Seidlová Veronika

Jane Mink Rossen - Uri Sharvit. A Fusion of Traditions: Liturgical Music in the Copenhagen Synagogue. Odense: University Press of Southern Denmark, 2006, 156 pp + 1 accompanying CD, ISBN  87-7674-038-2.


Veronika Seidlová


Although we have no comprehensive history of Jewish liturgical music in Europe, "the present study provides the Danish part of this story" (p.65).

This book is based on the collection of tapes which were recorded by the ethnomusicologist Jane Mink Rossen for the Danish Folklore Archives during services in the Copenhagen Synagogue in 1967. Jane Mink Rossen, who has served as Assistant Professor and Research Fellow at Copenhagen University and the Danish Folklore Archives and who is known for her later fieldwork in the Solomon Islands (Songs of Bellona, 1987), made these recordings after coming to Denmark from New York City where she completed her studies at Columbia University. "In 1967, I was an immigrant, a shy outsider with limited contacts." (p.11)  The Chief Rabbi of the Copenhagen Synagogue gave her permission to record during Rosh hashana and Simchat Torah services, a fact worth mentioning since live recordings of Jewish services are quite rare because of religious restrictions. Further, Mink Rossen interviewed the Copenhagen Torah reader and two cantors (i.e. singers who lead the Jewish services), recorded paraliturgical songs sung in Jewish homes, and carried out historical research. Since the author is particularly interested in integration processes as reflected in music and religious life, the first part of the book thus talks about the arrival of Jews in Denmark, the first synagogues and schools, synagogue music in Europe and the impact of the cultural environment in general, and finally about musical acculturation in the Copenhagen Synagogue. The first part also provides a history of the local cantorate and choir from 1833 to 2001.

The second part of the book was written by Uri Sharvit, who is a composer and former Head of the Musicology Department at Bar-Ilan University and a well known expert in Jewish prayer modes (Prayer Tunes, 1981), Jewish Yemenite chants (1981), and paraliturgical Moroccan Baqqashot (Me'ir Nativ, 2003). Uri Sharvit transcribed selected Copenhagen recordings, wrote an analysis, and compared the material with music in manuscripts from Denmark and other countries.

Danish Jewry is the oldest minority in Denmark, with an unbroken history of 400 years. "Most Danish Jews escaped the Holocaust: of the 500 who were deported to Theresienstadt (Terezín), all but 53 survived and returned" (p.9). Under the German occupation, the majority of Danish Jews escaped to Sweden, and most of them came back when Denmark was liberated. An interesting piece of information for Czech readers might be that one cantor recorded and interviewed by Jane Mink Rossen was Eduard Fried (1911-1992) from Oradia, Romania, who was educated before the war as a cantor in Prague. Jane Mink Rossen describes the way Fried got to Copenhagen: during the war Fried was deported to Theresienstadt where the camp administration used him in performances. During his imprisonment, he met Danish Jews. After liberation, he became a cantor in the Altneu synagogue in Prague, and, in 1948, he again met somebody from the Copenhagen Synagogue who arranged for Fried to replace a Copenhagen cantor who had left. Although Mink Rossen does not mention it explicitly, it must have been a great opportunity for Fried to get a job in Copenhagen and to be able to leave, since in 1948 the Communists came to power in Czechoslovakia, and because of their harsh anti-Semitic policy (though declared officially as anti-Zionistic") many Jews went into exile during and after that year. I learned that the present cantor of the Jerusalem Synagogue in Prague, Alexandr Putík, received permission to visit his sister in Copenhagen during the iron curtain times, and by chance he met Eduard Fried. Fried's singing very much reminded him of Prague cantor Ladislav Moshe Blum. Putík was also astounded by the atmosphere in the Copenhagen Synagogue where there were men still wearing toppers. Fried talked to him warmly, remembering his suffering during the Holocaust and many other issues. This little story is just to illustrate that there was a musical connection between Jews in Copenhagen and Prague, and it would be interesting to examine it.

The story of Eduard Fried could be taken as an example or symbolic indication of socio-cultural integrating processes which occurred in the Copenhagen Synagogue and are described in the book - a fusion of Orthodox and Reform religious traditions, and of Western Ashkenazi and Eastern Ashkenazi musical styles. The former cantor of the Orthodox Altneu Synagogue in Prague appeared in Copenhagen where there was music which was largely an off-shoot of 18th-century Reform developments in the synagogues of Vienna and Berlin characterized by choir accompaniment, conflicts whether to use an organ or not, Western harmonization, fewer and shorter melismatic embellishments, syllabic chanting and slow motion. On the other hand, the Eastern Ashkenazi style called the "Polnische Weise" ("Polish version") is characterized by "extreme melismatic embellishments, rapid melismatic ‘runs', intensive improvisations, inclusion of Hassidic tunes, and great frequency of modal shifting from one shtayger [Jewish prayer mode] to another" (p.90). Fried was not the only cantor there; he served along with Leopold Grabowski, who came from Germany. The two styles used during one service are heard on the accompanying CD.

As Uri Sharvit puts it, "the Copenhagen community was founded in 1684 by German Jews who, naturally, brought with them their liturgical and musical traditions. However, in the following centuries, many Eastern European Jews settled in Denmark, bringing Eastern European practices to the established musical tradition. The compromises that were adopted following the Reform-Orthodox conflict and the predominance of Eastern European cantors from 1844 onward gave rise to the special character of the liturgical situation in the Copenhagen Synagogue, namely the combination of German and Polish practices and the amalgamation of their musical styles" (p.70). It might be interesting to point out that a similar process of hybridization also happened in Prague, namely in the Jerusalem Synagogue.

Anyone who is interested in Jewish music and acculturation processes will benefit from this comprehensive study supplied with fieldwork recordings and their thorough musical transcriptions.

Vydání: 9, 2007, 1