About this Recording
8.572443 - ENDECHAR - Lament for Spain (Sephardic Romances and Songs) (Capilla Antigua de Chinchilla, Ferrero)
English  Spanish 

Endechar: Sephardic Romances and Songs
‘Sweet voices open iron gates’

 

Sephardic music from the ancient domain of al-Andalus lies at the heart of this selection. The word endechar comes from Spain’s past, a time before the expulsion in 1492 of the Jews and their culture; within the Jewish community it meant “to sing funeral dirges” or “to lament”. This remembrance of a lost homeland may well be the source of the sense of nostalgia, the melancholic and elegiac tones that characterize Sephardic songs. The Sephardim kept alive the tradition of singing romances (narrative ballads), endechas (laments) and other songs in their traditional language—ladino, or Judaeo-Spanish—which was based on ancient Castilian but was enriched by the addition of words from Hebrew and then from the languages of the places to which the Jews travelled after being exiled from Spain, such as Salonika (Greece), the Balkans, Turkey or Morocco, thereby creating new works in the original idiom, but with some minor additions. (Ladino is still spoken today among Sephardic Jews around the world who continue to see themselves as Spanish.)

This remembrance of a lost homeland may well be the source of the sense of nostalgia, the melancholic and elegiac tones that characterize Sephardic songs. The Sephardim kept alive the tradition of singing romances (narrative ballads), endechas (laments) and other songs in their traditional language—ladino, or Judaeo-Spanish—which was based on ancient Castilian but was enriched by the addition of words from Hebrew and then from the languages of the places to which the Jews travelled after being exiled from Spain, such as Salonika (Greece), the Balkans, Turkey or Morocco, thereby creating new works in the original idiom, but with some minor additions. (Ladino is still spoken today among Sephardic Jews around the world who continue to see themselves as Spanish.)

New rhythms borrowed from Arab, Balkan and Turkish music brought more of an eastern, dance-like feel to Sephardic songs, and this was enhanced by the new instruments musicians adopted after leaving Spain. Having originally been performed on the same medieval instruments used in the Christian tradition, Sephardic music brought in Arab and then Balkan and Turkish instruments. It could be seen as the purest legacy of medieval Hispanic music, or of the three cultures that coexisted in Spain until the end of the fourteenth century, for Sephardic romances are a continuation of the medieval heroic epic form known in Spanish as the cantar de gesta. In making this recording, our aim was to go back to the roots of the romances that predate the diaspora caused by the edict of 31 March 1492, treating them as Hispanic-Jewish romances. We chose to include Christian medieval instruments in our performances, since Jews are known to have performed these works in the same way as did Christian musicians, not just on the same instruments, but employing the same melodic turns. We know from Alfonso X’s Cantigas de Santa María that medieval Jewish instrumentalists performed alongside Christians, be it on the psaltery, symphony or shawm. Alfonso X had the Tora and Talmud translated, along with several cabbalistic books, with a view to studying them and including them in his religious discussions, while Jewish figures and themes also make an appearance in some of the Cantigas (e.g. CSM 25, CSM 286, CSM 108, etc.). Illustrations in the fourteenth-century Sephardic Barcelona Haggadah also depict musicians playing drums, gaitas, rebec, gittern, and so on, showing that these instruments were an everyday part of Sephardic musical culture. Our performances on this album, therefore, feature both medieval Christian and Arab instruments.

According to the Talmud, at least two flutes should always accompany the singer in funeral laments. The flute has always had a central rôle in Jewish music, being used for both wedding and funeral music, as also mentioned in the Talmud. In the Parable of the children in the market-place, meanwhile, Christ denounces those who have not heeded the message of John the Baptist: “We have piped unto you, and ye have not danced; we have mourned to you, and ye have not wept” (Luke 7, 31–32).

Music often plays a part in the way people mourn the dead. Jerome of Moravia, in his Tractatus de musica, asks “Why do men who suffer turn their tears of grief into music? It is so that, in the case of women above all, the cause of their pain may be eased by being accompanied by a song of lament.” Flutes were also played at funerals in ancient times, as can be seen from this quotation from Papinius Statius: “…there proffered its solemn sound the flute’s curved horn whose custom it is to accompany the souls of children”. Expressing grief through music was, then, part of Jewish culture.

When the Jews were expelled from Spain, they scattered throughout the Mediterranean region, taking the culture of al-Andalus with them wherever they went. Those who settled furthest from Spain, however, were more influenced by the music of their new lands, a division that can be seen in the way Sephardic romances have been preserved and are now performed. The western Mediterranean tradition represented by Morocco has remained very similar to the original medieval Hispanic music, with barely any additional ornamentation in the vocal line. Arabic words have been added, and the repertoire has of course been updated over the years, as would be true of any oral tradition such as this, especially given how little distance separates Morocco from the Iberian peninsula. Yet the strophic structures have survived, making the music’s Hispanic origins obvious. Sephardic romances are a homage to the culture of al-Andalus, to which medieval Spanish music owes so much.

The eastern, or Turkish, tradition, in which we would also include the Balkans, and whose “nerve centre” would be Salonika, has some very distinctive characteristics, despite having the same Hispanic roots. From the start, it became steeped in Greek and Turkish rhythms, and was also heavily influenced by the languages of these new countries, to the extent that it can often be difficult to understand the original Castilian texts, given the number of borrowed words included. The romances of the eastern tradition are often shorter or more fragmented than those of the western repertoire, physical distance from Spain probably being a key reason for this.

Our approach in Endechar has been to stay closer to the western or Moroccan tradition than to the eastern, which is currently being widely used as a basis for the Sephardic revival. This may have something to do with the eastern repertoire’s popularism and ornamentation, but it is far less faithful to the medieval music and differs more from our ideas on performance practice, which is why we chose to exclude it from this recording. Similarly, when it came to rhythms, we wanted to use those most “western” in origin, Iberian where possible. We therefore decided to include Arab-Andalusian rhythms that enrich the melody without blurring it in any way. Most of the rhythms on this album are taken from the form known as the nuba (meaning “each one in turn”: a large-scale cycle of vocal and instrumental pieces that was to become the basis of Andalusian music), such as, for example, the basit. Our choice of rhythms here is a way of paying homage to the nuba and to the three cultures that coexisted in medieval Spain.

We know that Arab and Jewish musicians performed together in al-Andalus: Mansur al-Yahudi, for instance, was court musician of the Umayyad caliph al-Hakam I (796–821) and was the emissary who received the Iraq-born Arab musician Ziryab (789–857) at the Cordoban court in 821, by which time Abd al-Rahman II (821–852) had become caliph. Ziryab brought with him from Baghdad numerous innovations, in the fields not only of music but also gastronomy and fashion. He is attributed with having added a fifth string to the lute, with having established a school of singing and, above all, with having created the nuba.

It is to Arab music that we owe the first reported use of the countertenor voice. The first person known to have employed a falsetto voice to perform his own songs was the musician, singer and composer Ishak al-Mosuli, who taught Ziryab in Baghdad. Countertenors are male singers who use the falsetto or head voice in order to sing in the usually female alto range, not to be confused with castrati, who were left with boys’ voices permanently after castration. During the Ars Nova period and the Renaissance, the countertenor’s melodic line was written above that of the tenor, or “against the tenor” (the English derives from the Latin contratenor). With the medieval and Andalusian aesthetic in mind, we have used the countertenor voice in some of the songs on our recording. Elsewhere on Endechar, however, we have opted for a female voice (mezzo-soprano), given that many Sephardic songs were sung by women, especially after the diaspora, as heard in any number of versions of lullabies such as Nani, nani or Durme, durme hermozo hijico. The third and final voice to appear here is the tenor, or high male voice, which is the one usually associated with Jewish cantors. Our approach throughout was to dramatize, or personalize these works, reflecting the texts themselves and bringing life to the different characters that sometimes appear within a single song, rather than using the same voice to perform throughout, as if these were the kind of populist songs performed in the past by itinerant blind singers. We believe this division of the texts brings the greatest realism to them and makes their meaning easier to follow.

One work on this recording comes from outside the Sephardic tradition (track 13), but we were keen to include it, using the three different versions of the text known, in Arabic, Hebrew and Castilian, because it was one of the best-known pieces in the medieval popular repertoire, translated into various different languages. The first mention of the song appears in the famous Libro del buen amor (Book of Good Love) by the early fourteenth-century writer Juan Ruiz, known as the Archpriest of Hita:

There the Moorish guitar goes calling,
with its high notes and rasping chords;
the corpulent lute, causing an uproar;
the guitar joining in with the herd;

the loud rebec, sounding its notes, calls
“calvi arabi!” as its bow scrapes its strings;
the psaltery sings, higher than a hillock;
the plucked viol plays along with its fellows.

Citing as it does instruments from the Arab, Jewish and Christian traditions, the Libro del buen amor also provides us with further proof of the peaceful coexistence of the three cultures within the world of music. Sephardic music is one of the finest reflections of these interfaith relations in the Iberian peninsula during the Middle Ages. The Sephardic Jews preserved many aspects of their life in Sepharad for centuries after expulsion, and continue to do so today in the many Mediterranean cities in which their ancestors sought exile. Their music and songs are, of course, part of this heritage.


José Ferrero
English translation: Susannah Howe


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