiosity, and music of 17th century Safed, as I began work on a multi-media musical composition set in that mystical community in the Land of Israel. To my dismay, I could find very few musical examples of the music of Safed. What scholars have at their disposal are the liturgical and poetic texts of people like Israel Najara. In some of these works, one finds signs, carefully hidden from unknowledgeble eyes, connecting particular poems with the melodic modes of Ottomon Turkish art music. The classical music of this era, early in its development, had not divided between music of the Sufi dervishes and more mainstream Turkish classical music. What I discovered was that Najara and his colleagues, including the noted mystic Rabbi Isaac Luria, essentially borrowed intact classical Turkish art musical modes (Makam) and forms to which they set their poems.15
Tracing the Music of the Jewish PeopleAs I suggested above, musical borrowing by Safed composers was not a new phenomenon. While we know little about music of biblical times, archeological explorations have demonstrated that Israelite musical instruments were similar in kind to those found in other ancient Near Eastern cultures.16 Musicologists such as A.Z. Idelsohn17 and Eric Werner18 have long pointed out that the parallelism in biblical poetry suggests an antiphonal style of musical performance. Parallelism and antiphony were devices likely shared with pre-Israelite and surrounding non-Israelite cultures. Just as the crafters of the great Israelite epic narratives (such as the flood and creation stories) reworked earlier material, adapting it to their own theology and culture, so is it likely that Israelite musicians did the same with melodies, forms, and instrumentation. As we will see below, these same scholars find evidence of musical and liturgical borrowing between early Christians and Jews during the first three centuries of the Common Era.19 Of course, the truth, like the sounds of any ancient musics, can not be described with any certainty.
It is when we enter the rabbinic era, the time period following the destruction of the Temple, that we can first speak of "Jewish," as opposed to ancient Israelite music. Yet attempting to imagine what music sounded like during the rabbinic age presents as many challenges as attempting to recreate music of the Second Temple period. In a sense, we are at an even greater disadvantage, since for this time period we lack the archeological resources that inform us about music in biblical times. What we know about music during the early centuries of the Common Era is recorded in, but also limited to, our literary sources.
That we have access to the traditions of nusah, at least as they come down to us, is helpful, because that gives us greater access to the musical traditions supported by the rabbis (many of whom condemned instrumental music, leaving us limited and questionably accurate information about its nature).20 Granted, it is unclear how close our received nusah traditions are to those of rabbinic times. Here again, we are indebted to Idelsohn and Werner, among others, for offering historical reconstructions of the origins of the nusah that later divided into Sephardic and Ashkenazic.
Early in this century, Idelsohn recorded Jewish musical traditions throughout the East, including that of long isolated communities such as Yemen. His goal was to document the living musical traditions of diverse communities in the East. What Idelsohn discovered were common threads between Jewish music in Arab lands and the chant modes of the early Church.21 He then posited a common musical tradition of the ancient Near East, as exemplified by the music of the Second Temple. It was this music, according to Idelsohn, that provided the origins of the evolving nusah of Jews in Arab lands. His conclusions depended upon the assumption that the music he uncovered had remained untouched, culturally pure, and expressive of a strong continuity with practice dating back to the Second Temple. More recent scholars22 are critical of this assumption, and suggest that we have no way of knowing the degree or impact of cultural exchanges and (two-way) borrowing over the ages.
Attempts at Defining Jewish MusicIdelsohn's research offered a definition of Jewish music. He described it as a subset of Semitic (his term was "Oriental") music. The features of this music include: a focus on an ornamented, homophonic (i.e., unison) and improvisational vocal line; microtonality (i.e., melodic intervals smaller than those used in the West); a modal melodic structure; a rhythmic structure that is free floating, following the poetic rhythms of a text; and simple repetitive forms.23 With this description, Idelsohn places traditional Jewish music squarely within the music of the Near East.
I believe that Idelsohn's assessment of the nature and structure of traditional Jewish music of the synagogue, is generally correct. Idelsohn's theory best represents Jewish music of the East, but traditional Ashkenazic synagogue music is also modally based and often improvisatory. His formulation suggests that the premodern Jewish musical tradition was part of a broader Eastern musical culture.
Thus, the roots of Jewish music are not to be found in an insular subculture. We should not be surprised by the ease with which Jews appear to have incorporated the music of other Middle Eastern cultures into their own culture, as was the case in Safed. While the specific modes used within different Southwestern Asian and Mediteranean traditional music may vary, many of those cultures share the basic features outlined by Idelsohn. The Turkish classical music played in Safed may reflect important differences from other Near Eastern musical traditions, but it also "spoke" a related language.
Medieval DevelopmentsAdaptation, invention, and borrowing continue to characterize Jewish music during the Medieval and Rennaisance periods. Fortunately for musicological research, more information is available about Jewish music during these eras.24 The Islamic world, within which a significant portion of Jewish communities dwelled, was musically rich, and Jews were actively involved in it as performers, composers, and philosophers. Jewish philosophers and commentators, from Saadia Gaon (882-942) to Ibn Ezra (1092-1167), offered discourses on the "science of music," although they were clearly uncomfortable with unbounded Jewish musical practice. In Europe, while the rabbis tended to be more lenient about musical practice, they spoke more negatively about its theoretical value.25 Jewish musicians are known to have participated throughout mainstream musical culture in all parts of the world, including having traveled with troops of troubadours in Europe. Clearly musical cross-fertilization took place between Jewish and non-Jewish cultures.
In 16th and 17th century Italy, Jews had access to the great musical scores of the time and so it comes as no surprise that we find Solomono de Rossi composing settings to the liturgy and Psalms in the style of Monteverdi. Italian Jewish philosophers drew upon musical imagery.26 Surely, here, as in all times and places, a tension existed between the preservation of existing Jewish traditions intact, and the incorporation of musical influences from beyond. Shiloah suggests that cantors commonly played an often challenging role as arbiters in this domain.27
Defining the nature of Jewish music, even in the premodern world, is thus a more complex subject than usually assumed. The Semitic core (primarily vocal, solo or unison, improvisational, modal, ornamented, and following textual meter) was subject to numerous shifts and adaptations. As Jews spread throughout the world, stylistic and modal differences grew. The distinctions between Sephardi and Ashkenazi are only the most obvious. The dawn of European classical music in the Rennaisance suggested the first signs of the challenges to come when Jewish music entered a world that was musically radically different and that welcomed, albeit highly conditionally, Jewish participation.
Encounter with ModernityThe development of a (theoretically) neutral, secular society opened the possibility of Jewish participation in the mainstream of European classical music. Jews began to establish musical lives in two civilizations, just as Moses Mendelssohn (1729-1786) posited for literary intellectuals. One example is the 19th century German Jewish liturgical composer Solomon Sulzer (1804-1890). A contemporary of Franz Schubert, Sulzer wrote in a style reminiscent of this great Romantic composer. His work reflected an adaptation of nusah to European classical harmonic and rhythmic structure.
Speaking of Sulzer's compositions, A.B. Binder observes that Sulzer:
eliminated certain characteristics of the synagogue chant, such as the melisma28 and traditional modulations. In his choral music, Sulzer set the nusah, when he employed it, behind bar lines. To the traditional Jew, his music sounded un-Jewish... later... he learned to value traditional hazzanut and incorporated it in his work, adapting it to his own style.29
Sulzer's life presents the possibilty, now common, of a Jew crossing the boundaries between the Jewish world and the broader secular society. From this time forth, Jews would increasingly seek sustenance and support from the European cultural world.
At this time, Jews who sought to move into the mainstream of European musical culture found that their entry ticket was conversion to Christianity. Those who indeed did convert included the Mendelssohn family, and some years later, Gustav Mahler and Arnold Schoenberg. Ironically, Mahler found that despite his rise to the directorship of the Vienna Opera, his identity was never secure. Mahler once wrote to his wife, Alma Mahler-Werfel, "I am thrice homeless, as a native of Bohemia in Austria, as an Austrian among Germans, and as a Jew throughout the world. Everywhere an intruder, never welcome."30
Schoenberg considered himself musically a German. In 1931, he wrote: "...my music, grown on German ground and untouched by foreign influences as it is, constitutes an art which has sprung entirely from the traditions of German music....My masters were in the first place Bach and Mozart, and in the second, Beethoven, Brahms and Wagner...."31 Yet in his personal identity, he gradually began to see himself as a Jew, culminating in his return to Judaism as the Nazis came to power. This process had begun as early as 1923, when the composer experienced anti-semitism in the major German center of the arts of the day, the Bauhaus. He then wrote, distinguishing his personal identity from his musical heritage:
I have at last learned the lesson that has been forced upon me during this year, and I shall not ever forget it. It is that I am not a German, not a European, indeed perhaps scarcely even a human being (at least, the Europeans prefer the worst of their race to me). I am a Jew. I am content that it should be so!32
One musicologist Peter Gradenwitz,33 relates Schoenberg's 12-tone system to the primacy of melody inherent in Jewish tradition. Schoenberg wrote liturgical settings and several operatic works on biblical themes,34 but these remain largely unknown in Jewish circles. During the 1930s, in exile, Schoenberg lectured and wrote about the question of a Jewish state, and during the 1940s, set a variety of Jewish liturgical texts, including Kol Nidrey and Psalms. Shortly before his death, he was elected honorary president of the newly founded Israel Academy of Music.
In modernity, it became possible for Jews to choose to become musicians and disaffiliate from Jewish communal life. Thus, musicians of Jewish descent often began to choose to move into the musically more compelling European mainstream. What effect that shift had on the music of the synagogue and Jewish communal life cannot fully be known. How would music of the synagogue have changed if the major European composers of Jewish background were its principle composers? We can only guess.
European InfluencesMusic of the great synagogues of Western European Jews, and that of liberal Judaism in America was highly influenced by cantors trained in classical European techniques and aesthetics, such as Louis Levandowski. Like Sulzer before them, traditional Jewish chants were cast into Romantic European melodies, harmony, and forms, at times reminiscent of Protestant Christianity, if not supplanted entirely.
Even though early German Reform and Eastern European Orthodoxy were moving in opposite directions in many regards, it is interesting that the movement that most actively embraced the notion of melodic borrowing may have been the early hasidim. Amnon Shiloah cites the following story of the Karliner hasidim as an example of the openness with which the hasidim engaged in this practice. He suggests that the borrowing of foreign melodies might have been viewed as an exemplar of the Hasidic notion of redeeming holy sparks trapped in alien husks:
...at the funeral of Tzar Nikolai, the rabbi's son who would some day inherit his father's rabbinical post, the rabbi and Zadik R. Israel of blessed memory were all standing together with a few disciples. During the funeral a certain song was sung that the rabbi told his disciples would be worthwhile adopting; it would be good for singing the psalm consecrating the House of David. And until today it is customary to sing that song during the Hanukkah festival or when celebrating a house warming.35
Shifting Perspectives of the Late 20th CenturyAs Western music went through significant changes in the 20th century, the very definition of what constitutes music was broadened. The innovations of composers such as John Cage, Edgard Varese, and others led to the incorporation into music of sound that was previously considered non-musical in the West. Alan Hovannes, Cage, and others brought musical approaches of the East into the Western mainstream. Composers such as Frank Zappa blurred the boundaries between art music and popular music. These changes have affected how we view Jewish music as well. Unfortunately, such thinking has rarely moved beyond the academy and into popular Jewish culture.
I personally compose in electronic media, often working with archival sounds from traditional Jewish music as raw material. Nus�ah plays a role in my work in this media, just as it does in my more conventional pieces. Other Jewish composers during the past thirty years have set Psalms in minimalist style,36 incorporated klezmer inflections into classical style works,37 have drawn upon cantorial melody and haftarah cantillation trope as thematic material,38 and created multi-media electronic operas.39 Many have adapted folk harmonies and styles to liturgical and biblical texts. While some of these developments may appear more radical than those of the past,40 they force to the surface the basic question of the ages: what is at the core of the music of the Jewish people?
Music of the Jewish PeopleOnce we view Jewish music through the same lens with which we treat every other aspect of Jewish life, we discover numerous cultural and religious threads. Many of these are interpenetrating, although at times they are in conflict. Incorporation of new influences has been a constant. The innovative spirit that led Jews in Spain to learn from Islamic poetry, that encouraged Maimonides to integrate the best of Neo-Aristotelian thinking into his philosophy, and the adaptive force that has led Jews to re-cast hanukah into a festival meaningful to our time, have been equally present in the work of Jewish musicians.
We may follow the work of Idelsohn in asserting that nusah has provided a central core to at least some Jewish music, be it music of the synagogue, folk traditions, or popular music. But Jewish musical traditions are far too complex and varied to fit one mold. This is true even for the limited range of traditions explored in this article.41 It is my contention that we do better to think conceptually about "the music of the Jewish people" than to try to describe a corpus called "Jewish music."
The defining qualities of the music of Jewish communities may, at times, have been the use of particular modal structures, or the setting of texts in languages spoken by Jews, but we do ourselves a disservice by ending the conversation there. What draws together a popular Israeli song, a Kaddish written by the non-Jewish composer Maurice Ravel, an electronic opera, the Ottomon classic chants of Safed, and the music of a synagogue is the context. Music that is of significance to Jews, that gives meaning to Jewish life, that Jews hear as interesting and compelling, this is the music of the Jewish people.
Bob Gluck (RRC '89) is a composer and music teacher who serves as rabbi of Congregation Ahavath Sholom in Great Barrington, MA (JRF). His second recording of compositions in electronic media will be released this year.
- "Miss Rubinoff" became my piano teacher in 1962 and remained a life-long mentor and friend. Four years before her death in 1993, she gave me an edition of Idelsohn's Jewish Music, in which she inscribed: "To Bob who has the best of his possible world-the Rabbinate with his love of music." I am forever grateful to Regina for all she taught me.
- Judith K. Eisenstein, Heritage of Music (New York: Union of American Hebrew Congregations, 1972), 3.
- Aaron Copland, Music and Imagination (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1952), 36.
- Mordecai M. Kaplan, Judaism as a Civilization (New York: Schocken Books, 1967), 205.
- I have long lost the citation of this quotation.
- Kaplan, 203.
- A.Z. Idelsohn, Jewish Music in its Historical Development,(New York: Schocken Books, 1967), 24.
- In fact, "Mi Sinai" is a technical term to describe a genre of melodies that are considered to be obligatory in the music of traditional Ashkenazic synagogues. They were created during the four centuries following the Crusades (likely in the Rhineland). See Hanoch Avenari, "Mi-Sinai Niggunim," Encyclopedia Judaica (Jerusalem: Keter Publishing House, 1972); and A.Z. Idelsohn, Thesaurus of Hebrew Oriental Melodies (New York: Ktav, 1983), 1922-28.
- Premodern Jewish music is a substantially folk tradition. Inherent in the life of folk traditions, is its oral means of transmission. Folk traditions are noted for anonymity and borrowing of source material. Cultivated traditions tend to borrow and recast material from folk traditions. Scholars assert that Israelite musicians borrowed materials, instruments, and musical forms from surrounding cultures, folk and cultivated. If the Second Temple music of the Levites was the cultivated music of that age, I would assume that it borrowed from folk musics. Western European Classical music, the cultivated music of post-Rennaisance European society, also tended to borrow from folk music, recasting it within the context of its aesthetics, forms, and social milieu.
- Alexander Ringer, "Jewish Music and a Jew's Music," in Arnold Schoenberg: The Composer as Jew (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990), 201.
- Jewish liturgical music is generally characterized by the use of four prayer modes (Ahavah Rabbah, Adonai Malah, Magen Avot, and Selihah). To offer one example of an augmented second, consider the musical interval between the notes d-flat and e-natural. It is called "augmented" because it is a larger interval than the stepwise move that our ears expect to hear (d-flat to e-flat).
- The Western "minor" and "major" scales are derived from more ancient modes. A mode is a series of notes, moving stepwise from lower to higher. The modes of Eastern cultures, including the ancient Near East and Mediteranean, are greatly varied. It is common for people in the West to ascribe emotional qualities to the musical modes of antiquity and/or of more recent Eastern cultures. Often, these qualities, which are indeed conventions of the harmonic structure of European Classical music (eg. minor conveys sadness), most often do not apply to modes and they do not provide an adequate portrayal of the nature of the modes. Ahavah Rabbah, for example, despite its similarity to a harmonic minor scale, lacks a mournful emotional content.
- See note 11.
- A.B. Binder describes Ahavah Rabbah as "the most recent of the modes, for it does not occur among [those deriving from] the biblical [cantillation] modes [which many scholars view as the source of the nusah]. It came from southwestern Europe... [its sources being] Tartar, Persian and Byzantine..." ("Jewish Music, An Encyclopedic Survey," in Collected Writings of A.W. Binder [New York: Bloch Publishing Company, 1971]. Composer, conductor, and teacher, Binder was Professor of Liturgical Music at Hebrew Union College's School of Sacred Music from the 1920s through the 1960s. I do not believe that the relative lack of longevity (or its exclusive use by Jews) of a mode renders it less authentically Jewish. Communities ascribe authenticity to their preferred Jewish musical forms, at times assigning claims of eternality to them (eg. as noted previously, when referring to melodies as 'mi Sinai.') Generally, in the case of ritual and prayer, longevity or exclusivity are often seen as signs of authenticity. However, rabbis of the early centuries of the Common Era are noted for claims of historical continuity for ideas and rituals that were likely of recent vintage. Also, the title "traditional" can often refer to that which is familiar. Melodies common in contemporary liberal synagogues that are commonly viewed as ancient are often compositions from the second half of the 20th century.
- For example, see Edwin Seroussi, "The Turkish Makam in the Musical Culture of the Ottoman Jews: Sources and Examples," in Israel Studies in Musicology, Vol. 5 (Jerusalem: Israel Musicological Society, 1990), 43-69; and Karl Signell, The Turkish Makam System in Contemporary Theory and Practice (Seattle: University of Washington, 1979); and Idelsohn, 363-365. Idelsohn (ibid., 412) reports that the favorite melody of R. Isaac Luria set to R. Israel Najara's Kabbalat Shabbat hymn, Yedid Nefesh is, for example, set in the Saba mode (eg C-D flat-E natural-F-F-E flat-D flat-C...).
- See for example, Alfred Sendry, Music in Ancient Israel (New York: Philosophical Library, 1969).
- Idelsohn, 412.
- Eric Werner, The Sacred Bridge, Volume I (New York: Schocken Books, 1970) and Volume II (New York: Ktav Publishing House, 1984).
- Werner (Volumes I and II) also suggests that such exchanges may have taken place in Antioch, Rome, or Damascus. His thesis is that early Christian Fathers adopted the music of the Temple, across a "sacred bridge." Werner holds that it was in the music of the Second Temple (choral and antiphonal, well suited to a permanent, large physical sacred setting), which after the destruction was no longer useful to Jews, became the foundation of music of the Church. I might add that if Werner is correct, might the exchange have been two-way? If so, what might have been the effect on Jewish music and culture? It is difficult even to guess. One major midrash, however, uses a musical anecdote to comment on the cultural/religious divide between Hellenism and Judaism in rabbinic times. Elisha ben Abuya was a major early rabbinic scholar, a colleague of Rabbi Akiva, who became a non-believer and a defector from Jewish communal life. A cause of his apostacy is said to be his (excessive?) singing of Roman songs (B.hagigah 15a-b).
- Werner refers to the rabbinic attitude as a "studied indifference" to music. I have collected rabbinic sources on this topic in an unpublished essay, "Rabbinic Attitudes Towards Instrumental Music" (1988). It is my thesis that the negativity of the rabbis, especially those in the Land of Israel, may not be completely reduced to a desire to mourn the destruction of the Temple, as popularly thought. The rabbis associated instrumental music with the allegedly sexual rituals of the mystery cults of Asia Minor and they feared religious syncretism and the involvement of Jews in non-Jewish rituals. Sources from the (largely Palestinian) rabbis and the early Church Fathers share a similar world view on this topic, connecting instrumental music with fears about the human body, which, they felt, would become engaged in dance in the presence of this music. Dance was connected with the cults and sexuality, as well.
- A familiar example of a Church mode is Gregorian Chant.
- Notably the Israeli scholar, Amnon Shiloah; see his Jewish Musical Traditions (Detroit: Wayne State Univ. Press, 1992).
- Such as "ABA", where "A" and "B" represent melodic themes; following the presentation of "B", "A" returns.
- The responsa literature (responses to questions addressed to major rabbinic leaders) addresses musical issues with relative openness, and musical traditions of nusah, settings of piyyutim and other texts have been handed down and preserved. The Responsa includes an extensive dialogue reflecting a rabbinic desire to remove Kol Nidrey from the liturgy, an attempt that failed due to the popular love of its melodies.
- See Shiloah, Jewish Musical Traditions. Readers may contact me (P.O. Box 276, Sheffield, MA 01257; Rjgluck@aol.com) for reference material and analysis contained in my unpublished article, see note 19.
- See Shiloah, 50-52. The appropriation of Italian Rennaisance music by de Rossi for Jewish liturgical use clearly reflects a change in approach on the part of Jewish religious musical life. Granted the previous involvement of Jews in traveling European musical troupes, I am inclined to doubt it. Although de Rossi's influence was on the musical life of Italian non-Jews (few Jews were likely to have ever heard his music), de Rossi's liturgical settings represents the first hint of what would later prove to be the significant influence of European music (and its emphasis on polyphony (multiple musical lines; Jewish liturgical music to date was generally monophonic, i.e. a single melodic line), and later on harmony) on Jewish music in the West.
- Shiloah, 67-73.
- Melisma refers to an ornamented melodic line, usually extending a single syllable of text.
- Sulzer, 152. Sulzer once wrote: "[traditional nus�ah needs to be] improved and selected and adjusted to the rules of art." He qualified this statement by adding: "it should not be neccesary to sacrifice characteristics to artistic forms." Quoted in Peter Gradenwitz, "Jews in Austrian Music", in Josef Fraenkel, ed., The Jews of Austria: Essays On Their Life, History and Destruction, (London: Valentine, Mitchell, 1967), 18.
- Cited in Peter Gradenwitz, "Mahler and Schoenber," in Leo Baeck Institute Year Book V (London: East and West Library, 1960), 266.
- Arnold Schoenberg to Josef Hauer, 1 December 1923, Erwin Stein, ed., Letters, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987), 103-5. Also see "Music" from "Guidelines for a Ministry of Art," in Style and Idea: Selected Writings of Arnold Schoenberg (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984), 369. My unpublished article "Arnold Schoenberg and the Quest For a Modern Jewish Spirituality" (1988) traces the development of Schoenberg's Jewish identity.
- Arnold Schoenberg to Wassily Kandinsky, 20 April 1923, Letters, 88-89.
- Peter Gradenwitz, The Music of Israel (New York: W.W. Norton and Co., 1949), 189. Gradenwitz theorizes that Schoenberg's 12-tone system reflects a restoration of melody to a harmonically excessive European Romanticism: "It cannot be incidental that the regeneration of melody was the achievement of a Jewish composer, who on his way smashed the edifice of Romantic harmony..."; I believe that Gradenwitz's conclusions are questionable. Ringer (see note 9) connects Schoenberg's free rhythmic style to traditional synagogue chant.
- Two major dramatic works, "Die Biblishe Weg" and "Moses Und Aron", address the narrative of the Exodus and its aftermath. Schoenberg is especially interested in the leadership models of Moses and Aaron. "Moses Und Aron" is considered by critics to be a major opera, albeit rarely performed, in the 20th century repertoire.
- Shiloah, 71.
- Steve Reich: "Tehillim" (ECM, 1982); "Different Trains" (Nonesuch, 1988); "The Cave" (Nonesuch, 1995).
- Ofer ben Amots's "Celestial Dialogues" (on Giora Feidman, "Klezmer Chamber Music," Verlag Plane, 1995, a German release); Osvaldo Golichov's "Yiddish Ruah" (frequently performed but not yet available on recording).
- Leonard Bernstein, Symphony No. I, "Jeremiah" (Israel Symphony Orchestra, Bernstein, Deutsche Grammophon, 1978); John Zorn's free jazz influenced "Masada" (DIW Records, 1994 (A Japanese release that may be found in larger North American CD shops).
- Richard Teitelbaum's "Golem" (Tzadik, 1995).
- I imagine that the wholesale adaptation of Turkish Makam-based music in Safed and its sister communities of mystics may have been considered shocking to Jews in other communities. Despite similarities in approach to Sephardic nusah, Makam is an independent, clearly Ottoman tradition.
- Such topics might include the wide range of Jewish folk and secular traditions.
Copyright © 2001 Reconstructionist Rabbinical College
Its Roots and Offshoots
Publication Year: 2002
Klezmer, the Yiddish word for a folk instrumental musician, has come to mean a person, a style, and a scene. This musical subculture came to the United States with the late-nineteenth-century Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe. Although it had declined in popularity by the middle of the twentieth century, this lively music is now enjoying recognition among music fans of all stripes. Today, klezmer flourishes in the United States and abroad in the world music and accompany Jewish celebrations. The outstanding essays collected in this volume investigate American klezmer: its roots, its evolution, and its spirited revitalization.
The contributors to American Klezmer include every kind of authority on the subject--from academics to leading musicians--and they offer a wide range of perspectives on the musical, social, and cultural history of klezmer in American life. The first half of this volume concentrates on the early history of klezmer, using folkloric sources, records of early musicians unions, and interviews with the last of the immigrant musicians. The second part of the collection examines the klezmer "revival" that began in the 1970s. Several of these essays were written by the leaders of this movement, or draw on interviews with them, and give firsthand accounts of how klezmer is transmitted and how its practitioners maintain a balance between preservation and innovation.
Published by: University of California Press
2. Klezmer-loshn: The Language of Jewish Folk Musicians
3. Di Rusishe Progresiv Muzikal Yunyon No. 1 fun Amerike: The First Klezmer Union in America
4. The Klezmer in Jewish Philadelphia, 1915–70
5. “All My Life a Musician”: Ben Bazyler, a European Klezmer in America
6. Bulgărească/Bulgarish/Bulgar: The Transformation of a Klezmer Dance Genre
8. KlezKamp and the Rise of Yiddish Cultural Literacy
9. Newish, Not Jewish: A Tale of Two Bands
10. An Insider’s View: How We Traveled from Obscurity to the Klezmer Establishment in Twenty Years
11. Why We Do This Anyway: Klezmer as Jewish Youth Subculture
Page Count: 252
Publication Year: 2002
MUSE Marc Record: Download for American Klezmer