Jews have lived in Italy since the year 160 B.C.E. when a delegation sent from Jerusalem by Judah Maccabee came to Rome. Since the 16th century and until our days, the impact of Italian art and popular music is overwhelming. The land of opera and bel canto could not but have a solid imprint into the liturgy.
The goal of this book is to provide amateurs and professional musicians alike with liturgical excerpts that will expand their repertoire of Judeo Italian liturgical music. The selections include suggested chord progressions and a few of the excerpts contain more elaborate piano arrangements more suitable to be performed at a concert hall.
The Hazzan will find liturgical melodies that he/she might like to introduce during religious services both as a soloist and with the purpose of congregational participation. Music teachers may be interested in Jewish Italian melodies to enhance their repertoire for Shabbat, holidays or other life cycle events. Musicians of all backgrounds will be exposed to melodies that are, for the most part, largely unknown to the outside world and can be arranged successfully for a variety of musical ensembles.
“Shalom leBen Dodi” (Peace be with you, my pure and fair beloved) is a poem sung for weddings and for the holiday of Simhat Torah. The language of the Song of Songs is found throughout and reads: “At the time when love will flow, I will hurry / I will descend upon you as fast / As dew drops from Mount Hermon.” Tasat’s musical treatment mirrors the style of the 18th century.
“Adío querida” (Farewell my beloved) is a traditional Sephardic song and “Addio! del passato…” (Farewell! From the Past...) is a modern love song that has become very popular among Sephardic Jews. It narrates the disappointment experienced by a young lad for his unrequited love. The refrain’s melody resembles G. Verdi’s aria “Addio! del passato” from Act IV of his opera La Traviata.
The opening and closing liturgical poems for the Sabbath are traditionally set to contrafacts, a device involving the setting of a text, traditional or new, to a known tune. “Lekha Dodi” (Come, my beloved) is sung every Friday as an introduction to the Sabbath evening prayers. Its poetic structure follows the Arabic Hazag meter and it is performed responsively. The stanzas borrow some of their imagery from the Song of Songs and the prophet Isaiah.
“Hashkibenu” (Grant us that we lie down in peace) is a lyrical melody, arranged for tenor soloist and strings, which captures the intensity of our request that God would spread over us His shelter of peace.
The assimilation of tunes from secular sources into the liturgy is a Sephardic trademark. The melody of the hymn “Akh Ze haYom Kiviti” (Today I believe) is applied to “Fate onore del bel Purim” (Honor Purim), sung in Judeo-Italian. It reminds us to honor and be happy during the holiday. “Wal Viva Nostro Burino” is a parody mocking Haman and his family. A tarantella praising God for delivering us from oppression ends this setting exultantly: “May God redeem us speedily in our days.”
The composer of the melody of the popular “Psalm 114” (When Israel left the land of Egypt) is unknown, though the contemporary musicologist E. Piatelli believes its origin is modern. The text of “Psalm 150” (Praise God in His sanctuary) is well-known for the numerous musical instruments mentioned. This arrangement reflects the enthusiasm of the lyrics: “Let every breath of life praise God.”
“Psalm 117-8” begins as a free form recitative as we are called upon to praise God. The B section, more lyrical, captures the meaning of the words: “For great is His mercy upon us.” Its melody reminds us of one of the musical motives of La Traviata. It made sense, then, to pair this liturgical poem with the duet “Parigi o cara” from the mentioned opera.
“Ye’idun Yagidun” (Witness, declare as one) is one of the bakkashot, supplications recited on the Sabbath. This melody is also sung by the Spanish Portuguese Jewish community.
“Rachem” (Have mercy upon us) expresses a dramatic petition often sung in Yiddish. For this recording, however, an alternative Italian text was chosen. The singer concludes with the eternal Jewish dream: “Next year in Jerusalem.”
The liturgical poem “Yigdal” (May the living
God be magnified and praised) was composed by Judge (14th century). The
verses follow Maimonides’ Principles of Faith, but Sephardic Jews
include a final verse: “These are the Thirteen Principles, they
are the base of divine faith and of Moses’ Torah.”
Hazzan Raphael Frieder
Executive producer: Ramón Tasat