With excessive humility, Isadore Freed described his role in creating Salmone Rossi: Sacred Service (1954) merely as the “transcriber.” Yet he was at the very least its artistic arranger, who—in order to meet his goal of preserving Rossi’s music intact as much as possible while adapting it to a performance format for Reform synagogues—summoned inventive procedures that sometimes involved reshaping the material. He had to address the issue of texts in the Reform (and with two exceptions, in the traditional Ashkenazi) liturgy that Rossi bypassed. (Rossi composed assorted liturgical settings and a number of Psalms out of designated liturgical context, not an entire or specific service.) In such cases Freed adapted Rossi’s settings for particular texts not in the Sabbath eve or kabbalat shabbat services to other prayers of those services that he felt had to be included in this work. He had to create an organ prelude (considered essential then for Reform worship) out of Rossi’s a cappella choral materials and to provide organ accompaniments for each of the prayer settings.
Rossi’s music in his Hashirim asher lishlomo (The Songs of Solomon, 1623), from which all of Freed’s service is derived, is entirely a cappella. And Freed had to make certain rhythmical and other adjustments. He had to find a way to reduce five-, six-, seven-, and eight-part double choruses to four choral parts, SATB, while relinquishing none of the original pitches, eliminating no pitches from any chords, and diluting none of the harmonies. And he had to establish a role for a cantor or cantorial soloist, for which he used the Canto in a number of cases.
Rossi’s contributions to Hebrew liturgical music are discussed elsewhere in the Milken Archive—in the notes to Lukas Foss’s Salamone Rossi Suite and in the introduction to Volume 18. It is sufficient here to observe that the only Rossi source available to Freed at the time was Samuel Naumbourg and Vincent d’Indy’s 1876 edition of Rossi’s Hebrew settings, which is significantly stylized and adapted to 19th-century standards and conventions—to a degree Freed probably did not realize. The first (and to date only full) critical edition—also a performance edition—was accomplished by Fritz Rikko together with Hugo Weisgall during the 1960s, but not published until 1967–73. It properly ignored the Naumbourg-d’Indy edition, with no opprobrium to its historiographical value, and relied instead on primary sources: the eight partbooks preserved in the library of the Civico Museo Bibliografico Musicale (formally Liceo Musicalein Bologna) and eight missing pages of the Basso partbook that reposed in the Jacob Michaels Collection (now in Israel). Thus, while Freed took great pride in having avoided “any reharmonizing or ‘beautifying’ of Rossi” and in not having changed “one note of actual music,” his reflections of Hashirim asher lishlomo might not be quite as faithful to the urtext as he assumed. A retrospective note-by-note scholarly comparison has not been undertaken.
Rossi’s Hashkivenu is in five parts, with two tenor voices. Freed reassigned one of the tenor parts to the organ. The cantorial solo line at the end of the first section is Rossi’s Canto.
For the needed adaptation for a setting of yism’ḥu, a text also not set by Rossi, Freed drew on his four-part setting of Psalm 67, which he chose because of its phrase, yism’ḥu v’ran’nu. The Hebrew incipit of the prayer text yism’ ḥu v’malkhut’kh is adapted to the same music for the words yism’ḥu v’ran’nu in the Psalm. The alto line at the word kad’ shei has F sharp in the original Rossi score, but it reads F natural in Freed’s adaptation—the only apparent harmonic or modal deviation.
“May the Words,” the Reform liturgy’s version of the Hebrew yih’yu l’ratzon, is an adaptation of an excerpt from Rossi’s four-part k’dusha (keter), using what would constitute the first twenty-one measures in a modern performance edition (there are no bar lines in Rossi’s original scores). Here Freed’s F natural on the last syllable of “redeemer” in the Canto is at odds with Rossi’s F sharp. The closing hymn, Adon olam is an adaptation of Rossi’s five-part kaddish setting, transposed up a whole tone.
In 1954 the widespread seizure of Hashirim asher lishlomo by American Jewish and other choral groups for concert performances and recordings—which expanded to become overemphasized as nearly a fixation out of proportion to its musical-historical importance or its relative musical merit—had yet to occur. Rossi would have been known only to the classical music world’s growing so-called early music movement, which had no resonance in synagogues, and to musicologists whose fields of specialization concerned the late Renaissance and early Baroque eras. Even for them, Rossi’s Hebrew settings—which were not the primary focus of his oeuvre—could be obscure and even ignored. More familiar to them were his Italian madrigals and his formal instrumental innovations, such as his four-movement sonata structure and, especially, the sonata a tre, of which his were among the earliest.
Freed’s “Rossi service” was thus the first real introduction of this music to American congregations—or, for that matter, to any congregations since Rossi’s day, even in Italy. If this music was ever performed as part of a synagogue service in Rossi’s lifetime, it never became a component of Italian synagogue repertoires; and the music, as well as the episode surrounding it—including the debates about the propriety or legality of ars musica (the art of music) in the synagogue as a Western pursuit born in the Church—were quickly forgotten after Rossi’s death. The debates would be revived in different contexts in the 19th century, but, notwithstanding Naumbourg and d’Indy’s work, the music would wait until the 20th century for its full measure of rediscovery.
By bringing Rossi’s Hebrew music and even its existence to the attention of American Jewry, Freed executed an admirable and valuable mission. That it was superseded by subsequent scholarship and musicologically informed performances and recordings does not diminish his contribution.
Don't miss our latest releases, podcasts, announcements and giveaways throughout the year! Stay up to date with our newsletter.