Ancient Jewish Songs from the Mediterranean
Long ago in 1891 in Florence, Federico Consolo published his collection of Sephardic Jewish songs, taken “from the live voice of signor Ventura, the cantor of that temple”, and transcribed into score, with the title Sefer Shiré Yisrael, Libro de’ Canti D’Israele. Antichi canti Liturgici del Rito degli Ebrei Spagnoli. This famous Jewish violinist thus began the difficult and lengthy task which illustrious scholars throughout the world would continue into the next century and up until today: that of setting down in writing the immense patrimony of Jewish music which had previously been transmitted exclusively through oral tradition. “After only a few more generations have passed”, wrote David Castelli in the preface to Consolo’s Canti d’Israele, “will there be any more Jews able to repeat these religious chants, entrusted for now only to memory? […] The number of those who traditionally know how to repeat these chants decreases daily. ”We also know well that numerous Jewish musical traditions have been lost due to the total destruction of entire communities during the Shoah, especially in Eastern Europe. This pioneering collection obviously reflects the climate of its time, which was dominated by assimilation. European Judaism, particularly in Italy, followed the ideals unleashed by the French Revolution and the Risorgimento, whereby the Jew aspired first of all to become a “citizen” and integrate himself into society, and only afterwards conserved his own religious traditions, including music. Often the authenticity of these traditions was compromised and inevitably reflected Christian customs and mores. Consolo “combined” many of his chants, as David Castelli affirms in his preface, creating “veritable musical compositions with harmonic accompaniments […], something which no one had attempted before: and in this lies the great importance of such a real novelty”. Even Conosolo himself speaks in a dedication of these songs that “are well suited to an accompaniment on more modern instruments”. It is a known fact that chants from the synagogue, according to Jewish orthodoxy, were executed without instrumental accompaniments and that their harmonization already represented a significant conciliatory “gesture”, in the hopes of conforming to the customs of the Catholic Church. Today, Paolo Buconi, expert in the recuperation of Jewish musical traditions, wishes to bring this repertoire back to life with a significant choice of sixteen pieces from the Consolo collection, taken from the Jewish liturgy. In this undertaking, he has rightly attempted to maintain the spirit which inspired the Florentine violinist and scholar over a century ago. Paolo Buconi himself performs one of the instrumental parts on the violin, while at the same time intoning the chants. The musical accompaniment is understated and discreet, but very tasteful and efficacious, even if it falls outside current Jewish traditions. Such a version, however, closely mirrors the Jewish musical ideals of those years and up until a few decades ago when, in many synagogues in and outside of Italy, an organ often accompanied the songs of the liturgy.