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This past weekend marked Tisha B’av, or the Jewish day of mourning and fasting to commemorate the destruction of the first and second temples. For some Sephardi Jews, the day holds added significance as it coincides with the date of the 1492 edict ordering all Jews out of Spain. For those still looking to pay tribute, the Milken Archive offers some chants and elegies in the Western Sephardi tradition that commemorate these events. These somber, yet evocative, chants represent a musical tradition that developed primarily in Amsterdam by crypto-Jews enjoying newfound freedom of religious expression. The Amsterdam/Western Sephardi musical tradition remains vital today, carrying on from Colonial times when it was America’s first Jewish music. Listen in. Learn more.
From America’s earliest Jewish music we jump to one of its latest great composers: Hugo Weisgall. Known in particular as a leading American opera composer, Weisgall’s work toward the end of his life dealt increasingly with Jewish subjects. Exhibit A: His last song cycle, Psalm of the Distant Dove: Canticle in Homage to Sephardi Culture -- the final movement of which utilizes the melody of a Tisha B’av elegy (kina). Weisgall draws on texts from the biblical Song of Songs, Midrash Rabba (rabbinic commentary), and medieval Sephardi poets. Through a series of edgy yet eloquent songs for piano and voice (featuring soprano Ana Maria Martinez), Psalm of the Distant Dove explores the complicated relationship between God and His loving, but suffering, people Israel. Listen in. (Photo credit: Larry Sandberg)
Written in the playful and ironic spirit of a purimspiel, Paul Schoenfield's The Merchant and the Pauper is based on an 1809 tale by Reb Naḥman of Bratslav. Viewed allegorically, the separation and eventual unification of two destined lovers mirrors the twin biblical and mystical doctrines of exile and redemption. In this short documentary video, conductor Kenneth Kiesler and soprano Jennifer Larson reflect on the work’s profound spiritual depth. Watch the video. Learn more about the work and Reb Naḥman of Bratslav. (Photo credit: Paul Schoenfield by Jennifer Bong)