Old Jerusalem

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Adarim and Old Jerusalem are two of Chajes’s most beloved songs. Both reflect typical, admittedly romanticized perceptions of the aura and spirit of Jewish Palestine from early aliya (immigration) periods until statehood, and even afterward. Both songs were standard repertoire at Jewish concerts throughout America during that time frame, and were among the most conspicuous representations of modern “Jewish music”—especially in relation to Israel—on general concert programs. Both reflect the kind of aural exoticism that used to be attached to images of the region. Both songs exploit elements and clich├ęs of the Arabic hijaz mode, with its characteristic lowered seventh degree and augmented second interval; and both expressions alternate stately, lyrical, and contemplative sentiments with sparkling dance figures.

Old Jerusalem is a setting of Psalm 134 to Chajes’s original melody, to which he gave the flavor of a Palestinian folksong. The structure is basically A–B–A, where the B section interrupts the preceding flowing reverential statement with sharply defined staccato rhythmic impulses that reflect rejoicing at the opportunity to worship and praise God, as the Psalm suggests, in Jerusalem—and to be blessed by God “out of Zion.”

By: Neil W. Levin