The September 2022 issue of Choral Journal is online and features an article titled “Salamone Rossi’s Synagogue Motets: The 400th Anniversary” by Joshua Jacobson. You can read it in its entirety at acda.org/choraljournal. Following is a portion from the introduction.
Four hundred years ago, on October 5, 1622, the Bragadini Publishers in Venice issued a collection of polyphonic motets for the synagogue, with lyrics not in Latin, but in Hebrew. Composed by the Mantuan Jew Salamone Rossi, this unique collection remained the only one of its kind for several centuries. For many years, the musical soundscape of the synagogue remained insular. The core of the liturgy was the “reading” of the Bible utilizing a set of fixed traditional cantillation motifs, performed modally and monophonically by a soloist in free rhythm.
The rest of the service, the chanting of prayers, allowed for slightly more improvisation, but, like biblical cantillation, was based on traditional modes, in free rhythm, with no harmony or instrumental accompaniment. The emphasis was on piety rather than on beauty. Under the influence of the humanistic spirit of the Renaissance in northern Italy, there was increasing interaction between Jewish and Christian communities. In 1516, Jews were permitted for the first time to establish permanent residences in the city of Venice, on an island that was the former site of a foundry, called “ghetto” in Italian (or “geto” in the Venetian dialect).
Many Jews were becoming increasingly bicultural, fluent in the language, customs, literature, dance and music of Italy, while at the same time retaining adherence to their ancestral religious traditions. Perhaps the most famous of these bicultural Jews was Rabbi Leon Modena (1571–1648), who served as an intermediary between the Jewish and Christian communities. Modena credits himself as the one who suggested to Salamone Rossi that he compose synagogue music in the styles of contemporaneous church music.
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Read the rest of this article in the September 2022 issue of Choral Journal.