Author Topic: The Songs of Salamone (Rossi)  (Read 3811 times)

0 Members and 1 Guest are viewing this topic.


  • Guest
The Songs of Salamone (Rossi)
« on: December 02, 2011, 07:55:46 PM »
The composer Salamone Rossi was active in Mantua in the closing years of the 16th century and the first two decades of the 17th century.   He came from a Jewish family of musicians, and was highly regarded by his contemporaries, but his music fell into obscurity soon after his death, which occurred approximately 1630.    HIs significance today in musical history is two fold: he was, if not the inventor of the trio sonata, at least the first composer to publish works in that format (although the name itself came later)--two upper voices with a basso continuo, and he was the only composer to publish liturgical music in the format of contemporary Renaissance polyphony meant for use in the synagogue.  This was his collection Shirim l'asher Shlomo, the Songs of Salamone (Solomon), published in Venice in 1622 but only coming into prominence during the 20th century.  The name of the collection (only one of several volumes of music he published in his lifetime) is a pun on the first verse of the Song of Songs--Shir hashirm l'asher Shlomo (the Song of Songs which is Solomon's)--alluding to his own name, which is the Italian version of Solomon.  There are thirty three pieces in the collection, almost all of them settings of psalms or important prayers used regularly in the synagogue services.  Some can be linked to the Sabbath services, some to the Festivals scattered throughout the year, and some are also used in the regular weekday prayers.  One piece is apparently a wedding ode, using a text written for the occassion. There is almost nothing like the Songs of Salamone in Jewish music;  in part because of the prohibitions on the use of instruments and female singers (restrictions which Rossi respected, since as published the Songs are written for a capella voices, in which the soprano and alto parts could be taken by boys or adult falsettists), in part because traditional monodic chants, some derived from the Middle East, others dating back to medieval times, remained the standard among Renaissance Jews. (Rossi used none of this traditional material in his compositions.) The movement to introduce contemporary Gentile methods of music making failed, and Rossi's collection is the only known example of polyphony written for use in the synagogue until the 19th century.

It must be pointed out that his Hebrew motets were but one part of a large musical output.  Rossi was in service to the ruling princes of Mantua, and published a large number of madrigals and instrumental works.  Beyond his innovation of the trio sonata, he also helped introduced the practice of performing madrigals in the form of one or two voices accompanied by instruments, as an alternate to pure a capella performance.   However, this little essay will concentrate on recordings of the Songs of Salomone,  although most of the CDs to be considered here include some instrumental works. 

Strictly speaking, there is no recorded performance of the Songs of Salamone done authentically--that is, all of them include females singing the upper parts, which is not how Rossi would have performed them in synagogue--and only one recording of the complete collection.  All the others include only some of the 33 pieces, and some include works by other composers.  The fullest of these partial recordings has twenty six pieces from the Songs, others have as little as four.

The complete recording dates from 1996, and is spread across two CDs.  The performers were the New York Baroque, directed by Eric Milnes.  CD 1 has 17 pieces collected under the rubric "Music for the Sabbath"; CD 2 has 16, under the rubric "Holiday and Festival Music".  Total performance time is just over ninety minutes for the two CDs combined.  Released by PGM Recordings, it seems to be available with two different  schemes of cover art (one based one the art of H. Szyk) but only on the secondary market.  The performers are capable, but the chief reason why this pair of CDs is mandatory is its uniqueness as the only complete recording.  It is not purely a capella, since a positive organ was used.

Two other recordings stand out for special mention.  One is by the Zamir Chorale of Boston with members of the Early Music Ensemble of Boston, and also dates from 1996. "Salomone Rossi Ebreo: Baroque Music for the Synagogue and Royal Court" includes nine pieces from the Songs, together with some of Rossi's secular madrigals and instrumental works (six and eight, respectively), all well performed, but woefully short, with a total timing of 48:43.  It makes a nice introduction to Rossi's music, but only that.   

The other recording was released by Hungaraton in 2006, under the title "The Songs of Solomon: Sacred vocal works in Hebrew", performed by the Corvina Consort.  To my ears it is musically well done, and coming in at just over 65 minutes, is devoted entirely to the Songs, performed as a capella works.  (This is the recording which contains 26 of the Songs.)   Had all of the Songs been included,  it would probably be the 'reference' recording for Rossi's collection.  As it is, it is a very desirable performance, and is the best alternate if the New York Baroque recording becomes completely unavailable.

There is one other recording to be mentioned in which the Songs play an important role, by Ensemble Hypothesis, originally on Tactus, now available as part of a 3 CD set issued by Brilliant under the title "Rossi: Vocal Works".  The other two CDs in the set are of some of the secular madrigals by other groups (Ut Musica Poesis Ensemble on CD 1, L'Aura Soave on CD 2), and frankly the two secular recordings completely outclass the recording of the Songs, which includes six piece from he collection perfomed as instrumental works with one countertenor on the vocal line, and intermixed with some of Rossi's instrumental works.  Beyond the inauthenticity of using instruments in these works, the performance is labored and painfully slow, as if the musicians involved thought that religious music demanded slow crawling tempos.  The CD itself is filled out by some works of Purcell and one by Campra.  The set is probably worth buying because of the other two CDs, but by itself this Ensemble Hypothesis recording is fit for oblivion.

Finally to be mentioned is a trio of recordings in which Rossi's music is but part of the music performed. 
1) Boston Camerata: Musique Judeo-Baroque.  On Harmonia Mundi, originally released in 1979, and another recording that is too short (41 minutes); it contains four of the Songs, and four of Rossi's instrumental works, together with two pieces with Hebrew texts composed by Gentile composers for use at Jewish festive celebrations outside the synagogue (Louis Saladin: Canticum hebraicum and Carlo Grossi: Canticum ebraica)   The performances are well done, and one only wishes that more had been included.

2) Passion and Lament,by the Bach Sinfonia on Dorian, released in 2009, contains six pieces from the Songs, together with the Stabat Mater of Biber and Carissimi's Jepthe.   While the performance of the Rossi is good, probably the most important contribution this recording makes is due to the Biber work, of which this is apparently the world premiere recording.

3) Jewish Baroque Music, by the Ensemble Salamone Rossi on the Concerto label, a 2008 release.  Despite the fact that the performing group is named after Rossi, he has a limited appearance on this CD: four of the Songs and three instrumental pieces.  The rest of the CD contains music to Hebrew texts (but not meant for synagogue use) by a Dutch Jew of the first half of the 18th century, Abraham Caceres, and by  an Italian Gentile who composed music for the Amsterdam Jewish community, Cristiano Giuseppe Lidarti in the middle of the 18th century,  the same work by Carlo Grossi recorded by the Boston Camerata, and a chorus and aria  from Handel's "Esther" followed by two pieces from Lidarti's setting of the Hebrew translation of the libretto Handel used for his oratorio.  (Apparently plans to perform Handel's music with this Hebrew translation were transformed into a new setting by Lidarti.)  The CD is ultimately of minor interest, more because of the music by Caceres and Lidarti, but suffers by including only some very brief liner notes and no texts of the works performed.(The three works by Caceres are apparently the only works of his to survive, and this recording is their only recording.) 

There exists one other recording, by Pro Cantione Antiqua, which I have not heard, and includes 20 of the Songs. The Amazon reviews are not encouraging.

Offline The new erato

  • Veteran member
  • *
  • Posts: 15333
Re: The Songs of Salamone (Rossi)
« Reply #1 on: December 03, 2011, 02:24:14 AM »
Thank you for a great and valuable post. I only have one disc by Luigi Rossi (which I gather is a relation) performed by Tragicomoedia.


  • Guest
Re: The Songs of Salamone (Rossi)
« Reply #2 on: May 05, 2016, 06:01:43 AM »
Bump to add this recording to the thread

More focused on "secular" compositions.