Celebrating the Holidays Music and Arts - Hanukkah
Updated: Dec 24, 2022
The Songs of Salamone...and Europa
This week Jews around the world are celebrating the eight nights of Hanukkah. Hanukkah (also spelled Chanukah) the Jewish holiday commemorating the rededication of the Second Temple at the beginning of the Maccabean revolt against the Seleucid Empire in the 2nd century BCE. The Maccabees were a group of pious Jewish rebel warriors who sought to liberate their people from the Seleucid Empire as many of the Jewish and Samaritan religious practices had been banned by the Greek rulers. During the revolt, a oil-field lantern miraculously stayed lit with the amount of pure oil for one-day for eight days.
The holiday of Hannukah is sometimes called the "Festival of Lights." It is celebrated with the daily lighting of a candelabra called a menorah, traditional foods many of which are fried in oil to commemorate the oil lantern and annointment, traditional games like a traditional spinning top called a dreidel (Yiddish for “spinning”), and gift-giving. To learn more about Hanukkah, its traditions, and music, listen to Israeli-American violinist virtuoso, music educator, and conductor Itzkah Perlman’s (b. Aug. 31, 1945) fun and memory-filled hour-long radio show Hanukkah Radio Party. Learn more about the significance of the Hanukkah menorah in this episode of NPR's All Things Considered with guest Rafael Frankel who talks about it from an archaeologist's perspective.
For today's post, we are going to learn about Italian-Jewish musicians Salamone Rossi and his sister, Europa Rossi.
Bridging the Renaissance to the Baroque
Salamone (or Salomone) Rossi (c. 1570 – 1630) was a leading Jewish composer and violinist in period of the late Italian Renaissance bridging the Renaissance and Baroque musical styles. While still a teen, he began his lifelong career (1587 – 1628) as singer and violist (later as concertmaster) at the Gonzaga court at Mantua for Duke Vincenzo Gonzaga.
Rossi’s sister, Europa Rossi (late 1500s – 1630), was also a court musician, a vocalist who went by the stage name of “Madama Europa.” She was very likely the first Jewish woman to be employed as a professional singer in Mantua and the first to gain popularity outside of the Jewish community. Europa performed with several vocal ensembles and played an accompanying instrument as well, possibly the lute. She later married and had two sons.
While at Mantua, Rossi composed and published volumes of light secular Italian vocal music as well as serious madrigals which he dedicated to Duke Vincenzo. Though the Duke exempted Rossi from the required yellow badge that was mandatory for Mantuan Jews, antisemitic sentiments reemerged in Renaissance Italy after a period of relative religious tolerance. In 1590, Vincenzo expelled all of the foreign-born Jews from Mantua. Twelve years later, in 1602, he forbade Jewish physicians from treating Christians without special permission. In 1610, he established a ghetto, and in 1612, he forced all Jews to live in it.
Although Rossi was documented as a salaried musician, he was never appointed to a regular position. All appointed musicians at the court were required to perform as part of the church choir. Rossi as well as the Duke considered this to be incompatible with his Rossi’s faith.
Because of this, Rossi seems to have primarily made his career with local theater troupes. He also composed ornamental monody, songs for one vocalist or instrumental soloists with instrumental accompaniment with a clear harmonic structure and bass-line. This style is the forerunner to Baroque art songs and later on to the singer-songwriter genre we have today where a single vocalist is accompanied by a guitar or piano. He was also a pioneer in the new Baroque musical forms of trio sonata and suite. Listen to his melodious instrumental piece, Sinfonia a 3 in the video below.
As a Jewish composer, he set liturgical religious Hebrew texts in an elaborate style similar to the Christian church music of his time, the a cappella style of his contemporaries like Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (c. 1525 – Feb. 2, 1594) and Giovanni Gabrieli (c. 1554 –1612). His most notable religious work is his Hashirim asher lish'lomo (Songs of Solomon) with 33 polyphonic settings of Hebrew texts. Although there is a book from the Hebrew Bible called the “Song of Solomon”, the work’s title is a pun on his name as none of the texts are taken from that Biblical text. Listen to his double-choir (two choirs made of soprano, alto, tenor, and bass voices) synagogue motet, Adon Olam (Eternal Lord), published in Venice in 1622 in the video below as performed by the Zamir Chorale of Boston.
Rossi’s last publication was a work in 1628, Madrigaletti. There is no historical evidence of him after this. In 1630, the Holy Roman Empire conquered Mantua which consequently lead to the destruction of the ghetto and a plague also struck the city. Historians consider it very likely that Rossi perished in one of these tragedies. Sadly, Europa vanishes from the record at this time as well.
In the 19th century, there was a reignited interested in Rossi’s work as intellectuals in Central and Western Europe began to study Jewish art music and music history. Today, Rossi is considered an important figure in the musical style transition between the polyphonic music of the Renaissance, and the while still somewhat polyphonic, but more harmonically than melodically driven, more homophonic music of the Baroque.
Happy Hanukkah to all of you who celebrate! In our next post, we will focus on music for another festival of lights in Celebrating the Holidays Music and Arts - Winter Solstice.
For Further Information
History.com Editors. “Hanukkah.” History.com. A&E Television Networks, October 27, 2009. https://www.history.com/topics/holidays/hanukkah
“The Oil That Fueled the Hanukkah Miracle.” All Things Considered, NPR, December 25, 2005. https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5069530
Music for Hanukkah
McLeland, Kara. Eight Classical Pieces for Hanukkah. 91Classical,
December 12, 2017.
Perlman, Itzhak. “Itzhak Perlman's Hanukkah Radio Party.” YourClassical from American Public Media and Minnesota Public Radio. Minnesota Public Radio, December 4, 2017.
Westberg, Megan. “A Hanukkah Medley from the Israel Philharmonic.” Strings Magazine, December 17, 2020.
Zinn, Joshua. "Celebrate Hanukkah With 8 Great Jewish Composers." Houston Public Media, December 9, 2015.
Arkenberg, Rebecca. “Music In The Renaissance.” Metmuseum.org, October 2002.
“Europa Rossi.” Europa Rossi | Jewish Music Research Centre. Accessed December 5, 2021. https://www.jewish-music.huji.ac.il/content/europa-rossi
“Europa Rossi JPG.” UNC Music.. Accessed December 5, 2021.
"Lecture Recital: Madama Europa, the First Jewish Female Opera Singer.: UNC Music.. Accessed December 5, 2021.
Pinnolis, Judith.. “Europa de Rossi.” Jewish Music WebCenter, March 16, 2018.
“Adon Olam, Salamone Rossi.” JewishChoralMusic. Accessed December 3, 2021.