Sepharad. Song of the Spanish Jews
in the Mediterranean and the Ottoman Empire / Sarband

This recording is subtitled "Living Traditions of the Orient" and is supposed to be followed up with "Medieval Spain and the Hispanic tradition." The present recording reflects the dual diaspora: toward Turkey in the East, or remaining in the Western Mediterranean, and is reflected today in two distinct modern traditions. And keep in mind that this music is distinctly modern. The opening track, for instance, is audibly influenced by the Turkish styles of Central Asia, i.e. completely post-Ottoman. There is a nice range of styles here, reflected both in the vocal tone and the instrumental accompaniment." —

Deutsche Harmonia Mundi (BMG) 05472 77372 2
Deutsche Harmonia Mundi (BMG) "Splendeurs" 93564

I. Living Traditions of the Orient
[II. Hispano-arabic Tradition of Medieval Spain]

The Balkans and the Ottoman Empire

Wedding song · Cantica de boda (Plovdiv, Estambul, Sarajevo)
1. [7:52]
Una ramika de ruda — Hochzeitslied / Bulgarien: Plovdiv
Una matika de ruda — Hochzeitslied / Türkei: Istanbul
Una matika de ruda — Hochzeitslied / Bosnien: Sarajewo
This, perhaps the most popular of all Sephardic wedding songs. has survived in nearly all the Sephardic colonies, with the most diverse tunes. All of the different versions feature one basic element which never changes: the wine rue twig, which deflects the "evil eye" and is therefore meant to bring the newly-weds luck.

Romance (Bulgaria) — Nana (Bosnia)
2. [9:47]
A kasar el rey — Romanze / Bulgarian – Bosnien
Anderleto — Wiegenlied / Bosnien
Various versions of this old romance are known in nearly all the Sephardic communities; from Jerusalem via Asia Minor, Bursa, Istanbul, Rhodes to Sofia. The story is based on the legend of Landarico (Anderleto), the Merovingian princess Fredegunda's servant. It tells the story of a Queen who has fallen in love with her servant Anderleto. She bears him twin sons, while two other sons are the King's children.
Assuming that the King is out hunting, she sings her four children a lullaby, which is simultaneously a love song to her slave. The King plans to surprise her; instead of hunting he creeps secretly into the Queen's bedroom and as she mistakes him for Anderleto, he is party to her love-song to her servant and the two children the slave has fathered her.
The beginning of the tale, of three verses and with its own tune, is in the Bulgarian-Sephardic tradition. The other verses are after the Bosnian manner.

Nana (Bosnia)
3. Morikos   [4:38]
Wiegenlied / Bosnien: Sarajewo
The beginning of this ballad is contained in the songs "La reina Xarifa" and "Las hermanas reina y cautiva" (The two sisters, Queen and prisoner, from Thessaloniki, Greece): the Moorish Queen of Almeria orders a raid on Christian territory in order to procure a female slave of noble birth. The opening verses of "La reina Xarifa" set the scene and explain the story.
The Queen's Moors take a Countess prisoner and kill her husband, Flores. Later the Queen and the Countess both give birth on the same day and the Queen acclaims the slave as her sister, when she sings her child a lullaby.
The end of this verse conforms with the beginning of the Bosnian romance — "Morikos.- Many geographical and historical
coordinates of the story were lost in the Bosnian tradition.

Nana (Turquía, Grecia)
4. Nani nani   [6:12]
Wiegenlied / Türkei – Griechenland
A lullaby in the Turkish tradition with a tune in Makam Hijaz. Additional verses in other surviving versions of the song reveal the father of the child to be the man who deceived the mother.


Romance (España, Marruecos, Orán)
5. [7:52]
Quien huviesse tal venturaDiego PISADOR. Libro de Musica de Vihuela, Salamanca, 1552
Gerineldo — Romanze / Marokko – Algerien: Oran
The Gerineldo romance is based on a legend from the time of Charlemagne and tells of the unhappy love affair between Eginard (770-840), secretary and historian (author of the Vita Karoli) to Charlemagne, and the emperor's daughter.
The text to Diego Pisador's 16th century vihuela song provides only the first lines of a ballad. The main character Gerineldo of the Sephardic tradition is replaced by a Prince Arnaldos. In our recording, this is followed by the second and third verses of the song, with two different Moroccan-Sephardic tunes which have survived with this story, and then a version of the romance from Algeria. The outline of the original Spanish melody, as passed on by Pisador, has been wholly preserved in the two Moroccan versions, while in the probably more recent version from Algeria the original tune has undergone a shift to tonality.

Romance (Tesalónica, Tetuán, Alcazarquivir)
6. Abenámar  [5:22]
Romanze / Griechenland: Saloniki – Marokko: Tetuan, Alcazarquivir
This romance, which has only survived in fragments, was originally sung in Arabic. It tells of the Arabian prince Abenamar and King John II of Castille.
In another version of this romance King Juan tries to no avail to exchange the city of Granada for Cordoba and Seville.

Romance (Estambul, Sofía, Tesalónica, Libia, Jerusalén)
7. La rosa enflorese  [9:03]
Romanze / Bulgarien: Sofia – Türkei: Istanbul – Griechenland: Saloniki – Libyen – Jerusalem
In many Sephardic communities the religious song (piyyut) "Tsur Mishelo Achalnu- is sung at the first Sabbath meal on Friday evening to the tune of this Sephardic love-song.

Vladimir Ivanoff

Fadia El-Hage (Lebanon) — Gesang
Belinda Sykes (England) — Gesang, Schalmeien, Dudelsack
Mustafa Doğan Dikmen (Türkei) — Ney, Kudüm, Gesang
Ihsan Mehmet Özer (Türkei) — Kanun
Ahmed Kadri Rizeli (Türkei) — Kemenge, Perkussion
Mehmet Cemal Yęsilçay (Deutschland, Türkei) — Ud, Djura, Perkussion
Vladimir Ivanoff (Deutschland, Bulgarien) — Perkussion, Ud, Renaissancelaute

"Since the earliest days of our youth we have been accustomed to living in a supernatural universe. In our ghettoes, somewhere in the endlessness of the Maghreb, from Djerba to Rabat and Marrakesh, from the High Atlas to the Sahara at the Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts, the visitor, upon entering our low dwellings at the end of often narrow alleys, full of wooden shacks where merchants or craftsmen, crouching on the ground, were performing the same or virtually the same tasks as those which had been customary in the East in Biblical times, was immediately overcome by I know not what manner of Biblical fragrance of the Orient..." (André Chouraqui, from: Ce que je croix)


The Sepharad sphere of influence was initially only encapsulated in the word of the Bible. Its geographical location was as yet undefined, when Genesis began its way and the Israelites left the land of their fathers. Over the centuries the term "Sepharad" gained in cultural, religious and historical significance. Since then, in addition to a place of exile, "Sepharad" has held a promise of a religious conviction and of cultural self-determination. Over two thousand years ago the Jews fled from Nebuchadnezzar and the ruins of the Jewish empire and gradually crossed the Mediterranean. Since Roman times there has been evidence of Sephardic Jews in the Iberian peninsula. In 589 Christianity was declared the official state religion by the ruling western Goths. Exercising repression in the form of forced baptism and death threats, these new Christians forced thousands of Jews to leave the Iberian peninsula.

As a result, those Jews who remained behind viewed the Islamic conquest of Spain in the year 711 more as a liberation than a threat. In the Muslim state order Jews had the opportunity of rising to high positions in the government and administration. The Jewish communities in medieval Spain were therefore strongly linked with the Muslim emirates and especially with the caliphate of Cordoba. The Arabian-Hispanic Middle Ages represent an important chapter of Judaic history. After participating in the Near East in the golden age of classical Arab culture, Jews played an important role in Spain as mediators between Arab and Christian culture, and Jewish poetry and music consequently reached a new pinnacle. In the 13th and 14th century Jews were also musicians at the Castilian court. Together with Arab musicians they undoubtedly played an important role in the performance of the Cantigas de Santa Maria (eleven of which tell of Jewish life and culture in Spain), compiled by King Alfonso el Sabio (1252-84). At the court of Sancho IV, in addition to thirteen Christian and fifteen Arab musicians, the Jew Ismaël played the rota (harp) and accompanied his wife when she danced.

The 14th century, when the Catholic reconquest of Spain made considerable progress, brought the harmonious cohabitation of Spanish Christians, Jews and Muslims to an end. The pogroms and persecutions of 1391 led to mass conversions of Jews and Muslims. The mid-15th century saw the establishment of the Inquisition, which accused many conversos (those who had converted from other religions) of practising their original beliefs in secret.

The exodus of Hispanic Jews began on August 2, 1492: in the course of just a few months it is believed that over 160.000 Jews were forced by the Catholic monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella to leave Spain and all Spanish sovereign territories in the most undignified manner. Many Sephardic Jews fled to French Provence. Hispanic Jews who had converted to Christianity also settled as late as the 17th century in Bordeaux, Marseilles and Bayonne, after they too had been forced to leave Spain and Portugal. Many Sephardim sought to start a new life on the north African coast. The majority however, 60,000 or more in number, found haven in the sovereign territories of the Ottoman Empire: in Constantinople, Thessaloniki, Smyrna, Adrianople (Edirne), Gallipoli, Ankara, in Egypt, Syria, Palestine and the Balkan states. Sultan Bayezit remarked on the exodus of the Sephardim thus: "It is said that King Ferdinand, King of Castille and Aragon, is a clever man, but by driving the Jews from his own country, he is impoverishing his empire and enriching mine." Some Sephardic communities were also established in Italy (Ferrara, Livorno), and after the end of Spanish rule in the Netherlands (Amsterdam), in Germany, Austria and in the New World.

Sephardic Music: History and Allegory

In the Diaspora Hispanic Jews handed down their medieval Spanish past - customs, music and language - in undiluted form. The traditional songs characteristic of the Sephardic Jews were and still are to this day the romanzas in the Jewish-Spanish tongue - judezmo - which is today sometimes misinterpreted as ladino (this term actually refers to translations from the Hebrew into Spanish: ladinar) and corresponds to djudiyo in the Levante and haketiya in the Maghreb. The lyrics of these songs recount the lives of Spanish Jewry and tell of Spanish history. Only a few written examples of this music have survived from the Spanish Middle Ages. However, in addition to the images conjured up by Sephardic music taken from medieval sources, the Sephardims' verbal heritage provides a guide to this immensely rich musical culture.

The development of Sephardic music is inexorably linked to the history of Spanish Jews following their expulsion. After leaving Spain and Portugal the Sephardims settled in numerous communities in the Mediterranean region. There they sang their songs brought from Spain and sought to maintain their Spanish culture. In the new environment, usually far from Spanish influence, they lived in close communities defiantly keeping their Spanish mother tongue and glorifying their Spanish past.

Since the song repertoire was and to some extent still is a significant element of Sephardic community life, it was possible to preserve their songs over five centuries. This living tradition, in which the exiles handed down old Spanish epic stories in late medieval Castilian, was greatly influenced by the various languages and musical cultures of the countries in which the Sephardims lived. The Sephardic way of life eventually blended with local traditions in their host countries. As early as the Middle Ages Spanish Jews had worked closely with musicians from other cultures and this tradition was continued seamlessly after the exodus. Not only were tunes integrated into the performance of sacred and secular poetry, but many musical elements too, such as the modal tone system, rhythmic and metric characteristics, melodic embellishment and cadence forms, all flowed into the traditional repertoire. In addition, numerous new songs developed which make up the main body of the repertoire still sung today. By the beginning of the 18th century at the latest the Sephardic colonies of the western and eastern Mediterranean (Ottoman Empire) formed two clearly distinguishable and independent cultures. The "western" or north African was able, due to its geographical proximity, to maintain its ties to the Iberian peninsula, while the "eastern" camp was to a great extent exposed to new influences.

It is therefore possible to define two main traditions within Sephardic song culture, where its repertoire, melodic structures and performance practice are concerned: that of the eastern Mediterranean, mostly under Turkish and Balkan (generally Ottoman) influence and that of the western Mediterranean, which was significantly influenced by Moroccan and Spanish elements. With Europe's increasing political and economic influence on the Middle East since colonization, western musical influences have increased, especially in northern Africa.

Any formal matching of songs from the western and eastern repertoires, that is from two independent music traditions which enjoyed only a minimum of mutual contact, points to the fact that both traditions have handed down, quite independently of one another, some of the repertoire and/or characteristics of the medieval Sephardic romance heritage in Spain. Some Sephardic Jews continued their emigration from Thessaloniki and Constantinople, the two central colonies in the Ottoman Empire, to Jerusalem, where an important Sephardic community developed which even today is still an amalgam of Palestinian, Turkish and Balkan elements. This accounts for the many matching features in the lyrics and tunes of the Palestinian and Balkan songs.

The female voice is dominant in traditional Sephardic musical performance. Many of the topics featured in the songs are represented from a woman's point of view, since it was the women who, in the Diaspora, passed on the Sephardic traditions to their daughters. Today the singers further the living tradition, accompanying themselves on the frame drum or pandeiro. The Spanish monk Andrés Bernáldez was an observer of the Jews' expulsion from Spain and left the following lines, documenting the important role of women in Sephardic singing tradition: "They left the country in which they were born. Great and small, young and old, on foot, donkeys or in carts, each followed the path to his or her chosen destination. Some stopped at the wayside, some collapsed from exhaustion, others were ill, yet others dying. No fellow creature could have failed to have pity on these unhappy people. All along the way there were constant appeals for them to accept baptism, but their rabbis instructed them to refuse and implored the women to sing, beat their drums and to uplift their souls."

Later, in the Diaspora, the Sephardic romances were adapted, some of them by professional, usually male, Jewish musicians and performed in coffee houses and taverns. In the same way, sacred texts such as the piyyutim were - and still are - set to romance tunes.

The Romance

In Spain as early as the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance the romance or ballad was a very popular song-form. It originally survived as a folk song handed down in verbal form and was only introduced to the Spanish court towards the end of the 15th century. Like most Sephardic romances, especially those handed down through the eastern scion, the 15th century romance, as described in various documents including the Cancionero musical de Palacio and (described as a romance viejo) in the tablatures of 16th century vihuelists, has a mainly poetic 16-syllable structure with assonant rhymes and a musical form with four phrases of equal length.

The first musical phrase often has an arched, rising and then descending melodic contour: sometimes, we encounter a purely ascending melody line. The second melodic phrase is usually higher and touches the melodic highpoint. These two melody lines are seldom identical. The third melodic section then descends through an extensive tonal arc to the deeper cadence. The fourth phrase of limited tonal extent often ends the melody in a cadenced downward movement.

Many of the melodies are based on a descending chromatic tetrachord which is also characteristic of the musiqà andalusiyya. In the eastern Mediterranean region melodies can often be attributed to the modes (makamât) of Islamic musical culture: the Hüsseynî, Ushâk, Bayâti, Hicâz, Hicâzkâr, Púselik, Nihâvent and Ferahfeza modes are frequently encountered. In the western Mediterranean, especially in Morocco, the diatonic principle was applied to the melodies, probably under later European influence, and they were made to conform with major-minor key tonality.

In the rhythmic-metric performance of the romances metric and non-metric sections are often interwoven. The eastern tradition reveals a strong tendency towards a performance completely devoid of metric and rhythmic constraints, while in the western Moroccan repertoire the abrupt shift from binary and tertiary metre is popular.

Choice of works

I. Living traditions of the Orient
The songs chosen by SARBAND for the first section of the journey through the Sephardic world are still to this day an integral part of traditional Judeo-Hispanic female singing: cradle songs, wedding songs, songs of the kitchen. Nevertheless, the repertoire of the 19th and early 20th centuries is also included: salon romances and popular coffee house songs from the Orient, inspired by the contemporary Andalusian copla.

II. Medieval Spain and the Hispanic tradition
In the second section of our journey through time and cultures the significance of Judaic musical culture in the preservation and dynamic modification of medieval Spanish romances on the one hand and of the Arab-Andalusian muwassahat and harjas is demonstrated by means of the various compositional modes. It is our aim to create a living audio document of the former symbiosis of medieval story-telling of north Spanish, Andalusian or HispanicJewish origin with oriental melodies from Asia Minor or the Balkans: the sphere of influence of "Sepharad".

Vladimir Ivanoff


Without the basic research, collections of documents and publications of Léon Algazi, H. Anglés, Samuel G. Armistead, Hanoch Avenary, Avner Bahat, Eugène Borrel, Judith Cohen, José Antonio de Donostia, Judith Etzion, Edith Gerson-Kiwi, García Gómez, Alberto Hemsi, A. Z. Idelsohn, Israel J. Katz, Isaac Levy, Leo Levy, Benjamin M. Liu, Manuel Manrique de Lara, Michael Molho, Eduardo Martines Torner, Ramón Menéndez Pidal, James T. Monroe, Joaquín Rodrigo, Edwin Seroussi, Amnon Shiloah, Joseph H. Silverman, Samuel Miklos Stern, Susana Weich-Shahak, David Wulstan, Henrietta Yurchenco, Rodrigo de Zayas, to mention just some of the researchers, our journey through the history of Sephardic songs, which is meant to be a creative new study on the basis of the numerous sources which have emerged over the past hundred years, would not have been possible.

Vladimir Ivanoff


"Sarband" is a term from Persian and Arabic denoting the improvised connection of two parts within a suite. Vladimir Ivanoff, who founded the ensemble in 1986, pursues an archaelogy of complex connections. Sarband aims above all to demonstrate the links between European music, and the Jewish and Islamic musical cultures. Sensitively, and with great intensity, Sarband celebrates the symbiosis of Orient and Occident. The inter-reaction within the ensemble is of a continuous nature, aspiring to an equal dialogue. Exchange of experience with musicians from different cultures lends to Sarband's performances the greatest possible degree of authenticity, making them exciting and lively.

In their performance of medieval music the Turkish. Italian. English, Bulgarian. Arab and German musicians involved in the project employ a colourful range of instruments, vocal and instrumental techniques and the art of improvisation as can still be found today in the Islamic culture. With its musically unique concert repertoire Sarband has made a name for itself on the international scene. Sarband has been appearing over the past few years at numerous international festivals of various leanings, from early music to avant-garde.

The Sarband musicians do not see their activities as a sporadic venture, but as an expression of existence and life itself. While in this day and age the emphasis is usually on the religious, economic, cultural and
political differences between the Orient and the West, Sarband's musical performances aim to demonstrate that music at least was not merely an embellishment, but a liberal-minded medium of mutual respect and can continue to be such: an example of understanding and mutual recognition, an example of peace.

Vladimir Ivanoff

Born in Bulgaria, Vladimir Ivanoff is a qualified musicologist and graduate of the lute class at the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis; he wishes to develop a link between musical science and actual performance practice, while revealing the threads connecting the Orient and the West and tightening them. His dedication to early music does not ossify in awe for what has been handed down. On the contrary, he breathes new life into the old, with a conscious desire to integrate present-day experience into the execution. He puts new spirit into the sometimes rather dry area of early music without leaving the basis of musicological teaching.

MUSICOLOGY: studies and doctorate in musicology in Munich - research projects in Venice - post-doctoral project qualifications in Munich and Venice - lectureships in musicology, ethnomusicology and historical performance practice at various universities - lectures at symposia and conferences in most European countries and the USA; several books published - numerous contributions to musicology magazines and encyclopaedias.

MUSIC: Studied the lute and historical performance practice at the Musikhochschule Karlsruhe and the Basel Music Academy/Schola Cantorum Basiliensis - percussion training with several traditional musicians - musical director of the Sarband, Vox. L'Orient Imaginaire projects and (together with choral director Johannes Rahe) Metamorphoses - concerts, staged projects, radio, TV and CD recordings in Europe and the USA - producer (including "Mystère des Voix Bulgares") and head of recording for many CD recordings of early, traditional, electronic and pop music (two Grammy Award nominations).

Translation: Janet & Michael Berridge

Ⓟ 1996, JARO Medien • © 1996, BMG Music
Recording: Jochen Scheffter, Dr. Vladimir lvanoff, Beirut, Istanbul, München, 1994
Post production: Friedrich Them, Dr. Vladimir Ivanoff,  Bremen 1994
Musical producer: Dr. Vladimir Ivanoff
Designed by: Ariola/Petra Hirschfeld
Art director: Thomas Sassenbach
Photo and Illustration: White Star
Copyright 1996 BMG Music
All rights reserved