Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Medieval Pesach Tunes

What did Pesach sound like 400 years ago? recently On The Main Line wrote about the "Rittangel" Hagada:

In 1644 Johann Stephen Rittangel published a Haggadah with Latin translation and commentary, called Liber Ritum Paschalium. Rittangel was without a doubt one of the most proficient Christian Hebraists of his time, so much so, that later scholars were divided as to whether he was born Jewish....
Without a doubt what makes Rittangel's Haggadah so interesting is that he included musical notation for two songs! (Modern notation can be found in the Jewish Encyclopedia as in, e.g.,here.) 
The National Post has a lovely story of how Rittangel's tunes were brought back to life by the " Anne and Max Tanenbaum Community Hebrew Academy high school choir" (CHAT Choir) after being spotted at Onthemainline by the aptly described "Paul Shaviv, a Jew, a history nut and the head of the Tanenbaum academy. "
It is rehearsal time. Tuesday night is the big night. Kids are asking questions, moving music stands, checking to see if the piano is tuned, straightening chairs and straightening their yarmulkes.
“We want you to sing so Rittangel can hear you,” Mr. Shaviv says. “Remember: Rittangel has been dead for 400 years.”
Jacklyn Klimitz, a music teacher, is the conductor.
“I want a quick posture check,” she says. “Hands behind your backs. Backs straight. Sing to the back of the wall.”
And … they sing, a pair of tunes in tremulous, teenage voices that gather strength and confidence on a second take. The words to the songs are familiar to the singers, and to any Jew who celebrates the Passover Seder. The actual words have not changed, not in a few thousand years.
But the music has evolved through the centuries. And the music filling the theatre is a definite throwback.
“It is not exactly what I would describe as jaunty,” says Zev Steinfeld, a Jewish Studies teacher. “It is more of a dirge than a toe-tapper, but it is an interesting way to look at our peoples’ history, to engage with it, rather than just read about it in a book.”  
Here is a short video of the CHAT choir singing the two songs:

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