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Hebrew Melody in the Concert Room

Rev. F. L. Cohen

<plain_text><page sequence="1">HEBREW MELODY IN THE CONCERT ROOM. By the Rev. F. L. COHEN. I have a pleasurable surprise in store for you. On former occasions when I have occupied this platform and other positions of a like kind? my discursive remarks have taken up the lion's share of the evening, while the tuneful utterances of my wife and her musicianly coadjutors have been what the Talmud says the boys' voices in the Temple choir of Levites were, " a melodious condiment." This evening, however, you will have a very highly-seasoned fare put before you, for this musical spice will preponderate over the heavy beefy matter which alone it is in my power to contribute to the proceedings. You see, when we had our last meeting of the Executive Committee of the Historical Society, we came to the conclusion, with all that shrewd discrimination so proper to historians, that to arrange a conversazione without providing extensive facilities for conversation, would be like performing the play of " Hamlet" with the Prince of Denmark left out. For pray take notice that, when I arrange a musical programme, the moreeaux are distinctly not arranged on the common or drawing-room method as a screen for conversation. And even if they were, their intrinsic fascination and their rendering are such that he, or rather she, would be a cynic hardened to the glare of a hundred angry eyes who would venture to interpose his, or rather her, vocal contribution. Yet not unmindful shall we prove this evening of the irresistible allure? ments of a little chat for both sexes ; and the ample interval of half an hour will be given, as a kind of digestive, between the two portions of our programme. (The preceding paper formed the second part of the programme). In speaking of Hebrew melody destined for public performance, I might have commenced with that transcription of the cantillation to which the Law is recited in the synagogue on Sabbath mornings,</page><page sequence="2">8 HEBREW MELODY IN THE CONCERT ROOM. which the distinguished and friendly scholar Reuchlin included in his volume on the Accents in the year 1518. Not Reuchlin, but a certain brilliantly unintelligent Silling is responsible for having harmonised these synagogal chant-phrases in four parts, with an ingeniously ridiculous effect I do not care to reproduce. Then again, Rittangel, in his Hagadah with German translation, published at Kcenigsberg in 1644, transcribes the striking Passover hymns, one of which you will hear this evening. I commence, however, with the transcriptions of English Jews, for, if I mistake not, the distinction lies with English Jews of having earliest cast in modem musical form, destined for public performance, and presented to the general admiration of melody lovers, some of the sweet songs of Zion. True that Salomo de' Rossi, of Mantua, had, in addition to his many other admirable compositions, published in 1623 a collection of original vocal pieces for synagogue use. These, however, were not Hebrew melodies in character or style. And if such requirements were more fulfilled by the Jewish themes which the renowned Benedetto Marcello utilised as subjects for his beautiful Psalms published about 1725, yet these imposing compositions cannot fairly be termed Hebrew melodies. It was John Braham and Isaac Nathan, with whom rests the distinction to which I have referred, on account of their collection of " Hebrew Melodies," which first appeared in April, 1815. Of these two musicians I shall have more to say later on. But T should mention here that I incline to the opinion that Braham's share in the compilation was very small indeed, and literally a nominal one. The volume is dedicated to the short-lived Princess Charlotte of Wales, to whom Nathan had given singing lessons. The accompaniments smack of his hand rather than of Braham's ; the noble verses for the " Hebrew Melodies " were written expressly for the work by Lord Byron, a considerable number of whose other poems were set to music by Nathan ; the original compositions, that is to say, melodies not synagogal, which include half of the first part, and probably all in the second, have the characteristics of Nathan's style and not those of Braham's ; and to crown all, when a reprint was published in 1861, Nathan's name alone appears as com? poser and arranger, while that of Braham, who had died a few years before, but whose fame was still vigorously alive, is entirely omitted. From this collection I select the first number on the programme, " If</page><page sequence="3">HEBREW MELODY IN THE CONCERT ROOM. 9 that High World," in the melody of which those of you who are in the habit of attending synagogues on the mornings of the Three Festivals will recognise the Kaddish chanted after the Reading of the Law. This lovely melody, while presenting few ancient characteristics, is probably an old one, brought from the Continent by some immigrant Chazan of at least a hundred years ago. Song . . . " If that High World" . Arranged by I. Nathan. Mrs. F. L. Cohen. The next piece is from the same compilation as the last, and is quoted as an example of what a synagogue melody should not be. Some here present will perhaps remember the mariner-like rollicking manner in which Chazan Ascher and the late Mr. Keizer used to sing this melody to the hymn " Yigdal " at the close of the Evening Service on Tabernacles. I call it unsuitable and in bad taste, because it treats as a bravura solo what should be a congregational hymn. Further, there is no solemnity about it. suited to the words of the " Yigdal," either in the modern sense or according to the older Jewish attitude. It is probably of English origin, and first chanted in the Great Synagogue about a century ago. Its composer was infected with the tasteless fancy of English Chazanim of his day for the scale passages of the bravura age of long-deceased and never-to-be-revived Italian operas, in which the aria was used not to convey any musical idea or to interpret the words, but only to display the acrobatic flexibility of the singer's voice. Unfortunately, the relics of this vocal style, over? abundant in bravura, but totally devoid of the traditionally Oriental characteristics of synagogal ornamentation, have not yet disappeared, and occasionally tend to make English " Chazanuth " ridiculous in the ears of Continental visitors who understand the subject. You will notice that Nathan has punningly chosen this skipping melody for the poem on u The Wild Grazelle " ; and that he has with much taste introduced a contrasting theme where the words require it, precisely as some Chazanim are accustomed to do when they reach the solemn final verse of the hymn " Yigdal." Song ..." The Wild Gazelle " . Arranged by I. Nathan. Mrs. F. L. Cohen. One of these melodies transcribed by our English friends in the</page><page sequence="4">10 hebrew melody in the concert room. stirring Waterloo days has achieved a very wide reputation, and fascinated many a distinguished musician. It is a great compliment to its beauty and tenderness that that giant among song-writers, Robert Franz, selected it for the theme of, if I mistake not, his only composition for pianoforte solo. Set to Byron's exquisite " Weep for those that wept by Babel's stream," in Braham and Nathan's collec? tion, it is originally the very antique chant to which the Cohanim were, and to an abbreviated extent still are, accustomed to chant on Festivals the Levitical Benediction in London synagogues. It exists also in another and still more pathetic form, which you hear even in Reform Synagogues, where the traditional style is painfully conspicuous by its extreme rareness. Franz has arranged it as a " Funeral March," partly because of the character of Lord Byron's words, and partly because the general effect of old Hebrew melodies on ears trained in the modern European harmony is eminently sad and sorrowful. Pianoforte Solo . " Hebrew Melody " . Arranged by Bobert Franz. Miss Z. Cohen. If you have ever heard the arrangement for violoncello and orchestra, in which Bruch has made " Kol Nidrei" a classical melody, I daresay you have wondered what was the phrase introduced in the middle of that arrangement, which you never heard chanted on the Evening of Atonement. You will have recognised this phrase in the pianoforte piece just played ; and I suppose Bruch introduced it in his arrangement for the sake of a contrast to the sombre Kippur theme. A few minutes ago I condemned a certain style of melody found in English synagogues. I ought, perhaps, after that to illustrate to you what I consider a more suitable style for Jewish use. This I am able to do because two such have been performed on English concert platforms, partly through my own former references to them. One of these was the ordinary Friday night tune for the same hymn as that set to the melody we have already discussed?"Yigdal," I mean. Since Leoni (to whom I have again to refer this evening) chanted this melody to Thomas Olivers fully a hundred years ago, it has been known in the English Churches by his name, and has been adopted, after an old synagogue custom, as a theme associated with the idea " The God of Abraham." As such it was chanted by a huge choir of three</page><page sequence="5">hebrew melody in the concert room. 11 thousand voices at a Festival of the Tonic Sol-fa Association, held at the Crystal Palace on July 9th, 1892. Beyond it, Mr. Alfred Gaul, the melodious composer of the cantata "Israel in the Wilderness" then sung, introduced a second Hebrew melody, the Chazanuth for the Sabbath Service, which is now going to be sung to you. I had myself quoted this Chazanuth, as transcribed by Mr. Hast, the estimable Chazan of the Great Synagogue ; and the quotation greatly interested Mr. Gaul, Having been privileged to hear the rehearsal of his choir, I was par? ticularly struck by the magnificent effect of this chant, as rendered by that huge assembly of singers. You are to hear this Sabbath theme as a solo, and while it is richly embellished with vocal ornament, you will observe that the ornament is always in keeping with the theme, because like the theme, it is always Oriental, and always Jewish in effect. Prayer?motive . " Yismach M?sheh" . Arranged by F. L. Cohen. Mrs. F. L. Cohen. The next number is a modern composition, which I call a Hebrew melody, not merely because it is written by a Hebrew, and set to Hebrew words, but because it so happily interprets, illustrates, and blends with those Hebrew words. Even were this not so evident, no musical programme like that of this evening should omit the name and work of that eminent Jew who, having attained a position among the more advanced ranks of English musicians, has not omitted to devote some of the finest productions of his rare artistic and technical gifts to the service of the Sanctuary. Our venerable but ever-young friend, Mr. Charles Salaman, has set a high-minded example in this respect, which we trust will not be overlooked by distinguished Anglo-Jewish musicians of generations to come after his. In Mr. Salaman's " Hebrew Love Song," you will notice all the Mauresque colour suited to verses the writer of which flourished in Spain about the year 1200. You will observe, too, with what skill and taste the composer gives variety and vigour by the introduction of a short phrase more modern in character. Song . . "Hebrew Love Song" . Composed by Charles Salaman. Mrs. F. L. Cohen. The next illustration I select for a reason akin to that which prompted the selection of the last. Lewandowski was a musician</page><page sequence="6">12 HEBREW MELODY IN THE CONCERT ROOM. whose work was not unknown to the outer world, who devoted him? self to the preparation and development of that magnificent synagogal service of song which those who have visited Berlin will not readily forget. I would have given you also his Hebrew Rhapsody for the pianoforte, had not that in some degree again covered the ground of the violin and pianoforte duet you are now to hear. This duet contains eight themes, each treated with some little freedom of development, which I had better name to you, as they do not all occur in the Atone? ment services, and so must be unfamiliar to the mass of English Jews. You will hear in turn (i.) the Chazan's chant for the Hallel psalms when the palm-branch is waved on the Feast of Tabernacles ; (ii.) the congregational chant for Psalm cxliv. at the conclusion of Sabbath; (iii.) a characteristic Atonement theme occurring in the Kaddish ; (iv.) the familiar Passover hymn ; (v.) the Kol Nidrei; (vi.) the old Berlin chant for the Neilah or Closing Service, which is far less characteristic than our own antique tune ; (vii.) the chant in which the Cohanim in many Continental congregations sing their Benediction on the days when the Memorial of the Departed is recited ; and (viii.) a very well chosen example of the Zemirotk, or domestic hymns for the Sabbath, in the Polish style and in an old Oriental key. Violin and Pianofoete Duet? " Hebrew Melodies " Arranged by L. Lewandowski. Miss J. Levine and Miss Z. Cohen. Now I must remind you that there are concert rooms in the East End as well as in the West End of London, and that the Hebrew melodies presented before a Spitalfields audience are not quite the same as those heard in the great Hall next door. Yet being composed by Jews, in a Jewish dialect and expressing a Jewish sentiment, they fully merit our sympathetic attention. The folk-song of our J?disch? deutsch speaking brethren contains a rich store of beautiful and characteristic melody such as that exquisite last movement in the duet to which we have been listening. Here is one from Dalman's recent collection, in the Oalician Jewish style, set to words by Schafir of Cracow, which some of you will, perhaps, be able to understand. Lament . . " Die Stimme Jakows" . Arranged by H. Jebe. Mrs. F. L. Cohen.</page><page sequence="7">HEBREW MELODY IN THE CONCERT ROOM. 13 A Historical Society should not concern itself with the past with? out a glimpse into the future. The hope of our long-enduring people, as of every people, lies in the cradle ; and we may well follow the sad retrospect of the last illustration with the tender hopefulness of the Lullaby with which the first part of this evening's proceedings con? cludes. The tune is in the style of the Lithuanian Jews ; and it has been many a time sung in that universal concert room in which each one of us has, at a remarkably early age, given a vocal performance. CkAdle Song . . " Schlof Sehe, V?gele" . Arranged by H, Jebe. Mrs. F. L. Cohen.</page></plain_text>