Programme Notes for Shabbat Rosh Chodesh Shevat


Salamone Rossi was appointed concertmaster to the court of Mantua in 1587. He is widely regarded as the first Jewish musician to transcribe his music. In 1623, he compiled a collection of choral motets in Hebrew for the synagogue entitled HaShirim Asher LiShlomo, the songs of Solomon. Whilst many of these works are Psalms, it is assumed a pun on the composers name rather than a dedication to King Solomon. Rossi’s music was lost after the Austrian army invaded Mantua in 1630. The music was rediscovered by Baron Edmond de Rothschild over two hundred years later when he was abroad in Italy, and asked Samuel Naumbourg to produce a new publication of Rossi’s music.

Betzeit Yisrael (Psalm 114) – Rabbi Geoffrey Shisler

shisler1Rabbi Shisler began his career as a trainee Chazan at the Jews College. Having spent his career at a variety of communities, his last role was Rabbi of the New West End Synagogue until his retirement in 2014. In 2009, Rabbi Shisler compiled an anthology of his music “Shiru Lo Shir Chadash”. The Nusach for the beginning of Hallel is traditionally minor sounding. However, Rabbi Shilser’s composition is in G major to depict the joy of departing from life as slaves in Egypt.

Halelu (Psalm 117) – David Montague Davis

David Davis, or DMD was the first Musical Director at the New West End Synagogue from 1879 until 1930. He is best remembered for editing the “Handbook of Synagogue Music” Kol Rinah V’Todah – The Voice of Prayer and Praise, usually referred to as “The Blue Book” (it had a blue cover). Most of the book is an assimilation of many different compositions from a variety of composers (such as Rossi’s Adon Olam), but DMD also wrote some of his own compositions. He was heavily influenced by other Jewish composers; their music can be easily heard in his writing. Listen out for a hint of David de Sola’s Adon Olam at the beginning of Halelu.

Odecha (Psalm 118) & Kaddish Shalem – Salamone Rossi

There is little written record of music in synagogues prior to the 1800s. In Observations of Venice, Thomas Coryat wrote of his experience when he visited a synagogue in 1608. He is rather damning in his description of the service: “…an exceeding loud yaling, undecent roaring… a confused and hudling manner, that I thinke the hearers can very hardly understand…” Rossi aimed to change this. For instance, the Kaddish (which is the same melody as his Adon Olam) uses common dance rhythms from the era that he would have used in his compositions at the court.

Ein Kamocha – Salomon Sulzer

sulzer1A cantor and composer, Sulzer is also regarded as a founder of modern chazanut. His publication “Schir Zion” covered all sections of the service – the cantor’s recitative, choral passages and responses – containing music for the entire Jewish calendar. Sulzer’s setting of Ein Kamocha is the most popular tune in the United Synagogue and across most of Ashkenazi Jewry, despite not being included in the “Blue Book”, partly because the choral fanfare is a much better depiction of the Hebrew text. Other music by Sulzer also features prominently in our service, such as the introduction to Ashrei.

Lecha Adonai – Marcus Hast

Rev Hast was the Chazan of the Great Synagogue, Duke’s Place from 1871 to 1899.  Like Sulzer, he composed many of his own pieces and published a set of works the “Avodat HaKodesh”, which were dedicated to the Right Honourable Lord Rothschild and the Lady Rothschild. The tempo marking in the “Blue Book” for Lecha Adonai is ‘Maestoso’ meaning majestic. Several different arrangements of Adon Olam by Hast also feature in the “Blue Book”.

Va’anachnu – Felix Mendelssohn

Cultural appropriation is a very common characteristic in the Jewish religion and music is no exception. Va’anachnu is set to music from the oratorio Elijah (no. 19 – “Open the Heavens…”). David M Davis, the first choirmaster at New West End Synagogue, chose to arrange Va’anachnu in the same key, but doubled the note lengths when he transcribed it for the “Blue Book”.


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