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Questions about Salamon Rossi and Hebrew

Dear ChoralNetters,
I have programed several Salamon Rossi *motets* for the fall and have several questions. In the recordings I have of the three we will be singing, all three are referred to as motets--are they really considered motets?  The ones ones I have programed are "Keter", "Elohim Hashivenu" and "Barekhu" if that helps.  I want to be accurate when I am referring to them as the program will also include motets and English Anthems  by William Byrd and motets by Claudio Monteverdi.
Is there a good resource for a Hebrew pronounciation guide?  I always put together "cheat sheets" for any languages we sing and want a good guide since all of my singers are Christian and for many, this will be the first time they sing in Hebrew.  I have sung in Hebrew but have never prepared a choir in Hebrew so I am a little worried.  I do know Rossi was Italian--and am fascinated by his life--and to stay true, it would be in Sephardic Hebrew and not in Ashkenazy Hebrew.  Or will it matter?
Listening to the recordings I have, the vowels sound very Italian--and that gives me  hope it won't be that difficult. I have fallen in love with the music and the interesting life of Rossi.  Thank you for any help you are able to give.
Replies (15): Threaded | Chronological
on June 25, 2012 11:14pm
Dear Marie,
This is a subject very dear to my heart. Having recorded 6 of the works from Ha-shirim asher li-sh'lomo of 1623 for Dorian Records a few years ago, I looked into many of the issues you are currently pondering. I am sure there are others out there who might add to this (Joshua Jacobson for one), but here are some quick thoughts and directions for further inquiry:
1) The works of Ha-shirim asher li-sh'lomo (“The Songs of Solomon”) are mainly [polyphonic] psalm settings. I would suggest the use this term rather than motet or Anthem. In some instances (6 to be exact), Rossi does not set a pre-existent psalm text, but rather postbiblical religious poems, known as piyyut.
2) Regarding diction: you could get very deeply caught up in this issue (if you desire). For Sinfonia's recording of these settings, we took this all the way -- yes, Sephardic Hebrew, but also following what is understood to be in an Italianate, 16th century approach. This style is far less guttural than modern Hebrew (for example, there is little difference between the consonant "heit" and "khaf" which are both much lighter than expected -- they become an aspirated "h"; also in this approach the initial "h" is made silent so words like ha-rim become a-rim.
There are many good (more basic) guides to Hebrew pronunciation -- I would suggest the 4th volume of Ron Jeffers' Translations and Annotations of Choral Repertoire by Ethan Nash (with Joshua Jacobson, who recorded a CD of texts to accompany the volume).
For a beautiful edition of Ha-shirim asher li-sh'lomo that includes all of the details for a "full-on" approach to 16th-century Italianate Sephardic Hebrew, look at Don Harrán's edition of Ha-shirim asher li-sh'lomo in the Corpus Mensurabilis Musicae series. These volumes published by the American Institute of Musicology in 2003 which (at the time) was published as part of AR Edition in Madison Wisc. Although CMM has more formally split off from AR Edition, I think they still distribute the volumes. This edition is a superb piece of scholarship, the editions are exquisitely done, and Harrán's translations are carefully considered. If you are going to approach these works in a serious way, then this volume (actually two volumes) will be indispensible.
If, however, this is your choir's first time working with Hebrew, I would say that these works could live with any reasonable approach to pronunciation -- Sephardic, Ashkenazy or something more historically accurate. Just teach good Hebrew pronunciation and make great music -- any consistent approach will serve this music. These are great works to sing and great work to hear.
Finally, if I can put in a plug, you can sample Sinfonia's recording at itunes -- 
If you want a "hard copy" with the notes written by Don Harrán, then you can still order copies directly from the ensemble --
Good luck with these wonderful works.
Dan Abraham
Director of Choral Activities
American University (Washington, D.C.)
Applauded by an audience of 2
on June 26, 2012 9:40am
Marie:  Just to add a little history to Dan's absolutely wonderful explanation, the word "motet" has been in use since the early 13th century (roughly the time of Robin Hood and of "Sumer is icumen in" to put it into historical perspective), when WORDS ("mots") were added as tropes to existing melismatic lines in conductus, so of course the meaning of the word has changed considerably over the centuries.
The 16th-17th century meaning of the term is (as Dan suggests), a "postbiblical religious poem" which has been set to music, although the subject matter may indeed be based on or even be quoted from an Old Testament story or even from the Book of Psalms or the Song of Solomon, or be a macaronic text selected from several such sources.  But in the Christian church in general, after undergoing a major change during the 15th century, it meant a choral setting of a single text which was non-liturgical (i.e. not a required text) but suitable for inclusion in services.
But even this is complicated, because a setting of the Magnificat text (which is biblical but New Testament), which is in fact a required text in the liturgy of the Office of Vespers, can be set as a motet and in fact IS a motet in form and musical treatment!
The English Anthem is in fact the exact equivalent of the continental Motet, drawing from the same kinds of non-liturgical texts and used in similar places in the services.  And to this day that remains the general definition of EITHER an Anthem or a Motet.  There is no musical, technical difference, unless you count the language itself.
I agree with Dan that if the text is in fact a Psalm text, that would be a useful distinction to make.  But it is still a "motet" in the accepted terminology of the time.  In other words, a "motet" was a poetic-musical FORM, and not something that must be associated with the Christian Church (or churches) by any means.
I don't know a great deal about Hebew as a living language, but what little I do know suggests that while it has persisted as a written language over the centuries, much like Latin itself, it was for a long time not a functioning living language, and just as Latin evolved into early Italian, French and Spanish while still being used in religion, Hebrew evolved into such dialects as Yiddish while still being used in religion, and really had to be reinvented for use in modern Israel.  However, I may very well be wrong aobut that.  But it does suggest that there were probably many regional variations of Hebrew pronunciation just as there were of Latin.
All the best,
on June 26, 2012 10:19am
John, I'm not sure I agree with your statement "...Hebrew evolved into such dialects as Yiddish while still being used in religion...". Yiddish is an eastern European language, largely taken from German, with a smattering of other eastern European languages and a bit of hebrew thrown in. The written alphabet for Hebrew and Yiddish are pretty much the same, but the spoken languages are not at all common. 
on June 26, 2012 2:32pm
Martin:  I certainly didn't claim to be an expert, and I'm not!  But isn't that exactly how French, Spanish and Italian evolved as amalgams or fusions of a local language (or languages) under the influence of Latin?  In other words, dialects that grew further and further apart?  There's a reason they're called the "Romance" (i.e. "Roman") languages.
on June 26, 2012 4:15pm
John: True with the romance languages, but, aside from sharing the same written alphabet, Hebrew and Yiddish couldn't be farther apart. Hebrew was a middle eastern language at its root, and Yiddish was a Western/Eastern European language at its root.
on June 27, 2012 7:13pm
Plus: Yiddish spells out all sounds using letters of the alphabet, whereas Hebrew words are all consonants with marks underneath the letters indicating vowels. Vastly different systems...
Robert A.M. Ross
on June 26, 2012 10:40am
Since I actually conduct the Midwest Motet   Society, I am well aware of the history and evolution of the motet as a form.  However, beginning my research and score study this summer in preparation for my fall concert cycle. I was confused as to the reference to the Rossi pieces. In fact, the recording to which I am referring to is one by Joshua Jacobson, the person Dan refers to in his comments. To use one piece as an example, "Barekhu" is referred to as a '3 motet'--and it's in three voices.  I chose music from these three composers--Byrd, Rossi and Monteverdi--written approximately at the same time.  We will sing Byrd English Anthems as well as his  Latin motets and Monteverdi motets. I want to make sure I call the Rossi pieces what they are--if it should be "Psalm Settings" then that's what I will call them.
on June 26, 2012 4:30pm
Gentlemen and All,
I need two bits of information: 1. a nice and simple resource for Hebrew pronounciation and 2. the exact term to use for the Rossi pieces we are singing.  All the rest, while interesting, does not apply right now.  I will contact local cantors, as Eric suggests, but wanted something I can put in my hands now.  And as Dan suggests, will listen to the Bach Sinfonia and go to their website-- thank you for that resource as well.
on June 27, 2012 8:33am
1. Thanks to Dan for referencing my earthsongs publication.  I will tell you that it contains IPA pronunciation guides for both Barekhu (use the one on p. 37) and Elohim Hashiveinu (p.80) as well as a brief chapter on Hebrew pronunciation.  While it doesn't contain one for Keter, it should be possible to figure out based on the rules from the other two.  2. Carol's answer above is correct regarding the role of the texts in the Jewish liturgy.  I will defer to others as to whether calling them motets is the best choice.
on June 27, 2012 7:50pm
It's good to know about this....thank you, Ethan!
on June 26, 2012 7:57pm
hi, Marie-
   Just to clarify:
1. The texts of Barekhu and Keter come from the Jewish liturgy, and are still in use today in Jewish worship.
2. The words used in Elohim Hashivenu come from Psalm 80, and have also been employed in worship.
Good luck (L'hatslakha Raba) with your upcoming program-Carol Kozak Ward, Founder and Music Director, Colorado Hebrew Chorale
on June 27, 2012 7:59am
Thank you Carol!  What should I call those pieces?  Would *motets* be close?  Or Psalm settings? Or will short religious pieces be good enough?  I had thought about calling a local Rabbi I know.......would that make sense? Thank you again, Carol.
on June 27, 2012 7:11pm
Some additional suggestions:
For *Keter* (which comes from the Sephardic Shabbat morning liturgy; this specific text sequence isn't used in Ashkenazic worship), use the edition by Joshua Jacobson published by Broude Brothers, which includes a reconstruction of all the sections of this liturgical text which Rossi did *not* set to music, because they would have been covered by the Hazzan or they would have been congregational responses. If you only do what Rossi wrote, it will be disconected bits and pieces.
Even the *Bar'chu* is missing a line: After the 1st full phrase, the congregation would respond "Barukh Ad-nai ham-m'-vo-rach l'-o-lam va-ed" before the choir repeats it polyphonically. I can supply you with a simple "generic" Sephardic congregational response to use if you're interested.
Also: one thing to bear in mind regarding Hebrew pronunciation: all the vowels are Italianate (i.e., pure) except "ai", "ei", and "oi" (in each case, you sustain the 1st vowel with the 2nd being a "throwaway"); and all the consonants are Germanic. I one explained it that way to a Finnish choir who premiered a work of mine in Hebrew, and it all came together very easily for them.
And: simply call them Jewish liturgical settings. 'Nuff said!
Hope this helps,
Robert A.M. Ross
P.S.: My Arbel Chorale just performed the *Keter* in the Jacobson edition; I can send a recording if you'd like...though the Zamir Chorale of Boston has also recorded it under his direction.
on June 27, 2012 7:48pm
Thanks Robert!  I have the Zamir Chorale of Boston recording and the editions I have ARE NOT the Jacobson editions and was confused when I listened to his recording...I figured it out because  the octavo actually says it doesn't include the responses. Not sure what I am going to do about it now.  I sang Rossi in graduate school and ever since, have wanted to include his music on a concert.  I want to do right by him which is why I'm posting here.
And listening to the recordings, the vowels do sound Italian--it would make sense since Rossi was Italian--but I couldn't place the consonants.  Over thinking, I guess!  Simple solution.
And Jewish Liturgical settings---why didn't I think of that!
on June 28, 2012 10:30am
Sounds like you have the Presser edition, which is edited by the same team that edited the comple works critical edition. That, indeed, does •not• have any liturgical reconstruction. If there's any way you can swing it, get the Broude Bros. edition by Jacobson.

Or: ;-{D

I have an edition of Rossi's Psalm 67 (SATB a capp) which could be paired nicely with the Ives ( which I've done several times...)

Rob Ross

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