Jewish souvenirs in Trani, Italy

Jewish souvenirs in Trani, Italy


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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Italy -- The Jewish Music of Rome

Great Synagogue, Rome. Photo: Ruth Ellen Gruber

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

Francesco Spagnolo -- Curator of The Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life at the University of California, Berkeley and a longtime friend and sounding board for many of my ideas on Jews and Jewish culture -- has written a nice essay on the long history of the Jewish music of Rome.
The history of Jewish music in Italy is long, fascinating, and filled with contradictions. Its length is due to the very history of Italian Jewry, whose origins go back more that two thousand years. Fascination stems from the meeting of the music of the Jewish Diaspora, represented in Italy by an unprecedented interaction among distinct Italian, Ashkenazi and Sephardic traditions, with Italian musical culture and its innumerable cultural, regional and linguistic differences. The contradictions concern the thousand identities, visible and invisible, of the Jews of Italy: the secrecy of the ghettos, places of exclusion and also of explosive musical ferments emblematically represented in the works of Salamone Rossi (ca. 1570-1630); the conflicts and the hidden consonances between Judaism and Christianity, and the distance between the liturgy of the Church and that of the synagogue, at once brief and unattainable; the integration, and the cultural symbiosis, of Jews and Italy, and the shared feeling so beautifully expressed by Giuseppe Verdi’s Nabucco (1842); the relentless liturgical modernization carried out during the Emancipation in the 19th century, which forever changed the “soundscape” of the Italian synagogue with the addition of choral repertoires and instrumental accompaniment imitating the operatic styles of Gioachino Rossini and others; and the tragic character of the Fascist parable, ended in the Holocaust and the destruction of Italian synagogue life.
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