During the early 1600’s, an Italian Jewish composer named Salomone Rossi created a body of liturgical music unlike anything the Jewish world had ever experienced. His compositions drew on both his knowledge of sacred and secular music as well as his command of the Hebrew language.
In order to understand the significance of this publication, one must recall that the use of musical instruments in the synagogue had been prohibited since the destruction of the Temple by the Romans in 70 CE. Furthermore, the rabbis of the time strictly prohibited non-Jewish chanting modes from Jewish worship. Their fear was that Gentile elements would eventually dilute the sacred music of the synagogue.
The compositions of Salomone Rossi challenged many of the rabbinic restrictions of his time. His liturgical compositions included three to eight-voice part settings of thirty-three psalms, hymns and prayers for the Sabbath and holidays. This work was stylistically similar to the conventions of early Baroque music. However, what made this collection so unique and innovative was the fact it was composed in Hebrew for the synagogue rather than Latin for the Church.
While Rossi did not attempt to employ any of the musical characteristics of the ancient Jewish chants, he did feel bound to certain traditions such as the rabbinic prohibition against instrumental music in the synagogue; he therefore set the entire collection for unaccompanied chorus.
This Friday night, we will enjoy a taste of Salamone Rossi’s genius. Our settings however, will include the sounds of harpsichord (which was most certainly not part of the original compositions). We have added the harpsichord in order to make the music easier to sing with a small choir.
It is my hope that as we journey through this worship service together, we will be transported to a time and place when our heritage was being shaped by some of the greatest cultural forces in history.