Friday, April 30, 2010

The First Notated Jewish Music

MUSICAL NOTE by Cantor Sherwood Goffin

The First Notated Jewish Music

Historically, Jews have had musical symbols for Torah reading since the time of Ezra, and according to some, from Moshe at Mt. Sinai. Nevertheless, we didn't have Jewish musicians who knew how to notate music until the late 17th century. Except for a 30 year period in 15th century Italy (Solomon Rossi), music was a closed book to all communities outside of the Church. Any Jewish music we have from before that time was notated by non-Jews.

The earliest notated Jewish music ever found was discovered in the Cairo Geniza by Solomon Shechter at the turn of the 20th century. These were two compositions written out by Ovadia HaGer, Obadiah the Norman Proselyte of the early 12th century. A monk from a noble Norman family of Southern Italy, he converted to Judaism in 1102, emigrated to the Near East, and finally settled in Cairo.

He learned Gregorian neume notation as a clergyman of the Church, and was able to compose and notate for various Jewish occasions. The two pieces discovered (actually, three -jjb) include his famed "Mi Al Har Chorev," a eulogy of Moses that was sung on Simchas Torah. Its character is typically ancient Gregorian, and is a fascinating glimpse into the world of the Jews of that period. It is also the first synagogue music ever to be notated!


(links found by JJB)

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