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question everything Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Nov-28-09 10:22 PM
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Discovering Jewish Music
Yes, Krauthammer is not many's cup of tea, but this is interesting.

NOVEMBER 27, 2009

Discovering Jewish Music



Together with his wife, Robyn, Mr. Krauthammer runs Pro Musica Hebraica, a concert series they launched last year to change the common view that "Jewish music" is hava nagila, liturgical music, klezmer and not much else. Earlier this month, Pro Musica Hebraica presented its fourth concert at the Kennedy Center in Washington. There is a rich tradition of Jewish classical music, though it is largely unknown even within the Jewish community. For Pro Musica Hebraica, such music is not defined strictly by the composer's ethnicity. It must simply be "self-consciously Jewish"by drawing on Jewish folk music, Hebrew texts or Jewish themes. Pro Musica Hebraica is an attempt to recover a tradition, Mr. Krauthammer says, and to encourage audiences to judge whether it might be worthy of "a place in the Western canon."

Last year, the series focused on 20th-century Russian music, specifically on the St. Petersburg School, the Jewish students of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908). As nationalism rose across Europe, Rimsky-Korsakov challenged his Jewish students to create a Jewish national music of their own. They responded, Mr. Krauthammer notes, by sending "ethnographic expeditions to shtetls, where they wrote down and recordedtheir wax recordings still exist in the St. Petersburg librarysynagogue and folk music of the time." The folk-inflected music of these composersamong them, Joel Engel and Solomon Rosowskywas repressed until the fall of the Soviet Union, when scholars and local Jews pushed for access to the composers' manuscripts. James Loeffler, the musical director of Pro Musica Hebraica, dug into the archives and immediately saw the potential for a musical revival.

Of course, Jewish art music is not limited to Russia or Eastern Europe. On Nov. 5, Pro Musica Hebraica presented the Apollo Ensemble of Amsterdam, whose performance featured 17th- and 18th-century baroque music from Italy and the Netherlands. The night began with a sonata by Salamone De Rossi, a composer who lived in the Jewish ghetto of 17th-century Mantua and rose to prominence as a court musician for the Duchy of Gonzaga. As far as we know, he was the first man to compose classical music for the synagogue, introducing Western-style polyphonic choral music into the prayer service. While De Rossi lived something of a double lifewriting music for his aristocratic patrons and, separately, for the synagogue-goers he lived amongother composers wrote hybrid music that captured the encounter between Jewish tradition and European modernity. One was Abraham Caceres, whose 1738 "Cantata Le'el Elim" ("To the Mighty God") was performed by the Apollo Ensemble.

When Caceres wrote "Le'el Elim," he was living as a free Jew in Holland. But he was a descendant of marranosSpanish Jews forced to convert during the Inquisition. Mr. Krauthammer notes that Sephardic Jews of the time, including Caceres, seemed "nostalgic for the music of the Church they heard during their ancestral days after the Inquisition." Thus "Le'el Elim" sounds like a church oratorio, but its text is a Hebrew poem by the Jewish mystic Moses Chaim Luzzato.

The November concert also included a work by Benedetto Marcello, an 18th-century Italian Catholic aristocrat and composer. His "Salmo 15/ Ma'oz Tzur" blends cultural sources, jumping from a baroque rendering of Psalm 16 to the solo chant of a 12th-century Hanukkah poem. Such cultural mixingMarc Chagall's crucifixion paintings come to mindseems to be more likely in societies, unlike our own, where separate religious identities are strong and borrowings from other traditions are both profound and deliberate. Marcello was so eager to be faithful to the Hebrew text that he wrote his music from right to left.

Ms. Weiss is an assistant editorial features editor at the Journal.

Printed in The Wall Street Journal, page W13

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elleng Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Nov-30-09 04:18 PM
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1. Interesting; thanks for this.
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