Jablonski, Marek (Michael)


th-century developments. (i) Sephardi



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11. 20th-century developments.

(i) Sephardi.


The consolidation and imposition of the ‘Jerusalem-Sephardi’ style of liturgical music has been the main development in 20th-century Israel. This style is based on the Arabic maqāmāt of the modern Middle Eastern urban music that has replaced the Turkish makamlar, reflecting the growing importance of Palestine, and specifically of Jerusalem, as the liturgical music centre of modern Sephardi Jewry. The ‘Jerusalem-Sephardi’ style incorporates older layers of the Ottoman Sephardi traditions from Turkey and Syria (particularly Aleppo), combined with new melodies adopted from current Egyptian art and popular music (e.g. by Muhammad ‘Abd al-Wahhāb and Farīd al-Atrash). Sephardi cantors, many of whom are now trained in formal schools of cantors in Israel, are expected to conduct the liturgy using the Arabic maqāmāt (see Mode, §V, 2) and to be acquainted with new Arabic songs released on the market in order to incorporate them into the services. Each service, especially the complex Sabbath morning liturgy, is based on a single maqām. During the course of the service, the cantor adapts the maqām to different musical genres: for the fast recitation of texts in prose he uses only the basic tetrachord and cadential patterns of the maqām; for the singing of opening or closing texts of key sections in the liturgy he may develop a mawwwāl, an elaborated improvisation in which the entire range of the maqām is explored and modulations to other maqāmāt appear; finally, poetic sections are set by the cantor (with the congregation joining him on the refrain or throughout the song) to metric melodies in the maqām of the service.

The Jerusalem-Sephardi style developed around the élite rabbinical academics of Jerusalem and has been adopted in Israel by most non-Sephardi ‘Oriental’ Jews (e.g. Iranian, Kurdish, Bukharan, Iraqi, Yemenite) because of its social prestige and musical appeal. Distinguished Jerusalem-Sephardi cantors are generally of non-Sephardi origin. Some, such as Asher Mizrahi, Mordechai Halfon and Rahamim Amar, were also composers of original pieces for soloist and choir. This style has also influenced considerably the liturgical practices of the entire Sephardi diaspora since World War II via wandering cantors from Jerusalem and, more recently, through the use of cassettes, compact discs and videos produced in Israel.

Further impetus to the Jerusalem-Sephardi style was provided by the custom of the paraliturgical baqqashot. Originating in the Ottoman tradition (see above, §III, 4(ii)), the baqqashot developed in the city of Aleppo (Syria) in the second half of the 19th century and was sanctioned in Jerusalem in the early 20th. It consists of the singing of Hebrew poems early on Sabbath mornings during winter. The poems are mostly set to Arabic melodies, particularly muwashshahāt, and are performed antiphonally by two choirs. Each poem is in a different maqām and they are linked to each other by psalm verses which the soloists in each choir use as modulatory bridges between the maqāmāt. Proficiency in the singing of the Jerusalem-Sephardi baqqashot is considered as a high musical achievement for any cantor in Israel today. The drive to perform these (and other) sacred poems with instrumental accompaniment (forbidden on Sabbaths) led to the development of concerts of Sephardi religious poetry and cantorial music held on weekdays.

In North Africa, the French and Italian colonial protectorates (beginning in Algeria in the 1830s) exposed the Jews of the urban centres of the Maghrib to Western styles of music as well as to modern popular Arabic music. This exposure led to the development of modern popular Arabic music among Jews and its emergence as a distinct influence in their liturgy. A major source of this influence was the schools of the Alliance Israélite Universelle, a network of secular vocational schools promoted by French Jews. Musical elements from the 19th-century synagogues of Paris, for example the use of trained choirs and original compositions, were adopted. A prayer book, Sefer tehilloth yisrael (1906), printed by Joseph Cohen of the ‘progressive’ Portuguese community in Tunis, contains notations of melodies by Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Meyerbeer and Rossini, amid Maghribi and Middle Eastern popular songs, all set to liturgical texts. Ashkenazi musical influences on the Sephardi liturgy in North Africa resulted from the activities of the Habad and the religious Zionist movements in these areas. The impact of Egyptian popular music on the Maghrib also affected the Sephardi Jews of North Africa. Following this impact, the Jerusalem-Sephardi style exercised a major influence in the Maghrib. The famous Jerusalemite cantor and composer Asher Mizrahi (1890–1967), who served in Tunis from 1929, was the major representative of this style in North Africa. Despite the ongoing Jerusalemite influence on Maghribi cantors in Israel, their particular style and repertory (based on Andalusian modes and melodies) is still heard in the synagogues of towns in Israel where the majority of the population is North African, as well as in synagogues of Maghribi Jews in France, the USA and Canada.

The towering figure of Rabbi David Buzaglo (d 1975), a Hebrew poet and expert in the Moroccan Andalusian tradition, was crucial to the survival of the main baqqashot tradition in Morocco and later in Israel, to where he emigrated in 1965. Like his Arabic contemporaries in Morocco, Rabbi Buzaglo widened his musical horizons by adopting contemporary Egyptian music into his repertory, setting new Hebrew songs to popular Egyptian, as well as Algerian and Tunisian melodies.



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