17th Century Shabbat Service – Hello!!?  I live in the 21st Century!

By Cantor Peter Halpern & Nadine Broude

A Jewish Italian Renaissance composer who worked in the Court? Unlikely, right? Weren’t most composers of the 17th Century associated with and funded by the Church? Who was this guy? What relevance does he have to my Judaism, Temple Shalom, and how we pray today? And why should I attend such an unusual Shabbat service?

Join us on Friday evening, March 27 for a unique music opportunity, as Cantor Louise Treitman and the nine-voice ensemble “Il Concerto di Salamone Rossi Hebreo” transport our congregation to 17th century Italy, with inspiring liturgical settings of the sublime music of Salamone Rossi. This Italian rite synagogue service has been presented to great acclaim in the greater Boston area and as part of the Boston Jewish Music Festival.

We’re not familiar with many Jewish composers from the late Italian Renaissance. If you google Salomone Rossi, you’ll find he is a Renaissance Man, literally and figuratively. At the age of 17, already a singer and accomplished violinist, Salomone Rossi was appointed to Duke Vincenzo I’s court in Mantua, Italy. Rossi was so well respected that he was exempt from wearing the yellow badge, required of all Jews in Mantua. He soon became resident composer and leader of the Duke’s instrumental ensemble, where he created the trio sonata (two upper parts for instruments such as violins or trumpets and a bass part played by viol or cello). He also flourished in the composition of madrigals, setting texts from the great poets of the time to music. His “continuo madrigals” are thought by some to have defined the onset of the Baroque era in music. (For non-music people, read this as he was a trendsetter!)

Rabbi Leon Modena, who also served as cantor of the Italian Synagogue in Venice, felt it was time to move away from the non-instrumental “improvised drones and primitive harmonies” which had been used in synagogues since the Destruction of the Second Temple. Rossi and Modena worked together, addressing potential hostility from Christians who might feel the Jews were “stealing” their music, and from fellow Jews who resisted modernizing the music of the synagogue. Rossi’s collection of Jewish liturgical texts set to his music in the baroque style, השירים אשר לשלמה (Ha-shirim asher li-Shlomo, The Songs of Solomon) was published in 1623. His music was enthusiastically received and gradually led to an enormous Renaissance of Jewish music which continues to this day. When cantors talk about the great Jewish liturgical composers, it is no wonder that Rossi is included with those such as Louis Lewandowski, Salmon Sulzer and Samuel Naumbourg.

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