Christians and Jews in the Renaissance

October 1996

Program Notes



Vayikra Moshe Exodus, ch. 12, Babylonian tone
Kyrie in the Third Tone Carmelite chant, 16th-c. source
“Sanctus” from Missa L’homme armé Mathurin Forestier (fl. ca. 1500-1535)

II. THE SPANISH INQUISITION                        

Readings adapted from The Spanish Inquisition  
Shalom Aleichem Traditional, Medieval
Sabbath Song: Kiddush Traditional, 16th/17thc.
E a judios Spanish, 1492
Respóndemos Traditional, Sephardic
Reading:  from Ninety-Five Theses by Martin Luther  
Three settings of Aus tiefer Not  
                     verse 1                 plain tune: Dorothy Morris, solo Martin Luther (1483-1546)
                     verse 2                 four-part setting from Gesangbuchleyn Johann Walther (1496-1570)
                     verse 6                 four-part setting (1544) Arnold von Bruck (c. 1500-1544)
Reading:  The Lord’s Prayer  
Psalm 23 (Mon dieu me paist) Claude Goudimel (ca. 1505-72)
Reading:  from The Book of Common Prayer, 1559  
If ye love me Thomas Tallis (ca. 1505-87)
Readings:  concerning intelligibility of words in church polyphony  
Sequenza dei morti Vincenzo Ruffo (1508-87)


Muchacha cruela sin piyadad Traditional, Sephardic, arr. J. Miller
Hayom harat olam Traditional, from Saloniki
Una matica de ruda Traditional, Sephardic, arr. J. Miller
Frere Bidault Mathurin Forestier
Synagogue scene, from madrigal comedy L’Amfiparnaso Orazio Vecchi (1550-1605)


Reading:  from Lodovico Zacconi, Practica  
Pulchra es G. P. da Palestrina (c. 1525-1594)
Readings:  concerning polyphonic choral music in the synagogue  
Hal’luyah, ashrei ish yare et-Adonai (Psalm 112) Salamone de’ Rossi (c. 1570-c. 1628)




1456: Gutenberg Bible printed, first book in moveable type.

1481: First Jews burned alive by the Inquisition at Seville

1486: Josquin des Prez at the Sistine Chapel in Rome.

1492: Spanish unification; Jews expelled from Spain; Columbus sails for India and reaches America

1495: Mathurin Forestier active at the French royal court; Leonardo, The Last Supper

1501: Petrucci publishes the Odhecaton, first book of music printed using movable type, to resemble manuscript.

1508: Michelangelo begins Sistine Chapel ceiling.

1513: Balboa reaches the Pacific Ocean.

1516: Venetian Jews ordered to live in geto nuovo, or Old Foundry, section of town (origin of the term “ghetto”)

1517: Martin Luther posts Ninety-Five Theses, challenging the sale of indulgences by the Catholic Churhc.

1519: Charles V proclaimed Holy Roman Emperor.

1528: Castiflione publishes The Courtier.

1540: Society of Jesus (Jesuits) founded.

1541: De Soto reaches the Mississippi River.

1551: Claude Goudimel, First Book of Psalms.

1555: Orlando di Lasso, first book of madrigals.

1563: Church of England formally established.

1569: Palestrina, first book of motets.

1572: Massacre of Protestants at Paris.

1587: Salamone Rossi active at Mantua as a viol-player, Claudio Monteverdi, first book of madrigals.

1588: England defeats the Spanish Armada.

1594: Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet; Vecchi, L’Amfitparnaso.

1602: Galileo discovers law of falling bodies.


The sixteenth century, not unlike our own, was a time of great changes in the way people conceived of their relationship to just about everything; the natural and artificial world, other people, and particularly God.  This concert traces in music, as well as in readings, some of the trends and changes in European religious life during this intensely creative time.

The discovery and translation of ancient Greek and other texts did not merely revive old philosophers’ ideas.  The humanists adopted a new critical attitude toward these texts, propelling an irrevocable shift in viewpoint away from the medieval model.  Printing with moveable type coincided with this new world-view; it made ancient and new literature, poetry, political treatises, and music available to the burgeoning merchant class, whose appetite for reading and culture was insatiable.  Italy, and Venice in particular, was the continental hub for printing.

It seems natural to us now that a keenly inquisitive intellectual culture—which promoted a new, rationally detached critical stance toward an ancient text—would also create people with some rational detachment toward their received religious dogma.  While the average middle-class person had much to gain, the Catholic church clearly had the most to lose in this scenario.  The years from 1480 on were difficult for Rome.  One by one, the Lutherans, Calvinists, Church of England, and others broke away to establish their own rites and theologies.  Beautiful, stirring translations of scripture and ritual into these other tongues gave each new Protestant denomination its own flavor, as you’ll hear today.  Rome’s image was not aided by Spain’s rabid Inquisitors, about whom the popes eventually threw up their hands and looked away.

In the face of revolt from many sides, the papacy became quite conservative, concerned that its own liturgy be clear and understandable by the people.  Ruffo shows how effective a declamatory setting can be (compare this with the more diffuse text effect in the Forestier “Sanctus”).  Sheer polyphonic beauty was still allowed in some circles: Palestrina’s Song of Songs setting provides a glimpse of music composed for the Roman elite.  The theorist Zacconi took Palestrina to task for these compositions.

At the very time during which Christendom was in violent upheaval, life for Jews actually became relatively calm and prosperous, notably in Italy.  There were not many other places west of the Rhine where a Jew could live.  Spain, England, and most of France had expelled all their Jews by 1500.

Jewish prosperity relates in part to the growth of the merchant class.  The economy demanded lines of credit and loans for profit.  Since the popes held lending of money at any interest above zero (!) to be sinful usury, it was declared “unfit work” for Christians.  Many Jews therefore worked as moneylenders—needed, yet reviled.  Towns sometimes admitted Jews within their gate solely for this economic purpose.

During the sixteenth century in Italy, Christians and Jews lived together with greater harmony and cooperation than ever before, despite inevitable tensions.  It was a true high point in Jewish life. Cecil Roth, the great scholar of cinquecento Jewry, has noted:

In Renaissance Italy, we have the unique phenomenon of that successful synthesis which is the unfulfilled hope of many today.  The Jews who translated Averroes achieved distinction as physicians, complied astronomical treatises, wrote plays, directed the theater, composed music and so on, were in almost every case not merely loyal Jews, but intellectually active Jews, conversant with Hebrew, studying its literature and devoted to Talmudic scholarship…It was perhaps the only period of history, with the exception of that of Arab predominance, when absorption into the civilization of the environment had no corrosive effect on Jewish intellectual life.

Our Jewish music for this concert comes from many sources.  The opening Torah reading is juxtaposed with Catholic chant to highlight their similarities; each is some of the most formulaic music in its tradition, a simple tone for reciting text.  How do we know what 16th-century Torah trop sounded like?  Remarkably three treatises from the 1500s survive; they show, in music and in Hebrew, the main formulae for chanting the weekly Torah portions.  In a wondrous study of melodic detail, the Israeli scholar H. Avenary has shown that the Torah melodies chanted by 20th century Ashkenazic Jews are essentially the same as those found in these 400-year-old treatises! By contrast, very old Jewish “song” is hard to find, harder still to date with certainty; our Sephardic songs have been collected painstakingly from throughout the diaspora by Idelsohn, Katz, Vinaver, and other scholars.

On the other hand, the unprecedented Jewish choral polyphony by Rossi—known mostly for his instrumental music as the father of the trio sonata—is readily available.  The Hebrew is printed word-by-word from left to right, to follow the music.  Rossi published dozens of psalm settings in 1623 (probably composed closer to 1605), and stirred the wrath of the more orthodox factions in Mantua.  You will hear words from Rabbi Leo of Modena, defending Rossi’s radical work.  Leo, despite his invective, was unsuccessful; choral music had to wait until the mid-1800s to adorn synagogue services on any consistent scale.

We are please to give the first Chicago performance of Forestier’s “Sanctus” from the L’homme armé mass, courtesy of Tom MacCracken, co-editor of the brand-new Forestier edition.  We invite you to enjoy this eclectic and multifaceted view of Renaissance life—a view that was probably seen by no individual at the time, but which history, tradition, scholarship and rehearsals allow us all to experience now.

   --Jonathan Miller