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Anthology of Jewish Music, by Chemjo Vinaver

- Abstract

This volume is a real joy to the eye—especially for those who have plowed through tons of Jewish music printed in a format that is indifferent, graceless, or even positively depressing. The musical text itself is beautifully lithographed, and there is a charming frontispiece by Marc Chagall depicting a regal and meditative King David against the smaller and rather more jaunty figure of a village klestner.

Vinaver’s anthology is a very provocative and very personal one, and must be viewed more as an act of criticism than a stage-by-stage illustration of the historical development of East European Jewish music. The “Sacred Chant and Religious Folk Song of the Eastern European Jews” is the field to which he restricts himself. What he tries to show and tell us is that, generally, three principal influences shaped the religious song of the East European Jews (aside, of course, from the considerable influence exerted, however indirectly, by the Gentile milieu). First there was the nobie and ever vital Biblical cantillation, whose origins may be traced to a period somewhat earlier than the destruction of the Second Temple. Second, there were the various synagogal modes, most of which gravitate around cantillatory material, and seem to have crystallized among the Ash-kenazic branches of Jewry before or around 1000 ce.; these modes shaped the vast repository of anonymous communal prayer chants and the more or less freely designed vocal fantasias of the hcazanim. Third, Vinaver points to the comparatively recent body of religious song created by the Hasidim, with its unique spiritual fervor, its piquant rhythmical patterns, and its extraordinarily subtle union of musical and mystical attributes.

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