Juden im Mittelalter. Aus Sepharad und Ashkenas
Jalda Rebling

Raum Klang 9901
Raum Klang "Souvenir" 59901


1. Waedamah  [4:14]
Text: final line of a Piyyut of unknown origin
Music: Obadiah (~ 1100)
“And I wept and I spoke under the gates and the community taught me.”
This piece was written by Obadiah. Born in Oppido, Lucano (Italy) as Iohannes, he was the son of a Norman aristocrat named Dreux. Shortly after having taken the vows to become a catholic priest, he converted to Judaism (~ 1102), as a consequence of a dream he experienced. His varied life took him on travels through Constantinople, Baghdad and Aleppo to North Palestine and finally via Tyre to Egypt, where he then settled in Fostat. During these years he studied intensively and became renowned as a scholar. All his works, including his autobiography, were found in the Cairo Geniza. (The Hebrew word “geniza” refers to a place set aside for the storage of ritually inappropriate documents.)

2. Shir ha—Shirim  [3:35]
Text: Song of Songs III/1
Music: Improvisation
“By night on my bed I sought him whom my soul loveth: I sought him but/found him not”

3. Ki mi—Zion teze Torah  [1:01]
Text: Isaiah II/3
Music: Improvisation
“For the Torah emerges from Zion and God's word from Jerusalem.”
All the improvisations recorded here are based on the torah tropes noted down by Johannes Reuchlin in the sixteenth century. These tropes cannot carry meaning as such like a word. The idea is for them to subdivide a long sentence into smaller logical units and their function is therefore to serve both the dramaturgy and syntax. In principle, even these melodic cells, depicted graphically by, for example, a dot or a loop, can be exchanged.(As such, they differ from neumes, which try to pin down a musical event.) The flexibility of the tropes therefore explains regional differences in their execution and also allows entirely new melodies to be created. However, the presence of an underlying tonal, functional structure is prerequisite and is usually provided by the interval of a fourth or a fifth, a factor that again links the tradition with that of Gregorian chant.

4. Mi al Har Horev  [4:34]
Text: Piyyut by “Amr”
Music: Obadiah
“Who was as strong and sure in his belief as was Moses on Mount Horeb?”
The author of this piyyut was “Amr”, according to an acrostic using these letters in the text. The piyyut was intended for use during the two holidays Shawuot and Simhat Torah: both are festivals which celebrate, at different moments of the Jewish calendar, the reception of the Torah at Mount Horeb. The people, and thus every individual, receives the Torah, which is therefore not solely transmitted through Moses. However, according to the text, nobody can compare himself to Moses. There are neumes for this piyyut, which were written down by Obadiah and are read, like the text, from right to left.

5. Adonai ma Adam  [4:40]
Text: Shlomo Ibn Gabirol (1028-1058)
Music: anonymous
“What is man, Oh Lord? Were not he from flesh and blood, his days would pass like shadows and would go unnoticed.”

6. Barukh ha—Gever  [2:47]
Text: Jeremiah, Proverbs, Job
Music: Obadiah
“Blessed is the man who trusts in God.”

7. Kevarim  [3:54]
Text: Moses Ibn Ezra (1055-1139)
Music: anonymous
“Graves from ages long past and in them lies a people as old as the world and no Hatred and no Envy in them and no Love and no Hatred for the other. And it is impossible to distinguish the servant from the master.”
Ibn Ezra, born in Granada, was one of the most prolific poets of his time. He held an important position in Granada and witnessed the assault by the Almoravids in 1090, through which the entire Jewish community of the town was destroyed. After the assault, he fled to the Christian part of Spain, an area in which he then remained but always felt a stranger.

8. Shir ha—Shirim  [3:18]
Text: Song of Songs III/4
Music: Improvisation
“Scarcely had I passed them when I found him whom my soul loveth.”

9. Le mi Anuss  [3:08]
Text: Isaac Ha-Gorni (13th century)
Music: Contrafactum to “Ja nuns hons pris” ascribed to Richard the Lionheart (1157-1199)
“Woe betide him who is in despair and cannot find support as, alas, is poor Gorni who receives only in mockery and deprecation who is without money and support. Perhaps my fate is my heritage and my wealth and misery my pillar.”
Isaac ben Abraham Ha-Gorni from Aire in the South West of France chose to express himself in Hebrew. According to contemporary witnesses, Gorni never settled down and was eternally dependent upon masters. Throughout his journeys to all the important centres of southern France in the 13th century, he frequently complained about the shallowness of the culture and the narrow-mindedness of the inhabitants. Unsurprisingly, this often caused conflict with his contemporaries and fellow poets, like Abraham Bedersi of Perpignan who replied with poetic mockery. Gorni's literary testament is full of sarcasm and bitterness and is one of the most unusual examples of medieval poetry.

10. Quant voi les oisiaus esjoir  [3:03]
Text: Robert de Blois (13th century)
Music: Contrafactum to “Onque del beverage ne bai” by Chrétien de Troyes (fl. ~ 1160-1190)
“When I hear the birds rejoicing over the sweetness of the season, I then sing their song to numb my pain.”
Trouvere song

11.  [6:42]
Merci douce Dame
Text: Mathieu le Juif (13th century)
Music: Contrafactum to “Bien doit chanter”, anonymous (13th century)
“I beg thee, show mercy with me, my, sweet Lady, for with thee I have not brought guilt upon myself. For thee have I forsaken my covenant and my belief in God against the will of my friends, and thou art making a fool out of me. Thou hast betrayed me, as they have taught thee.”
Et s'autrement ne puis
Text: ibid
Music: Contrafactum to “Mon caret mi”, anonymous (13th century)
“And if I cannot gain thy love, then may God make her so old and shrivelled that the whole world, other than I, hates her. And then I would know whether she would become a slave to me.”

12. Swer adellîchen tuot  [1:51]
Text: Süskind von Trimberg (~ 1200-1250)
Music: Contrafactum to “Aspis ein wurm geheizen is”, ascribed to Konrad von Würzburg (1220/30-1287)
“Whoever acts in decency I wish to call noble. One can no more recognise nobility from recorded lineage, than the rose by the thorn. And where men violate virtue's duties, there the robes of nobility fall into mere pieces. Yet he who is upright and does his duty, he who needs no name but honours virtue, him I call noble, even were he not of noble origin.”
Süskind von Trimberg, a German minstrel of Franconian origin, is the only German medieval poet known to have devoted his attention to Jewish subjects. Hardly anything is known about his life.

13.  [4:37]
Küng Herre, hochgelopter Got
Text: Süskind von Trimberg
Music: Contrafactum to “Sit man daz bone bi den guoten”, by Rumslant (fl. 1273-1286)
“King, Lord, highly praised God, all power rests in you. You lighten up with the day and darken with the night. You grant us joy and rest. In you all beauty is revealed and all you create will remain for eternity”
Ir manes krone
Text and Music: ibid.
“A virtuous wife is a man's crown. What she possesses honours him: purity in body and soul. Fortunate is he whom she assists and who spends year after year in joy with her! To her highest praise have/made this song.”

14. Gedenke nieman kann erwern  [2:37]
Text: Süskind von Trimberg
Music: Contrafactum to “Nu merke ho un edle man”, by Friedrich von Sonnenburg († before 1287)
“Thoughts are refused neither the foolish nor the wise. They are free to move where they will, no matter whom they are meant for. Nothing can keep them, neither stone, nor steel, nor iron. Thoughts are the possession of man, as are heart and mind, no matter whether they then ripen into action. One senses them, but cannot grasp them.”

15. Re'e Shemesh  [2:00]
Text: Shlomo Ibn Gabirol (1020-1058)
Music: traditional sephardic
“See the sun, how red it is when night falls, as if immersed in the purple of a worm. You spread out towards North and South, and the wind of the sea you cover with purple. And the earth, she is bare and naked. She rests under the shadow of night, seeking shelter. The clouds darken in deep grief over dear Yekutiel.”

16. Shir ha-Shirim  [2:06]
Text: Song of Songs V/6,7
Music: Improvisation
“My soul was in terror because he had turned away. I searched for him but I found him not. I cried out for him but he gave no answer. The guards who walk about the city found me and beat me until I was sore.”

17.  [6:09]
Ir me quiero a Yerushalayim / Ir me queria yo por este caminico
Text and Music: sephardic
“I want to leave, mother, I want to go to Jerusalem. Night falls and yet the dawn is upon us. Jerusalem, mother, which I see before me, grants me light, like the waxing moon. In the holy temple is a seven-armed menorah, which illuminates the world. In the holy temple three doves fly. They converse with the Shekhina face to face.”
Libi be'Misrakh
Text: Jehuda HaLevi (1080-1145)
“My heart is in the East, yet I am on the other side of the West. How may I taste it, the nourishment, how may I value it? How shall I fulfil all my oaths, my commandments, whilst Zion is caught in the ropes of Edom and I myself am chained to the West? With such ease would I leave prosperous Spain behind, for so dear is the sight of the extinguished ashes of the Holy of Holies.”

Jalda Rebling — Gesang
Hans-Werner Apel und Stefan Maass — Laute
Susanne Ansorg — Fidel
Sabine Heller— Harfe
Veit Heller — Portativ
Michael Metzler — Percussion

Translation: Jessica Marshall

All texts in Hebrew, French and Middle High German can be found at the following internet address: www.raumklang.de

Wir danken der Synagogengemeinde Rykestraße und der Jüdischen Gemeinde zu Berlin, daß sie diese Aufnahme ermöglichten.
Wir bedanken uns bei Dr. Hanna Liss für ihre umfangreichen Recherchen.
Wir danken Prof. Karl E. Grözinger für seinen Rat.
Und wir danken Prof. Henning Schroeder für seine Beratung.

Die Aufnahmen fanden vom 2.-5. Februar 1999 in der Synagoge Rykestraße/Berlin Prenzlauer Berg statt.
Tonaufnahme und Schnitt: Sebastian Pank
Gestaltung/Satz: KOCMOC.NET Kathleen Rothe
Redaktion: Susanne Ansorg
Musikerfotografien: Silke Helmerdig
Alle Abbildungen stammen aus: L' art juif, Éditions Citadelles & Mazenod, Paris 1995.
Titelseite: Titelblatt des Gebetes Kol Nidre. Ritualbuch, Bodenseeraum, um 1320. (34,5 x 24,5 cm)

RKs 59901

© und ℗ Raumklang 1999

European Jewry

Whether or not the names Mathieu le Juif and Süskind von Trimberg actually stand for historically proven figures, their poetry mirrors the state of mind of specific parts of European Jewry in the Middle Ages.

The term "Middle Ages" covers a diverse period, which encompasses an equally diverse society. This society had to reorientate itself as "Europe" after the collapse of the Roman Empire. Polycentrism replaced central administration, causing severe problems. The Middle Ages darkened due, at least from our modern point of view, to the consequences of these crises, coupled with the image of the Middle Ages created by scholars in the nineteenth century. Temporal distance makes the whole appear simpler and more aestheticized than it actually was, and any picture of the Middle Ages brings with it an ominous element - anti-Semitism, as hatred of Jews is now being called. The ultimate consequences of this development are to be found in the unfortunate 1930s and 1940s. With the image of these years in mind, it is actually possible to talk about a contemporary, dark "Middle Ages" - those allegedly responsible are not inhabitants of the real Middle Ages, but representatives of the present. Seen from this perspective, one could say that since the 1940s Europe has been trying gradually to re-find the twentieth, that is to say it's own, century.

To return to the real Middle Ages, Mathieu le Juif converted to Christianity and experienced his new isolationary existence as a catastrophe, whilst Süskind of Trimberg remained committed to Judaism and felt himself to be equally isolated as a result of the expulsion and homelessness imposed on him by a judaeophobic environment.

The Jews of Moorish Spain, known as Sephardim, who formed the other great Jewish society, were also not safe from discrimination and persecution by their Islamic rulers. However, they enjoyed comparative freedom: as non-Christians they did not present a direct challenge to the regime; they did not represent Christian States or kings with missionary ambitions. Moreover, well-versed in other languages, Sephardic Jews mediated between classical antiquity and a young, Islamic society thirsting for knowledge. Whilst Ashkenazim (i.e. German Jews) were excluded from guilds and societies and barred from taking public office, Sephardim held positions in universities and even in the civil service, thereby becoming the first Jewish "aristocrats" of modern times. But there were both Ashkenazic and Sephardic poets and thinkers, despite the sometimes oppressive-conditions for Jews in Christian Central Europe. Poets and thinkers can be found amongst these speakers of Middle High German, Jewish German and French as long as the illusion remains, which is to say, until they were consumed by the fires of persecution. Both Sephardim and Ashkenazim were strongly influenced by their immediate environment and in this respect are comparable with any other minority. They used local poetic forms and adopted languages and melodies, thereby giving Jewishness every different character in different parts of Europe. But a common underlying basis, and indeed that which links Central Europe Jewry with that of the Meïterranean and the Middle East, is provided by the Torah (the five Books of Moses), the Talmud (a very rich literature of responsa), and a language, which next to Ladino, Jewish German and Jewish Arabic serves as a universal language: Hebrew. The language of the Torah.

For the past two hundred years the study of Hebrew for the pupils of Cheder, for example, has begun in a highly sensual manner: the teacher drips honey on each letter, so that the language to be learnt becomes at the same time a matter of physical importance and, most certainly, a matter of the heart. Furthermore, each individual letter and the language itself in general, is dealt with in every conceivable way. Each word and grammatical function is examined and defined from every possible angle. So, being accompanied by a benediction and therefore receiving linguistic explication, each act is fully explored and defined in detail - a blind man could follow the events.

The "sensuality" of the letters explains their position in relation to music. Unlike the Christian mass, a synagogue service has never developed into a musical genre. This may largely be due to the enormous difficulties the Jews experienced in trying to integrate with society, but was possibly also a consequence of their own anxious isolation. Even though language is always a translation, a translation of an inner event, it appears to be more objective and unambiguous than music. (Yet, music plays a very important role in every society, not only when reciting a text in front of a large group of people. The singing voice carries the text further than the speaking voice would allow.) However, in the long term, this may also have been influenced by the views of the interpreters of Judaism, bearing in mind that discussions of the role of music in Jewish society permeate the Middle Ages. On the one hand, the rabbinical view was that music distracts from the essential, by giving pleasure whilst listening and in particular, by its capacity to arouse excessive human passions. On the other hand, the cabalists argued that music is an essential part of the text, able to provide meaning beyond words.

For the Hasidei Aschkenas, German mystics of the 13th century, a melody was a prerequisite to any expression of the love of God and the joy of the commandments. Music for them provided the basis of the Kavvanah (concentration), serving to deepen the concentration of the cantor in particular. For that reason Yehuda He-Chassid, in the thirteenth century book Safer Hassidim, says that one should select the melody for a text according to one's own preferences. Most of the songs on this record were created according to this principle.

The only authentic musical material belongs to the songs of Obadiah. These pieces, notated in neumes, lay undiscovered until 1763, when they were found in the Cairo Geniza, an outstanding source of knowledge of the life of medieval European Jewry. As a Jewish convert, Obadja illustrates the fact that there were indeed Christians converting to Judaism, if only up until the time of the Crusades and great plagues. There are no indications of rhythm or dynamic in the source, so the text itself and it's speech rhythms are used as guidelines for this recording. For the rest of the songs, the melodies reflect the preference of the ensemble and were, whenever possible, chosen for their contemporaneity with and topographical nearness to the texts. In addition, when using popular songs, the theme of the original text was also taken into account. For example, the song "Libi be'Misrakh" is a lamentation of the poet who suffers because he is far away from Jerusalem. The melody to this text is taken from the song "Ir me quiero a Yerushalayim". The poems are linked by the yearning for Jerusalem. The technique applied here is called contrafactum and is far from uncommon. Indeed, examples of contrafactum are found throughout the history of music and there are many reasons for it's use. A popular melody is often utilised for new poetic creation, enabling a new song to be learnt more quickly - a technique that is of particular interest to the clergy when, for example, a text should gain speedy and wide acceptance.

The care taken with the interpretation and the efforts to create an awareness of human existence through language are above all directed towards one single place, towards Jerusalem. Jerusalem is the former city of the Temple, where the Schekhina, God's presence on earth, dwells; the place from which the Jews were exiled by the Romans in 70 CE, following the destruction of their centre, the Temple. Since that time, all hope has been invested in the Messiah, who will come and rebuild the temple. This hope takes on very different appearances over the centuries, a major factor being the increasing temporal distance from the traumatic events.

This longing has a name; how it manifests itself is another matter. In the "Iggeret Teman", a letter to the Jews of Yemen (written whilst they were in a state of confusion over one of the many messianic appearances), Maimonides wrote that people should no longer orientate themselves towards a return to Jerusalem. This letter was certainly intended as a sedative, meant to prevent both the disintegration of Jewish society and an uprising in the Yemenite community. However, it illustrates the rejection of the idea of a concrete return to Jerusalem in favour of the city and temple becoming a symbol of greatness, which can be called hope.

This unquieted but alive hope releases great strength. A poem like the one already mentioned, "Libi be'Misrakh", is written to expresses the anxiety, grief and despair of the poet who is far from Jerusalem. It emphasises the nature of the relationship, acknowledging the importance of the individual and the object of his desire, but stressing the relationship or exchange between the two. Jerusalem can thus be a direction to which the Jew turns in prayer — an act which further refers to God. In this way, the relationship is like the one between the lover and his beloved in the Song of Songs.

Esther Kontarsky
Translation: Jessica Marshall


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