LECTURE ON JEWISH MUSIC by Rev. M. Taschlicky July 18th, 1946
Only few definite statements can be made concerning the kind and quality of the artistic developments of the Jewish traditional psalm singing. So much seems certain that folk music of olden times originated in family circles and developed into songs which were heard by professional singers in the temple.
When Moses redeemed the Israelites from the bondage of Egypt and when he led them through the divided Red Sea he praised the Lord by singing. And the children of Israel joined him in singing the Shirah , which is well known to all. Later Miriam, the prophetess, sister of Moses and Aaron, took a timbrel - a kind of drum - with all the other women following her with such instruments, they sang similar verses as Moses. It may, therefore, be that the music was influenced by the Egyptians as the Hebrews had been living in Egypt for many centuries.
Later on, at the time of the Jewish Kings, temple music appears to have been taught more systematically. We remember when King Saul was distressed by evil spirits he engaged David to play on his harp, and it was through his wonderful playing that the King found rest and peace. The Bible states that King David appointed trained singers, instrumentalists, and masters skilled in music who were responsible for conducting the divine service.
The prophet Nehemia in Jerusalem, after having marched around the city, is said to have stood opposite the temple singing hymns of praise to God. Nehemia and Joshua served in the sanctuary as members of the famous Levitical choir. The Levites were specially trained and had special duties to perform. They marched in body to the temple, beautifully dressed. They were trained not only vocally but also instrumentally. Trumpet, harp, cymbalon, violin are instruments they used skillfully.
We are reading in our daily prayers "Praise the Lord with the blast of the horn, with harp and lyre. Praise Him with dance, string instruments and the pipe." We can imagine how beautiful and impressive the service in the temple must have been in those days. Under such circumstances and in such atmosphere, decorum and devotion of the congregation must have dwelled in the sanctuary. (Which, of course, stands in no comparison to our services.)
It is an unfortunate fact that since the destruction of the temple we are forbidden to make use of instruments in orthodox Synagogues on Sabbath and Jomtovin (religious holidays) , as a sign of mourning over the loss of the temple. But let us hope that the time will come when a new temple will be built and we shall be able to praise the Lord and sing with even greater devotion and more beautifully still.
Let me point out that although many of our old traditional melodies were lost through centuries of wandering all over the world, we still possess many original and lovely melodies of olden times. Melodies which are based on real oriental style and spirit. They are composed in minor key, mexolodish (could he mean "mixolydian"?) or freygish . They remind us of Arabic melodies. Something different. Something from far away. When we listen to these melodies you get a feeling of sadness and hope at the same time. You are reminded of the glory of Zion, the holy city of Jerusalem, her beautiful incomparable blue skies, her glorious white buildings, the mighty walls. Wisdom, Learning and Purity spread over the Holy City. This is the feeling that I have when I close my eyes and concentrate and listen to oriental music .... illustrations...
Another interesting fact I am sure you will remember from the time when you prepare to be a Barmitzvah. You found that the holy scripture was accompanied by accents known as "Ta'amim " or "Trop." On almost every word we find special signs placed above and under the word. Those melodies are probably thousands of years old and are typically oriental ....illustrations...
After the destruction of the temple which was about 2000 years ago, Jews were scattered all over the world. They immigrated to Spain, Russia, America, Britannia, France, Holland, Germany, Rumania, Hungary, etc. In order to keep up the tradition they opened houses of learning and prayer, and through this they kept Judaism alive. The chasan became primarily the reader of the service.
In the 16th century the Russian Jews introduced the first musical service. Later, prominent chasanim (plural of chasan ) and composers like Rosowsky , Minkowsky, Seidel Rovner and many others composed great musical works and harmonised them beautifully for full choir, Some of the chasanim harmonised without the theoretical knowledge of music, entirely through their natural hearing, and it so happened, that in spire of little theoretical knowledge all chords were sounded lovely.
A gifted boy aged 6 or 7 was sent to a famous chasan where we was living in order to be trained as a singer, and became a soloist later. This often proved to be a hard life for these little boys, as not all chasanim were in a good financial position. After years of training they became so perfect that they often touched their listeners to tears. They were so famous that they were kidnapped occasionally by other chasanim and after weeks of searching were recaptured, sometimes with the help of the police. This, by the way, happened to my father, when he was a boy of 10. He was a pupil of Seidel Rovner, * famous chasan and composer. Seidel Rovner had a choir of 40-50 boys and men. The compositions he composed, I think, can be compared to those of Verdi and Bach. The following is a true story which will show you his enthusiasm whilst conducting his choir:
One Thursday afternoon when the chasan had a rehearsal with his choir in his house, a little boy stood outside the window listening to the wonderful singing. He carried a cockerel which he was supposed to take to the shochet for the Sabbath meal. The choir was just in the middle of a very soft tune when suddenly the cock outside the window started to crow and spoiled the most beautiful pianissimo. The chasan, dressed in a long silken kaftan with white stockings, a long beard, and of course, a cap on his head, got so furious at this Interrupting that he threw the tuning fork , the only thing handy, at the boy. The fork smashed the window and shocked the little boy who quickly picked it up and ran away with the fork and cock. The chasan ran after the boy with the intention of beating him for this disturbance. After a while the chasan returned exhausted, accompanied by a few of his members with his precious tuning fork and the rehearsal could continue.
Many of those Jews at that time were strictly orthodox and great scholars, and many of them were chassidim. They did not attend opera houses or concerts, not because they did not like them, only because those places were not holy. They believed everything they did should be devoted to His Name only - to God. Music to them is something holy as the Bible considers music to be one of the seven wisdoms of the world. It was the Synagogue where they received musical education which was to their complete satisfaction. (A chassid is a pious Jew, originated in the 18 century in Eastern Europe. He does not expect much from this world but he believes in life to come, in reincarnation. He believes in the Rabbi being closer to God than anyone else. He believes in and fears evil spirits .) Chasidic melodies are the fundamental source of the Yiddische Lied. Imagine for a moment a long table with hundreds of chassidim and at the head of the table the holy Rabbi. The Rabbi with a long white beard starts to hum a tune, only the first sentence, and all the chassidim join in instantly.... illustration...
The chassidic melodies have a special charm, and express praise to the Lord for redemption and happiness. The well known Yiddische Songs are mostly based on these tunes .... A few examples...
In the 19th century with the removal of the Ghetto barriers Jews made important contributions to European music. Pupils of the aforementioned chasanim became famous composers, singers and conductors. In Italy Salamone Rossi , rabbi and composer, was an outstanding figure and devoted much of his energy to the harmonising of synagogal melodies. Towards the end of the 18th century, the Jews were permitted to enter academies of music. The results were speedy and phenomenal.
Amongst those who held high positions were Giacomo Meyerbeer (son of a chasan), who composed famous operas (in Hungary?) Jaques Halevy , composer of the famous opera "The Jewess" and composer of many beautiful synagogal music.
Jaques Offenbach (son of a chasan), composer of the famous oratorio "Eliju ", famous violin concerto and very many songs. Ferdinand Hiller , the originator of oratorio music. (His famous oratorio called "Destruction of Jerusalem" ) Anton Rubenstein, famous pianist and composer and founder of the Russian Conservatoire in Moskow.
I don't think you know that the king of all waltz and dance music was a Jew: - Johann Strauss . And of course his father and brothers were also musicians. (Who does not know the Blue Danube and Fledermaus which is supposed to be the classic operetta?) Later we have Gustave Mahler , who composed in the style of Wagner introducing many Jewish motifs.
In England, Jewish musicians have also contributed very much to the standard of English music. Sir Michael Costa, composer, John Barnet, composer, Isaac Nathan , vocalist, etc. We must not forget Carl Goldmark , who composed "The Queen of Sheva" introducing Jewish feelings and oriental colouring. Maurice Ravel , the most modern composer in France , an Impressionist of music, who prefers the oriental style in his compositions. He also composed many Yiddische Songs .............illustrations....
Arnold Schoenberg , composer. The greatest revolutionary force in music today.
In America , Louis Gruenberg , founder of jazz and negro music.
In Palestine today, composers have shown the world a great deal. The music in Palestine is of a very high standard, Joel Engel is one of the famous composers. He composed the famous drama called "The Dibuk" (The Spirits) Amongst his other compositions is the most popular Kaddish song. Palestine is the only country in the world that has her national orchestra, opera, oratorio played exclusively by Jews; and of course every text is sung in modern Hebrew. Palestinian music is produced exclusively by Jews. But we must not forget that music all over the world is being played and sung mostly by Jewish soloists.
Here then are a few names of the most famous Jewish artists: -
(Some you may have enjoyed listening to)
- Pianists: Rubinstein. Solomon. Dr Weingartner. Moiseivitch. Schnabel. Dame Myra Hess. Harriette Cohen.
- Violinists: Yehudi Menuhin. Kreisler. Hubermann. Yasha Heifitz. Scigetti. Alex. Schmuler. Ida Handel, and many more
- Singers: Sopranos: Yearitza Maria. Selma Kurz (daughter of a shochet and chasan) (famous star of the Viennese opera.). Gitta Alpa (opera singer and film actress) (daughter of a Budapest choir master) Baritones: Joseph Schwartz (son of a chasan. First baritone at Berlin Opera House. Later Metropolitan, New York,)Schorr (Famous bass, Berlin Opera House, Son of a chasan.) Alex. Kipnis (called the successor of Schalyapin. Former choir boy at the Warschau Synagogue. Now New York Metoropolitan) Tenors: Yadlowka, (Berlin Opera House Kammersinger of Kasier Wilhelm). Joseph Schmidt, (concert singer, and film star. Former chorister Richard Tauber, known to everyone here .
And here are the famous chasanim of the last century: -
- Russia: Rosowsky, Minkowsky, Rosumna, Bachmann, etc
- Budapest: Prof. Lazarus. Quartin, etc Vienna: Prof. Sulzer (also composer). Bela Futtman. Male Goldstein
- Berlin: Musikdirektor Aaron Friedman (also composer)
- Warschau: Sirota, etc New York: Rosenblatt, David Reutmann
- Berlin: Levandowsky. Baer (Baal Tefillah)
- Vienna: Sulzer. Male Goldstein
- London: Prof. Sam. Allmann (composed also two operas. Conductor of Hampstead Synagogue) Rev. Monbach. Rev. Hast.
- Budapest: Salomon Taschlicky (my father. Yiddish opera "Three Good Deeds")
Conductors: Klemperer. Bruno Walter Prof Ochs.
Jewish Music makers online: