Sunday, July 13, 2008

Mi-al har horev from the manuscripts of Obadiah the Proselyte

In 1918, a fragment containing medieval musical notation was discovered in the Cairo Genizah. The manuscript containing the piyyut Mi-al har horev, was subsequently studied in depth by a group of researchers including E.N Adler, several Benedictine friars of the Solesmes School, and A.M. Friedlander. They coined the text "The Eulogy of Moses," which they believed was written either for the festival of Shavuot (Penticost) or for Simchat Torah (Rejoicing of the Law). The text itself consists of six rhymed couplets set to a similar melody, ending with the refrain ki-moshe (like Moses). Based on the text's double acrostic form, the research group suggested that the author of the fragment was an 11th-century poet by the name of 'Amr ibn Sahl. They identified the musical notation as originating from the 12th-13th century southern Italian School of "Lombardic notation," later known as "Beneventane notation." The neumes are written in diastematic notation (i.e. without a musical staff), which made transcription of the melody particularly challenging. Part of the fragment (line 6 of the recto to line 10 of the verso) contains a Hebrew letter clef, marked by the letter dalet, the fourth letter in the Hebrew alphabet. This clef can be interpreted in a number of different ways; the dalet could correspond to the note D (re), the note F (fa) which is the fourth note in the C major scale, or finally as C (do, indicating a basic C-clef). To view images of the original manuscripts click here.

The Hebrew script that appears in the fragment was classified by Nechamia Allony as an oriental square script, which shares certain basic characteristics with Rashi script (11th-12th c.). The unlikely combination of oriental Hebrew text and Italian Christian musical notation found in these fragments puzzled many scholars. In 1965, Allony discovered two additional manuscripts from the Genizah collection housed at the Cambridge University Library: a second version of Mi-al har horev, and a fragment with additional Hebrew texts containing neumatic notation. The additional hymn texts Wa-Eda’ mah and Baruk’ Hag-Gever were labeled according to the first words of the poem. That same year, Alexander Scheiber and Norman Golb published studies independent of one another, pointing to the undeniable similarity between the script of the new musical manuscripts to that of the Mahzor Genizah fragment signed by Obadiah the Norman Proselyte. Basic information about Obadiah's life and education has been gleaned from his memoirs, generally known as the "Scroll of Obadiah," which was pieced together between 1919-1953 from fragments held in the Cambridge University collection and the Adler Collection at the Jewish Theological Seminary. Obadiah the Proselyte was born in Italy c. 1070 A.D., and converted to Judaism according to his record in 1102. After his conversion, he traveled to Syria, Palestine, and Baghdad, where he learned to read and write Hebrew script. He finally settled in Egypt, as a member of the thriving Jewish community situated there, and wrote his memoirs. The discovery of Obadiah the Proselyte's authorship essentially solved the mystery of the rare combination of oriental Hebrew text and Italian musical notation. Researchers were also better able to date the manuscripts, which they now believe originated sometime between 1102 and 1150 A.D.

The manuscript of Mi al-har horev consists of six strophes of the "Eulogy of Moses" (lines 1-8 and most of 9) a non –strophic epilogue inspired by Isaiah 60:1 (lines 9-11), and a quotation of the verse from Isaiah in full (lines 12-13). The "Eulogy of Moses" and the epilogue are neumated, and the verse from Isaiah is text-only. Adler's transcription includes a transliteration of the Hebrew text along with an approximate notation of the original neumes. The "white neumes" indicate gaps in the manuscript that were filled, or instances where the notation is uncertain. To view Israel Adler's transcriptions of the manuscripts, on which the two recordings below are based, click here

To listen to a recording of Mi 'al Har Hôrev performed by vocalist Meirav Ben-David Harel, accompanied by Nima Ben-David on the viola da gamba, click here. This recording is provided courtesy of Hazmana L'Piyut:

To listen to a recording of "Mi 'al har hôrev" arranged by Andre Hajdu and performed by the Jerusalem Children's Choir under conductor Yonatan Lesser, click here. This recording is provided courtesy of Hazmana L'Piyut:

If you are interested in learning more, please peruse the JMRC bibliographical database, which includes a number of important articles relating to the discovery and analysis of Obadiah's manuscripts, as well as additional recordings.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Shavuot Song from Kerala, India

Muyimpāya Tampirāntĕ (When Moses Received Knowlede)

This Kerala "play song" is about Mutaliyār Moses' receipt of the Torah on Mount Sinai. At the critical moment of transmission, Moses' hands slip and he drops the heavy tablets! Luckily, Moses has the insight to quickly record everything inscribed on the broken tablets and the Torah is saved for future generations. This song alludes to a popular midrash that describes how the letters of the tablets flew off when Moses came down the mountain and saw the Jewish people worshiping the golden calf. To listen to a recording of this song, click here.

English Translation of the Lyrics

The Lord Who is the First gave all knowledge to Moshe,
And with that knowledge he gave praises to God.
On Sinai Mountain God appeared in royal splendor.
On Seir Mountain, there the fire was burning.
All the incense of this world was thrown into the fire,
So that the smoke would rise with a pleasant fragrance.
"Oh let that smoke go up-up into heaven."
Then that smoke went up-up into heaven.
And Mutaliyār Moshe went and spoke about it.
He spoke to his brother, Aaron Hacohen.
"Oh Moshe, receive it into your hands."
Mutaliyār Moshe took it without looking at it.
It feel down from his hands because it became heavy.
"Oh Moshe, make the effort; try to write it down."
So he made the effort and he wrote it down.
And that was for the good of the Children of Israel,
It was for their good and for their freedom.
Blessed, blessed be Mutaliyār Moshe.
Blessed, blessed be the children of Israel.
The Lord God lives forever and forever.
May His holy name be blessed forever and forever.

This Shavuot song is included in the JMRC album "Oh, Lovely Parrot: Jewish Women's Songs from Kerala." Performed by Rahel Nehemia, Toba Sofer and others. Recorded by Avigdor Herzog, Moshav Taoz, December 23, 1982.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

JMRC's Newest Release

The new 6 CD set of the series “Anthology of Musical Traditions in Israel”, “The Jerusalem Sephardi Baqqashot at the Har Tzyion Synagogue” represents the culmination of comprehensive research done on the liturgical music of the “Jerusalem-Sephardi” tradition. This extensive research project was lead by Essica Marks, under the auspices of the Jewish Music Research Centre and with the support of the Israel Science Foundation. Unlike the other disks produced up to now in the series, the present project is not based on existing archival recordings, but on a comprehensive series of recordings made in the Har Tzyion synagogue in the Old City of Jerusalem in 2003 specifically for the production of this series.

While the “Jerusalem-Sephardi” Baqqashot, a branch of the Jewish tradition from Aleppo (Syria), has attracted considerable attention from researchers in Israel and the USA since the beginning of the 20th century, the number of commercial recordings from this rich musical lore is scant. In the 1980s cassettes of this repertoire were published by Renanot – The Institute of Jewish Music in Jerusalem and by the Sephardic Archives of the Syrian Jewish Community in Brooklyn. However, the present recordings offer an ethnographical dimension and quality that were missing in previous releases.

The veteran cantor Abraham Caspi, a master of the Jerusalem Sephardi tradition, directed the recording process meticulously. Although the Jerusalem Sephardi Baqqashot are today performed in various synagogues in Israel, and even beyond its borders, it is generally accepted that the performance of Abraham Caspi and the Har Tzyion congregation is one of the most authentic expressions of this colorful musical event that has been performed in Jerusalem over the past hundred and fifty years. The Jewish Music Research Centre extends heart-felt thanks to him, and to his congregation, without whose agreement and enthusiastic participation this important enterprise would never have been accomplished.

To learn more about this collection, or to purchase a copy visit the JMRC Website.

View an Exhibit on the Popular Folk Song Hava Nagila

Hava Nagila is one of the most striking icons of Jewish life and culture worldwide. Originally a Hassidic niggun, Hava Nagila became a pan-Jewish folk song that gained popularity in Zionist circles in the United States, Europe, and Palestine. During the 1920’s and 1930’s, it was published in several Jewish children's songbooks in Palestine, Germany, and the United States, and was commercially recorded by a number of cantors and Jewish folk singers. Since then, it has been performed and recorded by Jewish and non-Jewish musicians alike, and featured in a number of popular American television series and movies.

The great popularity and far reaching recognition of Hava Nagila exemplifies the process by which a song can become a powerful marker of identity. This exhibit will guide you through the fascinating origins and reception of Hava Nagila, including never before published materials from the Abraham Zvi Idelsohn collection at the Department of Music of the Jewish National and University Library (hereby JNUL). By retracing the origins and path of this popular song, we will come to understand the process by which many Jewish “folk songs” came into being in the 20th century. To view the exhibit in its entirely click here.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Goldfaden Centennial Exhibit Online

January 9, 2008 marked the centennial of Abraham Goldfaden's death. This presentation was prepared in honor of this anniversary to pay tribute to the life and work of Abraham Goldfaden, Father of the modern Yiddish theater. The following images and texts will guide you through a lifetime dedicated to the Jewish theater, from its humble beginnings in Iaşi, Romania to its height in New York City. Goldfaden's maturation as a composer and playwright will be exhibited through an overview of his most influential works and their impact on the development of the Yiddish theater in Europe and the United States. This exhibit will also display contemporary adaptations of Goldfaden’s plays alongside the original works, in order to demonstrate how Yiddish theater and culture is given expression today in the United States, Israel, and Europe. This exhibit is a project of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem Jewish Music Research Centre prepared by Eva Heinstein with help from the JMRC website staff. To view the exhibit in its entirety click here.