Conference : Discovering Jewish music

December 7, 2016, Medem-Arbeter Ring Center

Filmed conference (in French - beneath), at the Medem center
Introduction to Jewish music by ethnomusicologist Hervé Roten.

Mysterious and captivating, Jewish music express the soul of a people who spent the major part of its existence in exile. In the beginning, antique Hebrew music is rooted in Sumerian, Babylonian, Assyrian and Egyptian music. Between the 4th century before J.C. and the 1st century of the Christian era, Judea endures the cultural influence of Greek and Roman civilizations, reflected by the names of the Greek instruments in the book of Daniel.

After the destruction of the Temple (70 after J.C.) and the beginning of the diaspora (130 after J.C.), the synagogue becomes the center of Jewish life. The transition from the sacrificial ritual to the prayer puts the music instruments for the worship away and establishes singing as the main vehicle of faith. The second half of the first millennium sees the emergence of the religious poetry (piyyutim), the writing of the biblical cantillation (te’amim) and the confirmation of the cantor’s role (hazzan) as keeper of the local traditions (minhagim).

The second millennium strengthens the rise of a rich and pluralistic musical practice. Music then brings us a certain distance from the text: it evolves and establishes a certain independence. During the Middle-Ages and the Renaissance, several writings mention the presence of Jewish artists or composers, from which the music is lost today, due to the absence of notation. It’s in the 16th century, and especially in the 18th and 19th centuries that the first musical notations appear. In the beginning of the 20th century, various ethnographic expeditions in Europe and in North Africa enabled us to notice several traditional Jewish music and to record fragments of musical traditions that will, in some instances, disappear during the Holocaust.

Nowadays, the Jewish musical panorama is more than ever subject to an accelerating process of evolution and mutation.

This conference, illustrated with many audiovisual examples, allows us to travel through 3.700 years of Jewish music…

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