During the semester, we conducted two field trips to Berkeley synagogues, and we continued to discuss the role of visitors to synagogues, and their possible impact on synagogue sounds.
This week, we are specifically working on the idea that what has long been presented as “Jewish art music”–a corpus of music composed in Italy, as well as in Southern France and Amsterdam, during the 17th and 18th centuries–may instead be understood as a specific type of musical production directed (at least in part) at non-Jewish synagogue goers.
A recent article in Tablet Magazine brought forth the 17th-century diary of Samuel Pepys (1633-1703), an English Member of Parliament, diarist, and book collector. The October 14, 1663 entry in Pepys’ diary centers upon the account of a visit to Congregation Shaar Hashamayim in London on the night of Simchat Torah.
After all, Pepys’ account is not too different from what was reported in class after our own visits. But his reactions clearly are:
Up and to my office, where all the morning, and part of it Sir J. Minnes spent, as he do every thing else, like a fool, reading the Anatomy of the body to me, but so sillily as to the making of me understand any thing that I was weary of him, and so I toward the ‘Change and met with Mr. Grant, and he and I to theCoffee-house, where I understand by him that Sir W. Petty and his vessel are coming, and the Kingintends to go to Portsmouth to meet it. Thence home and after dinner my wife and I, by Mr. Rawlinson’s conduct, to the Jewish Synagogue: where the men and boys in their vayles, and the women behind a lattice out of sight; and some things stand up, which I believe is their Law, in a press to which all coming in do bow; and at the putting on their vayles do say something, to which others that hear him do cry Amen, and the party do kiss his vayle. Their service all in a singing way, and in Hebrew. And anon their Laws that they take out of the press are carried by several men, four or five several burthens in all, and they do relieve one another; and whether it is that every one desires to have the carrying of it, I cannot tell, thus they carried it round about the room while such a service is singing. And in the end they had a prayer for the King, which they pronounced his name in Portugall; but the prayer, like the rest, in Hebrew. But, Lord! to see the disorder, laughing, sporting, and no attention, but confusion in all their service, more like brutes than people knowing the true God, would make a man forswear ever seeing them more and indeed I never did see so much, or could have imagined there had been any religion in the whole world so absurdly performed as this. Away thence with my mind strongly disturbed with them, by coach and set down my wife in Westminster Hall, and I to White Hall, and there the Tangier Committee met, but the Duke and the Africa Committee meeting in our room, Sir G. Carteret; Sir W. Compton, Mr. Coventry, Sir W. Rider, Cuttance and myself met in another room, with chairs set in form but no table, and there we had very fine discourses of the business of the fitness to keep Sally, and also of the terms of our King’s paying the Portugees that deserted their house at Tangier, which did much please me, and so to fetch my wife, and so to the New Exchange about her things, and called at Thomas Pepys the turner’s and bought something there, an so home to supper and to bed, after I had been a good while with Sir W. Pen, railing and speaking freely our minds against Sir W. Batten and Sir J. Minnes, but no more than the folly of one and the knavery of the other do deserve.
In class, we discussed the perceived need to appear (and sound) more orderly in the case of official visits to synagogues, or visits by notable guests, and how this need may indeed be manifested in the production of musical compositions. Composed music is, almost by definition, much more orderly than orally transmitted music. It is more predictable, can be controlled more, and yields to a certain effect.