Discovering Jewish music: a conference by Hervé Roten

Bordeaux’s synagogue, Wednesday May the 3rd

On May 3rd 2017 at 7 pm in the synagogue of Bordeaux, Hervé Roten will hold a conference on Jewish music, illustrated with many audio and video examples, letting us roam through 3700 years of Jewish music…

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.

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Banquet chœur - 1910

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 plural musical practice. Music takes then a certain distance from the text: it evolves and gets 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 allow to note several traditional Jewish music and to record fragments of musical traditions that will, for some of them, disappear during the Holocaust.


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

Hervé ROTEN is ethnomusicologist, has a PhD in musicology from the Paris IV Sorbonne University, he is the director of the European Institute for Jewish Music, and is the author of several articles, books, and records dealing with the various aspects of the Jewish musical traditions in France and worldwide.

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