Salamone Rossi & Synagogue Choral Music

A Renaissance composer who applied the conventions of choral music to Jewish liturgy

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Rossi's Scores

Additional insight on this subject can be gleaned from careful examination of Rossi's scores. In his setting of Barekhu, Rossi notates a double bar at the conclusion of the "leader's" (polyphonic) passage, before the entry of the choral "congregation"--a clear indication of an intended break in the music.

This is consistent with Rossi's practice in another setting that would normally involve congregational participation: the Sephardic Kedushah (known as Keter),in which the composer repeatedly stops the music with that same double bar and even refrains from setting texts that the congregation would have been accustomed to singing. It now becomes apparent that Rossi had no intention of appropriating the congregation's role in the service but, rather, of enhancing those portions where the precenter would have chanted alone.

Similarly, in his setting of Barekhu, while Rossi distinguishes the style of chanting that the precenter and congregation would typically have employed, he does not appropriate the congregation's accustomed role. Instead, the choral "response" would have followed the congregation's own chanting of Barukh Adonai hamevorakh.

In this one, short selection, we can see Rossi, the master composer, standing at the end of one musical era, (the Renaissance) and the beginning of the next (the Baroque). We also see Rossi, the proud, knowledgeable Jew, making an important contribution to the Jewish community of his day and to Jewish music history as well.

Ordinarily, when one creates something of lasting import, it is imitated by others and becomes the subject of innovation and improvement in generations that follow. What impact did Rossi's music have on future Jewish composers? In the short term, none at all. All trace of Rossi disappears in or about 1628, when his last collection of songs was published. Despite the assertion (in Modena's introduction to the collection) that the Ha-Shirim was variously suitable for performance in the synagogue, the study hall, the house of a bride and groom, and private homes, there is no clear indication that any of the Ha-Shirim were regularly used in this way even during Rossi's time, let alone in the absence of the composer's urging and encouragement.

Whether overnight or somewhat more gradually, Rossi's music faded from practice. In fact, were it not for the chance 19th-century discovery of a complete set of Rossi's part books, all knowledge of Rossi's contribution to Jewish music might well have disappeared.

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Marsha B. Edelman

Marsha Bryan Edelman is professor of music and education at Gratz College. She also serves as director of the Tyson Music Department and coordinates the college's academic programs in Jewish music.