Jablonski, Marek (Michael)

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(iv) Ottoman Empire.

Despite their diversity, the Sephardi synagogues throughout the Ottoman Empire shared a unified musical repertory. The major musical contribution of this branch has been the adoption of the Turkish and Arabic modal systems (makamlar/maqāmāt; see Mode, §V, 2) as a vehicle to unify the music of an entire synagogue service or of a section of it. Early evidence for this phenomenon is found in the work of Israel Najara (c1555–1625). A descendant of Jewish emigrants from Spain who settled in the Galilee, Najara, an outstanding poet and composer, became a master of the incipient Ottoman makam system and arranged his two major collections of Hebrew sacred poetry (Zemirot yisrael, Safed, 1587; Salonika, 1599; Venice, 1600; and She‘erit yisrael, unpublished) according to these musical modes. However, the practice of using modes in the liturgy was established only during the 17th century, when the involvement of Sephardi Jews in the music traditions of the surrounding culture reached a high point. The manuscript of religious poems belonging to Moshe ben Michael Hacohen from Salonika (1644–1730), cantor at the Levantine synagogue in Venice, includes an index of the Turkish modes, indicating which should be used for each festival and the names of the melodies for each section of the service (GB-Lbl Add.26967, dated 1702).

The proficiency of the Ottoman Sephardi cantor in the makam system is a hallmark of his art. Modal improvisation in flexible rhythm is applied to various sections of the service sung by the cantor as soloist (e.g. the yoser section of the Sabbath morning service). Modulations are expected from gifted cantors. Metric melodies intermingled with the improvised sections are based on the same modes; sometimes these melodies are adopted from popular Arabic or Turkish songs. In addition to these adopted metric melodies, the repertory includes traditional metric melodies for the poetic insertions (piyyutim) performed during the High Holy Day liturgy, and for dirges sung on Tish‘ah be-av: such melodies are considered to date from the oldest layers of the Eastern Sephardi repertory.

The old Ottoman style of liturgical singing still persists in small concentrations of Turkish Jews in Israel, Turkey, France and the USA. However, it has largely been superseded by the ‘Jerusalem-Sephardi’ style (see below, §III, 11(i)). Ex.16 is the mystical poem ‘El mistater beshafrir hevyon’ by Abraham Maimin (fl 17th century) as sung by the Jews of Aleppo (Syria); it is still performed today as an opening to the singing of baqqashot in the Jersusalem-Sephardi style.

The singing of piyyutim in paraliturgical vigils developed in Turkey following the model set by Rabbi Israel Najara in the late 16th century (Seroussi, ‘Rabbi Yisrael Najara’, 1990). Since the beginning of the 17th century and until the 20th, Jewish poets and composers in Turkey and Greece produced a large repertory of sacred songs based on the Turkish makam system and set to instrumental and vocal musical genres of the Ottoman courtly music, such as peşrev, kar, beste and şarki (see Ottoman music). Thousands of such poems are preserved in manuscript. The centres of these musical activities were the cities of Adrianople, Istanbul and Salonika. Many Jewish composers and performers, such as Aharon Hamon (‘Yahudi Harun’, d after 1721), Moshe Faro (‘Musi’, d after 1776) and Isaac Fresco Romano (‘Tanburi Izak’, 1745–1814) served in the Ottoman court and attained considerable prestige. The printed compendium Shirei yisrael be-eres ha-qedem (Istanbul, 1921) preserves the texts of this repertory as it was performed at the beginning of the 20th century.

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

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