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December 20, 2002 - Image 59

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2002-12-20

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

A Hero Of Jewish Music

N

RAHEL MUSLEAH

Special to the Jewish News

ever heard of Salamone
Rossi?
A contemporary of
Renaissance musical inno-
vator Claudio Monteverdi, and a court
musician in Mantua, Rossi (ca. 1570-
1628) was the first Jewish composer to
use Western harmonies to illuminate
Jewish texts.
"Rossi qualifies as the first impor-
tant Jewish composer of art music
since King David — and that's no
exaggeration," says Rossi expert Dr.
Don Harran, professor of musicology
at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
"No Jewish-born musicians of his cal-
iber are to be found until
Mendelssohn,
Mahler and
Schoenberg."
The last two
volumes of
Harran's 14-vol-
ume Salamone

committed to his Jewish identity and
to the Jewish community," says Dr.
Marsha Bryan Edelman, professor of
music and education at Gratz College
in Philadelphia.
Rossi's attempt to keep a foot in
both worlds mirrors contemporary
Jewish life, she notes.
The composer's pioneering achieve-
ment is his collection of 33 liturgical
texts, HaShirim Asher LiShlomo ("The
Songs According to Solomon"). The
title is a play on his name as well as
the opening line of the Song of Songs.
Listen to the music, and you might
think you're in a 17th-century cathe-
dral — until you hear the words. Adon

Olam. Barchu.
Elohim Hashiveinu.
Faced with musi-
cal rules that pre-
cluded his notat-
ing nusach (tradi-
tional prayer
modes), Rossi
expressed him-
self Jewishly in
the polyphon-
Rossi: The Complete
,
is vernacular
Works (American
of the time.
Institute of
Because
Musicology) are
his Jewish composi-
scheduled for immi-
tions represented a radical
nent publication. He
break with the synagogue
is also the author of
The newly released chant tradition, Rossi need-
the one-volume biog-
"Lady Take a Lover ed a halachic seal of
raphy Salamone Rossi,
Now: Music and
approval, permission from
Jewish Musician in Late
Poetry from the
rabbinic authorities to con-
Renaissance Mantua
Ghettos of
tinue in his work.
(Oxford University Press;
Renaissance Italy"
He got that permission
$80.00).
(Endpin Records)
from
Venetian rabbi and _
Though Rossi lived in
features never-before- scholar Leon Modena, who
Mantua's walled-in Jewish
recorded music for
urged the composer to
ghetto, he worked in the
theater and dancing restore Hebrew song to the
royal court of the
by Salamone Rossi,
exalted rank it held in bibli-
Gonzagas, composing
paired with new
cal times," says Harran.
duets, trios and madrigals
English translations
"Modena was convinced
that used texts by highly
of Hebrew poetry of that the HaShirim Asher
regarded poets of the day.
the period.
LiShlomo would inaugurate
He earned a place in secular
a
new era in Hebrew
music as a developer of the
music.-
trio sonata, a popular instrumental
With few printed scores and limited
form of the period.
public exposure, however, Rossi's
"His patrons generously exempted
him from wearing the shameful yellow genius was lost for about 250 years. In
the mid-19th century, a member of
Jew-badge, but in signing his publica-
the Rothschild family vacationing in
tions he consistently and voluntarily
Italy stumbled on the scores in an old
appended the word Hebreo (or Ebreo)
bookstore.
to his name," says Dr. Joshua
Today, Rossi is considered the role
Jacobson, professor of music at
model for Jewish composers who
Northeastern University in Boston.
remain faithful both to their tradition
"It's a point of pride to know that
and to their art — the starting point
there was a Jewish musician who not
of the Jewish musical tradition in
only 'made it' in the secular world so
Western
society. ❑
long ago, but was also passionately

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59

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