- Or Haganuz: Gems of Ashkenazi Hazzanut and Yiddish Songs Revived
Or Haganuz: Gems of Ashkenazi Hazzanut and Yiddish Songs Revived is the first recording of Ashkenazi hazzanut (cantorial compositions from the Eastern European Jewish tradition) issued by the Jewish Music Research Centre (JMRC). The release coincides with the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the JMRC. It features arrangements and compositions for piano and voice by the late professor André Hajdu (1932-2016), one of the earliest affiliates of the JMRC. Hajdu (on piano) is joined by cantor Asher Hainovitz. All but one of the melodies on the disc are from an enormous repertoire generated by Eastern European masters of the cantorial art, a repertoire that flourished in the late nineteenth century, finding its apex in the so-called golden age of hazzanut (a period usually delineated between the two world wars, coinciding with the explosive distributive power of the recording industry).
André Hajdu's formative years were spent pursuing ethnomusicological research with Roma in his native Hungary (treading the paths established by Béla Bartók and Zoltán Kodály). Following escape after the Russian invasion of 1956, he completed compositional training at the Paris Conservatoire under Darius Milhaud and Olivier Messiaen. In an explanatory note, Hajdu comments that his ears were tuned to Ashkenazi hazzanut only in the mid-1960s, after moving to Israel and meeting the Russian cantor Berele Saltzman. This meeting transformed Hajdu's previous experience of hazzanut as "similar to popular musical genres I had come across in the cities of Eastern Europe, such as gypsy music played in cafés, and pseudo folk-operettas" and allowed the composer to appreciate the repertoire "free from any pretentious operatic pathos" (7). The choice of melodies presented on this disc owes much to Saltzman's repertoire and reflects a long working association between the two musicians. [End Page 167]
The idea for this recording project emerged from a 2009 concert-lecture held at the Beit Avi Chai Cultural Centre in Jerusalem. Hajdu was introduced to Cantor Hainovitz, and the pair worked on reconstructing the Saltzman-Hajdu arrangements from the 1970s. New arrangements were added to supplement the recording, including a piano redaction of Eitan Avitzur's orchestration of "Eli Eli, Lama Azavtani?" (O my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?), and an original work by Hajdu, "Haven Yarki Li Efraim?" (Is Ephraim my dear son?), from the composer's 1984 oratorio Tsror Ha'chaim. The result of these labors is a fresh new approach to hazzanut, utilizing post-nineteenth-century harmonies that traditionally accompanied the great cantors of the early twentieth century, usually played on organ or sometimes by a small string chamber group. And here the conundrum lies with this repertoire: If one applies Western accompaniment to a practice that is deeply, resolutely monodic, how does one do it without doing violence to the original form?
Jewish liturgical music encountered Western harmony during the period known as the Haskalah (Jewish Enlightenment), when Jewish communities were emancipated. Cantors such as Salomon Sulzer, Samuel Naumbourg, and the choirmaster Louis Lewandowski in Western Europe married Western harmonic language of the day with monodic chant forms and Jewish shtaygers (prayer modes). With the encroachment of increasing modernity, these practices inveigled themselves eastward to the Pale of Settlement, doing so at the same time as the rise of the phenomenon of the virtuosic cantor. This individual's complete knowledge of minhag (communal tradition, including aesthetic and religious conventions that governed modalities and melodic fragments) and consummate understanding of text were intrinsically embedded in his florid improvisations. The sonic result of the clash between cantorial virtuosity and basic Western harmony is apparent on early recordings of the golden age: lackluster chords are imposed under flourishing creative interpretations. When one listens to YouTube...