Jablonski, Marek (Michael)



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(ii) Iberian roots.


The source of the Iberian Jewish culture from the time of the Arab conquest of Spain (late 7th century onwards) is found in the older Eastern Jewish centres, especially the caliphate capital of Baghdad. The musical lore of the Eastern Jews, which already included the concepts of melodic modes, rhythmic modes or cycles, and musical affects (e.g. the writings by Sa‘adyah Gaon, 888–942, in Adler, 1975, nos.600–630), were probably introduced into Spain with the Arab invasion. However, as early as the 10th century, a distinctive Andalusian Jewish heritage had emerged. The close Arabic–Jewish interaction led to the development of a courtly Jewish culture that included, among other features, the creation of a new Hebrew poetry (sacred and secular) based on Arabic models and techniques, such as the use of quantitative metres and innovative strophic forms (e.g. the muwashshah). Poetic metre and strophic forms exposed the Jews to new musical forms that permeated the synagogue. Another phenomenon of Arabic origin already found in early manuscripts of sacred Hebrew poetry from Spain is the substantial use of contrafacta. From the scant information about music in the Iberian synagogues before 1492 it is clear that developed musical skills and congregational singing were established features by the 11th century. These traits are testified in rabbinical responsa in which the preference for cantors with skilled voices is admitted. The complaint against local cantors by Rabbi Asher ben Yehiel from Germany (c1250–1327), who was exiled in Castille, reveals that by the end of the 13th century the musicality of Castillian cantors overruled their religious piety (She‘elot u-teshuvot, Jerusalem, 1965, iv, p.22). The non-centralized character of Iberian Jewry presupposes the existence of regional styles of synagogue music (Andalusian, Aragonese, Castillian, Catalonian etc.). The foundation of synagogues in Salonika (Thessaloniki) and Constantinople after 1492 on the basis of the regional Iberian origins of their congregations appears to corroborate this assumption. However, the existence of melodies from the Iberian period common to all Sephardi communities, especially for the High Holy Days, cannot be ruled out (Avenary, 1986).

Jewish music, §III, 4: Liturgical and paraliturgical: Sephardi


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