My Yiddishe Mama by Yosef Rosenblatt
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Uploaded on May 4, 2008
My Yiddishe Mama.
Yosef "Yossele" Rosenblatt (1882-1933) is generally considered to be the uncrowned king of cantorial music. People often refer to him just as "Yossele," a Yiddish diminutive of Josef.
Yossele was born in 1882 in the Ukrainian shtetl [small village] Belaya Tserkov--the first boy in the family after nine girls.His father, a Ruzhiner Hasid who frequented the court of the Sadagora Rebbe, was himself a hazzan. Recognizing his young son's extraordinary talent, Yossele's father began to tour with his son to help supplement the family income. The father would daven [pray] as the hazzan, but it was the child prodigy, Yossele, whom the crowds came to hear.There is a famous joke about a Cantor who calls himself the Third Yossele Rosenblatt... When he's asked who the Second Yossele Roseblatt might be, in great offense he retorts, "There could be no Second Yossele Rosenblatt!"
Rosenblatt's greatest hit was his recording of "Shir Hama'alot," Psalm 126, to a tune composed by Minkowsky. This psalm is said on festive occasions, just before the "Grace after Meals." This cheerful melody became so popular, that soon it was considered to be the traditional tune for this psalm. When the State of Israel was looking for a suitable National Anthem, Rosenblatt's "Shir Hama'alot" was proposed as a serious candidate.
....."Now a celebrity, Rosenblatt was in demand everywhere. Appearing just a few weeks later on the steps of The New York Public Library for the War Savings Stamp Campaign, he sang "The Star Spangled Banner," followed by "Keili, Keili," at the conclusion of which Enrico Caruso, the great star of the opera, stepped forward and kissed him."
In his foreword to this book, Rosenblatt wrote about his own recitatives:
"In producing them I was moved by the double impulse of serving the needs of the Jewish Cantor and of demonstrating to the musical world at large that genuine Jewish Chazanuth can still satisfy completely even the refined taste of today. ...I shall feel amply rewarded for my efforts when I shall see this work widely disseminated."
David Chevan produced a very interesting CD called " Days of Awe : Meditations for Selichot, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur." It is a collection of instrumental interpretations of Rosenblatt's compositions for the High Holidays. As such it is one of the finest "Jewish-Jazz" recordings, and a great Jazz instrumental anyway.
"I came to Rosenblatt years ago when I became interested in Hazzanut, which is the art of Jewish cantorial singing. Rosenblatt had an incredible voice and really understood this art form. His krechts, or sobbing sounds, are profoundly emotional and his phrasing is equally moving. It occurred to me that I needed to learn more about him, so I began transcribing his recordings and learning more about the nuances of his singing style, especially his phrasing," explains bassist Chevan, who teaches at Southern Connecticut State University.
"The cantorial art of Hazzanut is a highly improvisatory process that reminds me of jazz improvisation. I hear and have found much more spontaneity in the singing of cantors than in most Klezmer music (which, incidentally is often called -- and I believe incorrectly so -- Jewish jazz)," he says, noting that he chose to transcribe Rosenblatt's renditions of High Holy Day prayers for several reasons.
"First, because of his incredible sense of melody. These pieces are infused with wonderful and emotionally powerful melodies. Second, because he was one of the greatest recorded masters of Hazzanut. His singing and improvisations are filled with nuances that are rivaled by only a few other cantors," notes Chevan. "Thirdly, his compositions are compelling. Each of the pieces I transcribed was like a miniature oratorio. In each of the pieces there were at least two or more complete music sections that might contain moments of operatic recitative, snippets of folk melodies, and large sections of improvised Hazzanut. When I transcribed and then arranged these for my band to perform the music came alive in fresh new ways that got me excited. I could hear and feel the spirit of the High Holy Days, the Days of Awe, in a new and meaningful way."
"As I was transcribing the various pieces I began to find certain places and patterns in Rosenblatt's choices as to when he would be in tempered pitch and when he used quarter-tones. I don't even know if he was aware that he was making quarter-tones as much as creating certain emphases that were attached as much to the text as anything else. I get the sense that he was very aware that the "out-of-pitch" notes created a certain drama that the congregation would have felt as supplication. In contrast there are sections, especially when he is singing more in the Yiddish song/freilakh style (strident and martial at times) that he is right on the money and everything is in more or less tempered pitch...
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