People and Genres
24 Salamone Rossi
In this chapter you will
- be introduced to an important composer of the Renaissance era
- learn about the challenges a Jewish composer faced in Europe in that era
- consider what was involved in bringing Jewish scriptural and other texts together with the European musical language and system of notation
This chapter explores the pioneering influence Jewish composer Salamone Rossi had on both composition and the printing of Hebrew music. We know far less about him than we would like. Rossi lived during the period known as the Renaissance (roughly the fourteenth to the seventeenth centuries). While there was indeed a great deal of artistic and other forms of activity that is of great interest during that time, the notion that prior to that European cultures stagnated and produced little of interest or significance is mistaken—at best a serious exaggeration of the situation, as our discussion of music from that era (and in particular the music and biblical interpretation of Hildegard of Bingen) hopefully makes clear. Jews in European kingdoms in Rossi’s time faced a great deal of discrimination. This makes his status as a successful and influential figure in the musical life of his time and place all the more noteworthy, and this is yet another reason to wish we knew more about his life than we do.
Rossi played a significant role in the Italian musical scene in the era of the Renaissance, when there was a shift away from polyphonic music (music in which several voices sing separate lines) to music that had one solo voice plus an accompaniment that was notated using the bass or low notes (referred to in this context as basso continuo). This innovation involved not just different combinations of elements but experimentation with intervals (jumps between notes) that were not characteristic of earlier music, although in the context of his time, Rossi’s approach was still largely conservative. Rossi also contributed to synagogue music and was involved in what represents the first printed book of music for a synagogue. Yet because he composed in a contemporary European style, some of his Jewish contemporaries viewed his influence on Jewish music as an unacceptable departure from tradition.
Here is Joshua Jacobson commenting on Rossi’s significance, followed by Rossi’s setting of Psalm 137.
If you have listened to other music from this period, such as that of Thomas Tallis, you will hear similarities, including in music that would have been performed in churches rather than synagogues. The language sung in Rossi’s setting is the original Hebrew, but the musical language is one he shared with his European contemporaries. Rossi also composed various other musical works of the sorts popular in his time. His output was by no means limited to sacred music. In some instances (for example, Rossi’s contemporary Thomas Weelkes) there is clear evidence of Rossi’s influence on others’ compositions.
After a long period of relative neglect, Rossi has received renewed attention since the twentieth century. American composer Lukas Foss wrote a suite dedicated to Rossi. With hindsight, we can see that Rossi played a part in the shift between the musical eras of the Renaissance and the Baroque (which we talk more about in chapter 25). You can learn more about Rossi’s music in the video and accompanying text on the Early Music Sources website. You can browse the book he published in digitized form courtesy of the Internet Archive as well as on the International Music Score Library Project (IMSLP). Many recordings of his works are available in addition to those included in this chapter.
For Further Reading and Listening
Altschuler, Eric Lewin, and William Jansen. “Thomas Weelkes and Salamone Rossi: Some Interconnections.” Musical Times 145, no. 1888 (2004): 87–94.
Einstein, Alfred. “Salamone Rossi as Composer of Madrigals.” Hebrew Union College Annual 23, no. 2 (1950): 383–96.
Harrán, Don. Salamone Rossi: Jewish Musician in Late Renaissance Mantua. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.
———. “A Tale as Yet Untold: Salamone Rossi in Venice, 1622.” Sixteenth Century Journal 40, no. 4 (2009): 1091–1107.
———. “Tradition and Innovation in Jewish Music of the Later Renaissance.” Journal of Musicology 7, no. 1 (1989): 107–30.
Kligman, Mark. “Two Significant Musicological Events: Commemorating Salamone Rossi (ca. 1570–ca. 1628) and Eric Werner (1901–1988).” Musica Judaica 16 (2001): 109–17.
Massip, Vincent, conductor. “Rossi: Lamnatseach, psaume 8.” Produced by Anne-Laure Charrier. CLC Productions, 2010. Alexander Street.
Wandor, Michelene. “Salamone Rossi, Judaism and the Musical Canon.” European Judaism: A Journal for the New Europe 35, no. 2 (2002): 26–35.
- On this context, see Jane S. Gerber, Cities of Splendour in the Shaping of Sephardi History (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2020), 124–70. ↵
- The Zamir Chorale of Boston is conducted by Joshua Jacobson in this performance shared by the conductor to his own YouTube channel. Recorded at the Sacred Bridges concert at Our Lady Help of Christians Parish in Newton, Massachusetts. ↵
- See Judith I. Haug, “Hebräischer Text: Italienische Musik: Sprachbehandlung in Salomone Rossis Psalmvertonungen (1622/23),” Archiv Für Musikwissenschaft 64, no. 2 (2007): 105–35, on how characteristics of the Hebrew language required Rossi to approach setting the text differently than he might have in if working in Latin or a European vernacular. ↵
- See Eric Lewin Altschuler and William Jansen, “Thomas Weelkes’s Text Authors: Men of Letters,” Musical Times 143, no. 1879 (2002): 23–24. ↵