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Geneticists Discover What Musicologists (and Historians) Already Knew for a Long Time – Gli studiosi di genetica scoprono quello che musicologi (e storici) sanno da tempo

Posted by Francesco Spagnolo on 2010/06/11

The New York Times recently published an article, signed by Nicholas Wade, which describes how two recent genetic studies indicate the Ashkenazi and Sephardic populations in Europe genetically much closer than the common perception of their cultural identities seems to suggest.

Jewish Italy is presented as their meeting point, but also as their source.

A major surprise from [two recent genetic] surveys is the genetic closeness of the two Jewish communities of Europe, the Ashkenazim and the Sephardim. The Ashkenazim thrived in Northern and Eastern Europe until their devastation by the Hitler regime, and now live mostly in the United States and Israel. The Sephardim were exiled from Spain in 1492 and from Portugal in 1497 and moved to the Ottoman Empire, North Africa and the Netherlands. […]

Ashkenazic and Sephardic Jews have roughly 30 percent European ancestry, with most of the rest from the Middle East, the two surveys find. The two communities seem very similar to each other genetically, which is unexpected because they have been separated for so long.

One explanation is that they come from the same Jewish source population in Europe. The Atzmon-Ostrer team found that the genomic signature of Ashkenazim and Sephardim was very similar to that of Italian Jews, suggesting that an ancient population in northern Italy of Jews intermarried with [non-Jewish] Italians could have been the common origin. The Ashkenazim first appear in Northern Europe around A.D. 800, but historians suspect that they arrived there from Italy.

Another explanation, which may be complementary to the first, is that there was far more interchange and intermarriage than expected between the two communities in medieval times.

The genetics confirms a trend noticed by historians: that there was more contact between Ashkenazim and Sephardim than suspected, with Italy as the linchpin of interchange, said Aron Rodrigue, a Stanford University historian.

A common surname among Italian Jews is Morpurgo, meaning someone from Marburg in Germany. Also, Dr. Rodrigue said, one of the most common names among the Sephardim who settled in the Ottoman Empire is Eskenazi, indicating that many Ashkenazim had joined the Sephardic community there.

The two genetic surveys indicate “that there may be common origins shared by the two groups, but also that there were extensive contacts and settlements,” Dr. Rodrigue said.

Those who follow the destinies of the musical traditions of the Jews in Italy know well that the differences among the Italian, Sephardic and Ashkenazi minhag depend as much on the cultural context (the confluence of different Diasporas, and the meeting with co-territorial cultures) than on their origins drawn from the mihagim of the global currents of the Jewish Diaspora.

In other words, the musical and liturgical koiné of the Jews in Italy is a perfect example of the genetic and cultural stratification suggested in the article. For those who know a little about this topic, the feeling of “surprise” that permeates the article is the symptom of a cultural stereotype that is hard to die: that of a dichotomized, rather than dynamic, view of Jewish culture (or perhaps of culture in general).

The sense is that both geneticists and historians could benefit from learning more about Italian Jewish music (and perhaps Jewish music in general).

– – –

Il New York Times ha recentemente pubblicato un articolo, a firma di Nicholas Wade, che descrive come due recenti studi genetici indicate che le popolazioni ebraiche ashkenazite e sefardite in Europa siano molto più vicine geneticamente di quanto la comune percezione delle loro rispettive identità culturali sembri indicare.

L’Italia ebraica ne viene presentata come il punto d’incontro, ma anche di origine.

Una notevole sorpresa [derivata da due recenti studi genetici] è la prossimità genetica delle due comunità ebraiche d’Europa, gli ashkenaziti e i sefarditi. Gli ashkenaziti vissero nell’Europa settentrionale e orientale sino alla loro distruzione da parte del regime hitleriano, e oggi vivono soprattutto negli Stati Uniti e in Israele. I sefarditi furono esiliati dalla Spagna nel 1492 e dal Portogallo nel 1497, e si stabilirono nell’Impero Ottomano, in Nord Africa e nei Paesi Bassi. […]

Secondo i due studi, gli ebrei ashkenaziti e sefarditi possiedono circa il 30 per cento di patrimonio genetico europeo, mentre il resto viene dal Medio Oriente. Le due comunità appaiono molto simili l’una all’altra dal punto di vista genetico, il che è un elemento inatteso poiché hanno vissuto separate così a lungo.

Una spiegazione è che abbiano origine dalla stessa fonte di popolazione ebraica in Europa. Il team di Atzmon-Ostrer ha stabilito che la firma genetica degli ashkenaziti e dei sefarditi sia molto simile a quella degli ebrei italiani, suggerendo così che una antica popolazione di ebrei dell’Italia del Nord, mescolatasi con gli italiani [non ebrei] possa esserne l’origine comune. Gli ashkenaziti fanno la loro apparizione in Europa settentrionale intorno all’anno 800 dell’Era Comune, ma gli storici sospettano che vi siano giunti dall’Italia.

Un’altra spiegazione, forse complementare alla precedente, è che durante il Medio Evo vi furono molti più scambi e relazioni matrimoniali tra le due comunità di quanto non si credesse.

La genetica conferma una caratteristica già osservata dagli storici: che ci furono più contatti tra ashkenaziti e sefarditi di quanto non si sospettasse, con l’Italia come punto di innesco di questo scambio, ha spiegato Aron Rodrigue, uno storico dell’Università di Stanford.

Un cognome comune fra gli ebrei italiani è Morpurgo, che indica l’origine di una persona da Marburg, in Germania. Analogamente, ha detto il dr. Rodrigue, on dei cognomi più comuni fra i sefarditi che si stabilirono nell’Impero Ottomano è Eskenazi, a indicare che molti ashkenaziti si unirono alla comunità sefardita in quelle terre.

Le due ricerche genetiche indicano che “ci possano essere origini comuni condivise dai due gruppi, ma anche che vi furono ampi contatti e insediamenti,” ha detto ancora il dr. Rodrigue.

Chi segue i destini delle musiche tradizionali degli ebrei in Italia sa bene che le distinzioni tra minhag italiano, sefardita e ashkenazita dipendono dal contesto culturale (incontro tra diaspore diverse, e confronto con le culture co-territoriali) tanto quanto dalla filiazione dei mihagim dalle correnti globali della diaspora ebraica.

In altre parole, la koiné musicale e liturgica degli ebrei in Italia è un esempio calzante della stratificazione genetico-culturale suggerita dall’articolo. Per chi ne sa qualcosa, il sentimento di “sorpresa” che permea l’articolo non è che l’indice di uno stereotipo culturale duro a morire: quello di una visione dicotomica, invece che dinamica, della cultura ebraica (o forse della cultura in generale).

L’impressione è che sia gli studiosi di genetica che gli storici abbiano non poco da imparare dalla musica ebraica italiana (o forse dalla musica ebraica in generale).

Posted in culture, domande, identity/identità, italy, music, uncategorized, מנהג | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Salamone Rossi’s “Double Life” — La “doppia vita” di Salamone Rossi

Posted by Francesco Spagnolo on 2009/12/06

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal (“Discovering Jewish Music,” by columnist Bari Weiss, November 26, 2009) about Charles Krauthammer’s role in animating Pro Musica Hebraica, a Washington, DC association devoted to “presenting lost and forgotten masterpieces of Jewish classical music in a concert-hall setting,” and that last month presented a very interesting concert devoted to Jewish music from Italy and Amsterdam, which included music by Salamone Rossi,  Abraham Caceres, Benedetto Marcello, and the anonymous cantata for Hosha’na rabah from Casale Monferrato (1733), includes a brief comment about the famed Italian Jewish composer of the Late Renaissance, Salamone Rossi (active in Mantua, ca. 1570- ca. 1630) that I think should be re-framed:

On Nov. 5, Pro Musica Hebraica presented the Apollo Ensemble of Amsterdam, whose performance featured 17th- and 18th-century baroque music from Italy and the Netherlands. The night began with a sonata by Salamone De Rossi, a composer who lived in the Jewish ghetto of 17th-century Mantua and rose to prominence as a court musician for the Duchy of Gonzaga. As far as we know, he was the first man to compose classical music for the synagogue, introducing Western-style polyphonic choral music into the prayer service.

While De Rossi lived something of a double life—writing music for his aristocratic patrons and, separately, for the synagogue-goers he lived among—other composers wrote hybrid music that captured the encounter between Jewish tradition and European modernity.

I find the notion of Salamone Rossi’s supposed “double life” absolutely fascinating. The passage quoted above contains two related assumptions: that Salamone Rossi composed “classical music for the synagogue” introducing it into the prayer service; and that he had two distinct audiences, Catholic aristocrats in Mantua’s court, and Jews in the synagogue. Both assumptions could be challenged. First of all, there is only scant evidence that Rossi’s music was ever performed in a synagogue setting until it was re-discovered by German-Jewish intellectuals in the 19th century. But, more importantly, it is the idea that only Jews attended synagogue services inside the Italian ghettos that is not entirely correct. We have some very clear testimonies, like the 17th century descriptions by Giulio Morosini (aka Samuel Nahmias, 1612-1687, in Derekh Emunah: Via della fede mostrata agli ebrei , Rome, Propaganda Fide, 1683) and continuing into the 18th and 19th centuries, about how Christians entered the ghettos to attend religious (and musical) ceremonies. Historian Benjamin Ravid devoted very interesting pages to this phenomenon.

In other words, the whole idea of a Jewish composer like Rossi leading a “double life” – bridging two otherwise separate worlds – needs to be reconsidered. The “classical music” introduced into the prayer service was most likely presented to the ears of an inter-ethnic cast of Jewish and Catholic synagogue-goers, and possibly even specifically geared to the latter’s musical taste. Who were these non-Jews who took part in synagogue life? What was their agenda? How much did their presence influence Italian synagogue music?

For now, I’d rather leave these questions unanswered. My impression, however, is that today’s crowds that populate the old synagogues of Italy during the European Days of Jewish Culture have something in common with the early-modern Catholics who attended synagogue services inside the ghettos.

= = =

Un articolo pubblicato di recente nel Wall Street Journal (“Discovering Jewish Music,” by columnist Bari Weiss, November 26, 2009) a proposito del ruolo di Charles Krauthammer nella creazione di Pro Musica Hebraica, un’associazione culturale con sede a Washington, DC dedicata a “presentare i capolavori perduti e dimenticati della musica classica ebraica nelle sale da concerto”, e che il mese scorso ha presentato un interessante concerto dedicato a musica ebraica Italiana e di Amsterdam, con composizioni di Salamone Rossi,  Abraham Caceres, Benedetto Marcello, la cantata anonima di Hosha’na rabah di Casale Monferrato (1733), racchiude un breve commento a proposito del famoso compositore ebreo italiano del tardo Rinascimento, Salamone Rossi (attivo a Mantova, ca. 1570- ca. 1630) che penso debba essere riconsiderato:

Il 5 Novembre scorso, Pro Musica Hebraica ha presentato l’Apollo Ensemble of Amsterdam, con un’esecuzione dedicata alla musica barocca italiana e olandese dei secoli XVII e XVIII. La serata è iniziata con una sonata di Salamone De Rossi, un compositore vissuto nel ghetto ebraico di Mantova nel XVII secolo, e che fiorì come musicista alla corte del Ducato dei Gonzaga. Per quanto ne sappiamo, egli fu il primo a comporre musica classica per la sinagoga, introducendo lo stile corale polifonico occidentale nella liturgia.

Mentre De Rossi visse una sorta di doppia vita – scrivendo musica per i suoi mecenati aristocratici e, separatamente, per coloro che frequentavano la sinagoga, con cui viveva – altri compositori scrissero ibridi musicali che catturarono l’incotro tra la tradizione ebraica e la modernità europea.

Trovo la nozione di una presunta “doppia vita” di Salamone Rossi assolutamente affascinante. Il brano citato qui sopra contiene due assunti correlati: che Salamone Rossi abbia composto “musica classica per la sinagoga” introducendola nella liturgia; e che egli abbia avuto due audiences distinte, gli aristocratici cattolici alla corte mantovana, e gli ebrei in sinagoga. Entrambi gli assunti possono essere oggetto di disputa. Prima di tutto, vi è ben poca evidenza che la musica di Rossi sia stata effettivamente eseguita all’interno di una sinagoga sino a quando non venne riscoperta da intellettuali ebrei tedesci nel corso del XIX secolo. Ma, il che è ben più importante, è l’idea che solo gli ebrei frequentassero le sinagoghe all’interno dei ghetti italiani a non essere del tutto corretta. Possediamo alcune testimonianze piuttosto dettagliate, come le descrizioni settecentesche di Giulio Morosini (precedentemente noto come Samuel Nahmias, 1612-1687, nel suo Derekh Emunah: Via della fede mostrata agli ebrei , Roma, Propaganda Fide, 1683) e proseguendo anche nei secoli XVIII e XIX, della frequentazione di riti religiosi ebraici all’interno dei ghetti da parte di cristiani. Lo storico Benjamin Ravid ha dedicato pagine interessanti a questo fenomeno.

In altre parole, l’idea che un compositore ebreo come Rossi conducesse una “doppia vita” – una vita che metteva in comunicazione due mondi altrimenti separati – va interamente riconsiderata. La “musica classica” introdotta nella liturgia fu assai probabilmente presentata alle orecchie di un pubblico interetnico formato da frequentatori di sinagoghe ebrei e cattolici, e presumibilmente adattato ai gusti musicali di questi ultimi. Chi erano dunque questi non-ebrei che prendevano parte alla vita sinagogale? Quali erano i loro obiettivi? Quanto la loro presenza influenzò la musica sinagogale italiana?

Per ora, preferisco lasciare queste domande senza risposta. La mia impressione è, ad ogni modo, che le folle che ai giorni nostri popolano le antiche sinagoghe italiane durante le Giornate della Cultura Ebraica abbiano qualcosa in comune con i frequentatori di sinagoghe cattolici nei ghetti agli albori della modernità.

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From Lag ba-‘Omer to the Bris – Da Lag ba-‘omer alla Milah

Posted by Francesco Spagnolo on 2009/05/12

Each year at Lag ba-‘Omer I am reminded of the conundrum: why on earth is Shimon Ben Lawi’s ode to Bar Yochai included in the Roman mishmarah

OK, a few words for the uninitiated…

Shimon Ben Lawi (15th-16th century), a kabbalist who lived between Spain and North Africa and a commentator of the Sefer hazohar, wrote a rather funky (in terms of both language and imagery) ode to the alleged author of the Zohar itself, aka Shimon Bar Yochai. The poem, or piyyut, is commonly sung on Lag ba-‘Omer, precisely for the kabbalistic connections that the holiday has acquired in modern times. 

Now, the very same piyyut is ALSO sung by the Jews of Rome, Italy, on a very different occasion: the mishmarah, or night vigil, that precedes a brit milah, the circumcision of a male newborn. How did it end up in this interesting ceremony of medieval origins? Elliott Horowitz studied this and other nocturnal activities among the Jewish communities of North Africa, Italy and Germany in early modern times. Along with Nello Pavoncello (an Italian rabbi and scholar), he noted how the ceremony as we know it today was crafted by the intervention of Rabbi Tranquillo Vita (Manoach Chayim) Corcos (1660-1730), on the basis of a pre-existing folk Jewish custom. 

As both scholars already noted, Rabbi Corcos’ intervention was a way to claim the popular manifestation (a night vigil accompanied by food, beverages, songs and dance involving men and women) back into the realm of normative Judaism. It consisted in changing the lyrics of the songs with texts that conformed with a religious experience (the ceremony includes piyyutim like ‘Et sha’are ratzon and, of course, Bar Yochai), and having them performed by a “confraternity” of male singers. In other words, the Rabbi’s input focused on text and on performance. The texts were taken from piyyutim widely known: a poem for the High Holy Days and another for Lag ba’Omer  – hence, a direct testimony of how Kabbalah had spread to Rome at the beginning of the 18th century. The changes in the performance practice were probably inspired by the desire to conform to a more standard “moral” conduct. The combination of moral and textual concerns in the modification of a ritual is a distinctive trait predating the Reform movement, which will take place almost a century later. 

However, what was not touched by Rabbi Corcos’ reformist attempt was the music. Why do I say this? Well, the melody used to this day in Rome to sing Shimon Ben Lawi’s ode to Shimon Bar Yochai is certainly not a liturgical, or paraliturgical song. It is very close to the folk repertoire developed in Central Italy to celebrate Catholic Saints.

And it is almost the same as the satyrical ode to Sant’Antonio Abate collected in the Abruzzi region by Giovanna Marini in the 1950’s. The song, performed by Marini herself was popularized as part of the show “Bella Ciao” (1962, by Roberto Leydi and Gianni Bosio). Youtube has a lovely version by the Milanese folk-cabared group, I gufi: Sant’antonie a lu diserte (Saint Anthony of the Desert).  

The coincidence of a shared musical repertoire between Jewish and Christian confraternities is a very interesting phenomenon, that certainly requires further investigation. It certainly takes us to a time in which, without the help of online social media, ideas and material culture were shared across ethnic and religious barriers. 

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Bar Yohai (by Shimon b. Lawi, 15th-16th cent.)

Bar Yochai nimshachta ashrekha 
shemen sason mechaverekha

Bar Yochai shemen mischat qodesh 
nimshachta mimidat haqodesh
nasata tzitz nezer haqodesh 
chavush ‘al roshekha fearekha Bar Yochai 
nimshachta ashrekha shemen sason mechaverekha

Bar Yochai moshav tov yashavta
yom nasta yom asher barachta
bime‘arat tzurim she‘amadta
shem qanita hodekha wehaderekha Bar Yochai
nimshachta ashrekha shemen sason mechaverekha

Bar Yochai ‘atze shitim ‘omdim
Limude adonai hem lomedim
or muffle or hayeqod hem yoqdim
halo hemah yodukha morekha Bar Yochai
nimshachta ashrekha shemen sason mechaverekha

Bar Yochai welishre tapuchim ‘alita
lilqot bo merqachim sode torah
ketzitzim uprachim na‘aseh adam
neemar ba‘avurekha Bar Yochai
nimshachta ashrekha shemen sason mechaverekha 

Oh Bar Yochai, your anointment
Elevated you above your peers

Oh Bar Yochai, the ointment of holiness anointed you beyond measure
Your head is wrapped in a turban with the diadem of holiness, Bar Yochai…

Oh Bar Yochai, since the day you had to flee, you lived in a good place, in a cave among the rocks, where you gained fame and honor, Bar Yochai …

Oh Bar Yochai, those who devote themselves to the study of divine matters are like strong acacia trees, and shine of a wondrous light: they are your teachers, Bar Yochai…

Oh Bar Yochai, you rose to the apple fields to pick scented fruits, the secrets of the Torah, which are like sprouts and flowers; “Let’s create Man” was said on your behalf, Bar Yochai…

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Fascism and the Jews – Il Fascismo e gli ebrei

Posted by Francesco Spagnolo on 2008/11/18

You can read below about an interesting and important academic initiative, which reminds the general public that 1938 (seventy years ago) was not only the year of Kristallnach, but also that of the nefarious Italian anti-Semitic “Laws”. It seems to me, however, that it does not tackle the issue of the impact of Fascism on Italian Jewish life before 1938. In other words, it focuses on the anti-Semitic aspects of Italian Fascism, but disregards (as it commonly happens) how Fascism was also an important factor in the shaping of the cultural identity of the Jews in Italy during the early part of the 20th century, before it became openly persecutory towards them. Very few people have articulated this complex issue, among them Renzo De FeliceAlexander Stille in his book, Benevolence and Betrayal, and Alberto Cavaglion  (the link opens a text in Italian only). 

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Potete leggere qui sotto di un’interessante e importante iniziativa accademica, che serve (anche) a ricordare al grande pubblico come il 1938 (settant’anni fa) non sia stato solo l’anno di Kristallnacht, ma anche delle nefaste “Leggi Razziali” italiane. Mi sembra, però, che non si occupi della questione dell’impatto del Fascismo sulla vita ebraica in Italian prima del 1938. In altre parole, si concentra sugli aspetti anti-semiti del fascismo italiano, ma accantona (come spesso accade) come il Fascismo fosse stato un fattore importante nella formazione dell’identità culturale degli ebrei in Italia durante la prima parte del XX secolo, prima che diventasse apertamente persecutorio nei loro confronti. Sono in pochi quelli che hanno articolato questa faccenda delicata, fra loro Renzo De FeliceAlexander Stille, nel suo libro Uno su mille, e  Alberto Cavaglion

 

(Oh, and here’s a Yutube video with Mussolini’s words announcing the “Laws,” conveniently posted by a user who seems to be a fan — Ed eccovi un video da Youtube con le parole di Mussolini che annunciarono le “Leggi”, utilmente concesso da un utente che ne sembra essere un fan)

 

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Fascism and the Jews: Italy and Britain

Academic Workshop
26th November, 2008, 11am-5pm
Hosted by the Italian Cultural Institute, 39 Belgrave Square, London, SW1X 8NX
Supported by Royal Holloway, University of London

By taking a comparative approach between two fascist paradigms, this workshop will examine the complicated relationship between fascists, Jews and antisemitism. The principal fascist movements in Italy and Britain were founded with antisemitism absent from their programmes, and although both
eventually adopted it as official policy, their reasons for doing so were far from straightforward. Equally, Jewish responses to fascism varied greatly and developed over time, causing discord within the communities of both countries.

The workshop will be divided thematically into two sections, with each set of papers to be followed by a discussion, led by the relevant speakers but with all attendees encouraged to participate. Academics, students and other interested individuals are invited to join this interactive forum. As
capacity is limited, to book a place please contact d.tilles@rhul.ac.uk  

 

Keynote Lecture

Dr Aristotle Kallis (Lancaster University)
“The Ambivalent Gaze: Fascists and Jews in Interwar Europe”

 

The Evolution of Fascist Antisemitism

– Dr Matthew Feldman (University of Northampton) – Make It Crude: Ezra Pound’s Antisemitic Propaganda for the BUF and PNF

– Janet Dack (University of Teesside) – Beyond the Pale? Antisemitism in the British Fascist Press, 1925-36

– Salvatore Garau (Royal Holloway) – The Ideological Development of Antisemitism in Fascist Italy

 

Jewish Responses to Fascism

– Dr Nigel Copsey (University of Teesside) – Early Jewish Responses to the British Union of Fascists

– Dr Tommaso Dell’Era (Tuscia University, Viterbo) – TBC

– Daniel Tilles (Royal Holloway) – Leading a Divided Community: The Board of Deputies of British Jews and Fascist Antisemitism, 1936-40

– Dr Elena Mazzini (Scuola Normale Superiore, Pisa) – Facing 1938: The Response of the Italian Jewish Community

Posted in domande, italy | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

The Jewish Theory of Everything: Negotiating Jewish Identities in Italy

Posted by Francesco Spagnolo on 2008/11/05

The Jewish Theory of Everything, Talk at the Jewish Community Library of San Francisco, Nov. 5, 2008

The Jewish Theory of Everything, Talk at the Jewish Community Library of San Francisco, Nov. 5, 2008

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Firenze, 2008

Posted by Francesco Spagnolo on 2008/09/10

In Florence, the morning of Sunday, September 7, I gave a talk about Leo Levi on the steps of the synagogue. A few days earlier I had luckily managed to spend some quality time in the community archives, where I found some very interesting documents about the establishment of the synagogue in 1882-84. Especially, a document by Lelio Cantoni on the unification of Firenze’s minhagim (1842), on which I guess I will write at a later point.

But on the morning of the “European Day,” I found myself together with a street band and my friend, Enrico Fink, playing and singing neo-Hassidic hits à la Avraham Freed. It was a bit scary, but somehow if felt very much in line with the synagogue itself, a neo-Moorish monument so big that apparently has destroyed the vocal abilities of many a cantor since it was first inaugurated, not that long ago… It was quite a counterpoint to the “mystical” night spent in Siena the previous evening, pondering on the history of the kabbalistic rituals of old.

A Firenze, la mattina di domenica, 7 settembre, ho tenuto una conferenza sui gradini della sinagoga. Fortunatamente, pochi giorni prima ero riuscito a trascorrere qualche ora negli archivi della comunità, dove ho trovato documenti molto interessanti sulla fondazione della sinagoga negli ani 1882-84. In particolare, un autografo di Lelio Cantoni sull’unificazione dei minhagim fiorentini (1842), sulla quale dovrò prima o poi tornare.

At ogni modo, la mattina della “Giornata europea” mi sono trovato insieme a una banda itinerante e al mio amico, Enrico Fink, che suonavano e canavano le glorie della musica neo-hassidica, à la Avraham Freed. La cosa mi ha vagamente turbato, ma sembrava anche in un certo senso in linea con la sinagoga stessa, un monumento neo-moresco così grande che pare abbia distrutto l’ugola di parecchi cantori dalla sua inaugurazione, non molto tempo fa… Ha fatto da discreto contrappunto alla notte “mistica” trascorsa a Siena la sera precedente, a pensare alla storia dei riti cabalistici d’un tempo…

Street band in Firenze

Street band in Firenze

Firenze, sinagoga

Firenze, sinagoga

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Around the Day in Eighty Worlds – Il giro del giorno in ottanta mondi (Introd.)

Posted by Francesco Spagnolo on 2008/09/08

La mia recente visita in Italia potrebbe finire fra le pagine della Vuelta del dìa di Julio Cortázar.

In 24 ore, sono passato da Siena a Firenze, a Padova, e poi a Milano, confrontandomi con piccole e grandi comunità, con cimiteri e feste di paese, orchestre da camera e bande da strada, cibi tipici, presentazioni di libri, discorsi di rabbini, leaders comunitari, sindaci, assessori comunali, e rappresentanti di partiti politici, organizzazioni di volontariato, banche e fondazioni… Insomma, una specie di circo della memoria: ho iniziato con musiche del 1786, e finito con quelle del 2008, e devo confessare di non preferire queste ultime.

E’ la Giornata Europea della Cultura Ebraica, che in Italia, come scrive Ruth Gruber, è più seguita che altrove. Si tratta di un’occasione per mettere in piazza (letteralmente) il passato degli ebrei, il loro presente scomodo, e la presenza, la sopravvivenza e l’incerto futuro di una delle più antiche comunità della Diaspora. Chiaramente, si tratta un giorno che suscita interesse fra gli artisti e gli intellettuali, coinvolti in concerti, spettacoli, presentazioni, conferenze e veri e propri convegni accademici. E’ però anche un’occasione unica per molti, non ebrei, di visitare luoghi vicini geograficamente ma lontani anni luce dalla loro vita quotidiana. Specialmente le sinagoghe, un tempo visitatissime da tutti, ma che da quanto il terrorismo palestinese ha iniziato a fare vittime anche in Italia sono blindate da presidi della Polizia di Stato. Ma la Giornata della Cultura Ebraica è anche (e soprattutto) una vetrina politica, e un’occasione per stabilire e rinsaldare i rapporti tra le comunità ebraiche (o quel che ne resta) e la società, la politica e l’economia italiane.

Quest’anno mi ci sono trovato in mezzo, quasi nell’occhio del ciclone, perchè il tema delle manifestazioni era la musica. Anzi, “musica e parole.” Nonostante la distanza geografica (abito in California), ho ricevuto numerosi inviti un po’ da tutta Italia. Generosamente, la Comunità e l’Università di Padova assistito per le spese di viaggio, rendendomi possibile partecipare. E’ stata una visita lampo: sei giorni compresi i (lunghi) viaggi in aereo. Ho raccolto impressioni e immagini, che rivelerò un po’ per volta nei prossimi giorni.

Lascio a post successivi la descrizione delle altre cose che ho fatto nei pochi giorni di permanenza italiana: ricerche d’archivio a Firenze (yum!), programmi di studio Siena (yum!), possibili collaborazioni digitali con Padova (yum!), e persino un articolo su La Repubblica (pagine di Milano)…

Ecco, ad ogni modo, gli appuntamenti a cui ho partecipato (viaggiando in treno, senza “teletrasporto”):

SIENA, Sabato 6 Settembre (ore 21): sinagoga. Prima esecuzione delle musiche composte nel 1786 da Francesco Drei e Volunio Gallichi per l’inaugurazione della locale sinagoga. Breve conferenza introduttiva su Ebrei e cristiani si incontrano: La musica sinagogale in Italia agli albori della modernità.

FIRENZE, Domenica 7 Settembre (ore 11:30): sinagoga. Conferenza su Leo Levi (1912-1982) Pioniere della musicologia ebraica tra Italia e Israele.

PADOVA, Domenica 7 Settembre (ore 17): Università, Sala dei giganti. Conferenza su Percorsi musicali ebraici in Italia: tra Veneto e Piemonte.

MILANO, Domenica 7 Settembre (ore 22): Teatro Dal Verme. Chiacchierata notturna su Musica e vita notturna degli ebrei italiani dal Rinascimento a oggi.

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My recent visit to Italy could very well be featured in the pages of Julio Cortázar’s La vuelta del día.

Within 24 hours I found myself in Siena, Florence, Padova and Milano, faced with small and large Jewish communities, with cemeteries and country fairs, chamber orchestras and street bands, local culinary specialties, book readings, and speeches by rabbis, community leaders, mayors, city officers, and the representatives of political parties, volunteers’ organizations, banks and foundations… Well, altogether a full-fledging memory circus: I started with music from 1786, and ended with those from 2008, and I must confess that I did not favor the latter ones.

This is the European Day of Jewish Culture, which in Italy, as Ruth Gruber writes, has more of a following than anywhere else. It is a chance to display the Jewish past, its somewhat uncomfortable present, and the presence, survival and uncertain future of one of the oldest communities in the Diaspora. Clearly, it is an important day for artists and intellectuals, who are involved in concerts, shows, presentations, lectures and full-sized academic conferences. It is also a unique chance for many non-Jewish people to visit sites that sit geographically very close to them, but also light-years away from their daily experience. This is particularly true of the synagogues, who where once widely frequented by everyone, but that since Palestinian terrorism began making victims in Italy as well, are guarded by the State Police. But the European Day of Jewish Culture is also a political showcase, and a chance to strengthen the relationship between the Jewish communities (or what is left of them) and the society, the politics and the economy of Italy.

This year, since the topic of the day was music, I found myself right in the middle of the “storm.” In spite of the geographical distance (I live in California), I received many invitations from all over Italy. Very generously, the Community and the University of Padova assisted me in traveling there, which made it possible for me to take part in this event. It was a very quick visit: six days including travel time. I have gathered impressions and images, which I will be gradually sharing over the next few days.

I will leave the description of the other things I did during the few days I was in Italy — including archival research in Florence (yum!), study plans in Siena (yum!), possible digital partnerships with Padova (yum!), and even an article for La Repubblica (Milan edition)… — to future posts.

For now, here’s a list of the events in which I took part (traveling by train, without teleporting myself):

SIENA, Saturday, September 6 (9 pm): Synagogue. First modern performance of the music composed in 1786 by Francesco Drei and Volunio Gallichi for the opening of the local synagogue. Short introductory lecture: Jews and Christians Meet One Another: Synagogue Music at the Dawn of Modernity.

FLORENCE, Sunday, September 7 (11:30 am): Synagogue. Lecture on Leo Levi (1912–1982), Jewish Music Pioneer between Italy and Israel.

PADOVA, Sunday, September 7 (5 pm): University, Hall of the Giants. Lecture on Jewish Musical Paths in Italy: Between Veneto and Piedmont.

MILAN, Sunday, September 7 (10 pm): Teatro Dal Verme. A late evening presentation on the Music and Nightlife of the Jews in Italy: From the Renaissance to Our Days.

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Se il titolo vi incuriosisce… – If the title makes you wonder…

Posted by Francesco Spagnolo on 2008/09/01

…no, questo non è un blog dedicato alla Traviata. La musica, però, c’entra eccome. La musica come cultura, e come identità culturale. La musica come luogo di interazione fra persone e idee.

A un secolo e mezzo dalla prima di Nabucco (1842), ancora non è chiaro di chi sia la “patria” cui si riferisce “Va, pensiero”: degli italiani, o degli ebrei?

L’unica cosa certa a proposito di patria è che è bella e perduta.

Questo blog è dedicato a un’Italia che non c’è, che non c’è più, o che non c’è mai stata, dipinta e ascoltata tramite la musica ed il canto. E’ dedicato a chi sogna l’Italia da lontano, e a chi da vicino prova a immaginarla diversa.

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… this is not a blog about Traviata. And yet, music rests at its core. Music as culture, and as cultural identity; music as a space of interaction among people and ideas.

A century and a half since the premiere of Giuseppe Verdi’s Nabucco (1842), it is still unclear whose “homeland” the one referred to in the lyrics of ‘Va, pensiero’ is: the Italians’? the Jews’?

The only thing that’s certain about homelands is that they are beautiful and lost .

This blog is dedicated to an Italy that does not exist, or that is no more, or that never was – painted and heard through music and song. It is dedicated to those who dream of Italy from afar, and to those who from up close try to envision it differently that it is.

Listen to ‘Va, pensiero’

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