|I. Moderato con moto
|IV. Allegretto sostenuto
Salamone Rossi (ca. 1570–ca. 1630) was an Italian Jewish musician who was employed at the court of the dukes of Gonzaga in Mantua. He claimed to be a descendant of an aristocratic Italian Jewish family brought to Rome from Jerusalem as captives under the rule of the emperor Titus, and he sometimes appended “Hebreo” (the Hebrew) openly to his name—especially later in his life.
Rossi’s musical employment involved multiple roles, as violinist, viol player (and perhaps other instruments), singer, arranger, conductor, and—most important for posterity—composer. He was among the earliest composers (although not the first, as was once thought) to develop and promote the early Baroque trio sonata form; and his unaccompanied madrigals are first-rate specimens of that vocal genre. Apparently the esteem for him was such that he was exempt from various restrictions and outward subjugations that applied to Jews in general (e.g., the yellow Jewish identification badge), and in fact, he made no secret of his Jewish identity and pride of heritage, even at court. A contemporary of the ultimately more famous and, eventually, internationally recognized composer Claudio Monteverdi (1567–1643), Rossi joined Monteverdi in contributing music to the comedy L’Idropica and to the sacred drama La Maddalena.
By the beginning of the 18th century, however—especially beyond the confines of the Italian region and court environments in which he had flourished as Rossi’s generation gave way to the full flowering of the Baroque era in music, he was not much remembered. By the late 19th and early 20th centuries his name would have been recognizable mostly to a handful of musicologists specializing in the music of his era—and to an even smaller group of learned cantors in western Europe with scholarly predispositions. Ironically, except among late-Renaissance and early-Baroque music aficionados, Rossi came to be best known (and remains so) in the 20th century and into the 21st for his Hebrew liturgical settings. Yet these did not represent the principal focus of his attention or his career. Their intended purpose in terms of practical liturgical function remains less than entirely clear. Moreover, it was only from about the middle of the 20th century, with the rise of the so-called early music movement in Western culture, that Jewish choruses and cultural circles became widely aware of Rossi’s Hebrew settings, appropriately admiring their artistic merit as well as taking much pride in the very fact that a self-avowed Jew of his time could have attracted and maintained respect within his non-Jewish Christian milieu.
In 1623 Rossi issued his now celebrated artistic contrapuntal choral settings of Hebrew liturgy under the title Hashirim asher lishlomo, which was published in Venice. In those compositions, he incorporated the principles and aesthetics of Western art music without regard to—or reliance upon—any established synagogue melodies, modes, or other musical traditions or practices. They constituted a watershed event, inasmuch as the musical practice of the time was brought to bear on Hebrew liturgy on a sophisticated level—“brought into the synagogue,” as some observers criticized. We do not know for certain the extent to which, if any, these settings were actually performed in the context of a synagogue service during Rossi’s lifetime; nor, if so, in what manner and precisely with what musical forces. They did not become part of any subsequent Italian synagogue practice or tradition, nor did they take root as a new synagogue musical format or aesthetic. It is likely that they were intended to amplify and supplement synagogue worship rather than to supplant or replace tradition altogether.
Nonetheless, the entire episode caused a significant stir and sparked a series of rabbinic responses both against and in defense of the notion of synagogue music based on ars musica—the developed Western art of music that not only was not inherently Jewish, but actually owed much to its Church origins. Most prominent among Rossi’s defenders was Rabbi Leon da Modena, chief rabbi of the Republic of Venice and Rossi’s most ardent champion in this endeavor.
It was Samuel Naumbourg (1815–1880), the Bavarian-born chief cantor of Paris—one of the most important and enduring Western European synagogue composers of the 19th century (and, for that matter, of Ashkenazi repertoire in general), and one of the earliest methodical students of synagogue music history—who in effect “rediscovered” Rossi’s Hebrew settings for the modern era. In collaboration with the non-Jewish French composer Vincent d’Indy, Naumbourg republished them in modern notation in 1876. But the publication, which was heavily edited according to late-19th-century musical standards and performance practice and therefore was neither a scholarly critical edition nor an attempt at a faithful reconstruction of an urtext, still did not succeed in inspiring more than an occasional performance in the ensuing decades. It did, however, bring Rossi’s synagogue music to the attention of many in the general music and Jewish cultural worlds who might not have been aware of it, and it even spawned some related academic literature.
By the 1950s a serious interest in Rossi’s Hebrew settings—as well as in Rossi as a historical figure in the chronology of Hebrew liturgical music—had emerged and was gaining ground. The erudite American composer and intellectual Hugo Weisgall, who had assumed the position of chairman of the faculty at the nascent Cantors Institute of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, spearheaded, guided, and supervised a project among a select group of students for the purpose of producing a proper critical and performance edition of the entire Hashirim asher lishlomo. The result was indeed a definitive edition, as edited by the noted musicologist Fritz Rikko, that also included excerpts of some of the aforementioned rabbinic responsa in English translation. It was published in three volumes by the Cantors Institute between 1967 and 1973, and it facilitated a burst of performance activity that has remained to this day.
By the 1970s, when Lukas Foss first took serious notice and became intrigued by the music, as well as by the history of the Rossi phenomenon, those Hebrew settings had become well known to Jewish secular or concert choruses and were also occasionally included in the repertoire of some synagogue choirs throughout North America. An increasing number of recordings by general as well as Jewish choirs had begun to feature some of the pieces. Foss decided to compose his Salamone Rossi Suite expressly as an homage to Rossi as a Jewish musical innovator. He did not confine his sources to Rossi’s Hebrew settings, however, turning more liberally and more inclusively to the composer’s instrumental music. He completed the work in 1975 and dedicated it to the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra (known at the time as the Kol Yisrael [state radio] Orchestra), of which he was the conductor and music director.
The music journalist David Wright has aptly observed that Foss, in reworking music of a premodern era for contemporary instrumentation, followed the example of Stravinsky’s Monumentum pro Gesualdo di Venosa ad CD annum—a recomposition of the Renaissance composer’s (Gesualdo) music geared to modern instruments and accomplished without inappropriate romanticization.
Salamone Rossi Suite contains six movements, the first of which, marked Moderato con moto, is a celebratory, almost fanfare-like intrada for brass instruments. In the second movement, marked Allegro, Foss has three instrumental choirs—brass, woodwinds, and strings—engage in a brief, fast-paced interaction that recalls typical period antiphony. The third movement, Andante, is a duet for harp and timpani that echoes in contemporary sonorities the late-Renaissance sounds of lute and drum. The fourth movement, Lento, is essentially a motoric dialogue between oboes, and a colorful, imaginative ensemble of piccolo, viola, trumpet, double bass, and harp. The fifth movement, which, more than any of the other movements, exhibits the most religious character and mood of the work, with its slow, stately unfolding and its decidedly mysterioso aura, proceeds without pause to the finale. The last movement, marked Allegro, is a brightly orchestrated fugal expression in which the transparent independent lines lead to a triumphant conclusion.
Performers: Brooklyn Philharmonic; Lukas Foss, ConductorAdditional Credits:
Publisher: Associated Music Publishers, Salabert (through Schirmer)
This recording is under license from New World Records/CRI.
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