Anthology of Music Traditions in Israel, 14 edited by Edwin Seroussi

Italian Jewish Musical Traditions From the Leo Levi Collection (1954-1961)

Selections and Commentaries by Francesco Spagnolo (Yuval Italia,

Jerusalem - Roma, 2001
Jewish Music Research Centre, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, Roma

© and P 2001, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem
e Fondazione Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, Roma

The CD comes in a box with a booklet in English, Italian and Hebrew, with an introduction to the traditional Italian Jewish music repertoires, and commentaries for each of the 42 tracks presented in the selection.

album coverItalian Jewish Musical Traditions From the Leo Levi Collection (1954-1961)

Available through the Jewish Music Research Center at the Hebrew University Featured in La Giuntina's web site and at Hatikva Music

Cover: "Teatrino", detail by Emanuele Luzzati, courtesy of the artist from Viaggio nel mondo ebraico, Tormena, Genoa 2000, p. 18-19

The Jews of Italy and Their Music

The recordings collected by Italian-Israeli ethnomusicologist Leo Levi throughout the 1950's constitute a unique testimony to the wealth of Italian Jewish musical traditions. The first and only extensive aural documentation of a fascinating cross-cultural world, these melodies take the listener on a musical journey across Jewish Italy, painting the portrait of a lost world. A large portion of this orally transmitted heritage was lost over the first half of the 20th century, and can only be heard in recordings.

Never before the creation of the State of Israel, did Jews of so many varied origins live together, and in such a stimulating (even if at times threatening) environment as they did in the land they called in Hebrew I-Tal-Yah, "Island of Divine Dew". A crossroad in world culture, Italy has been in over two thousand years a haven for several layers of immigration from the four corners of the Diaspora. This has allowed the persistence and co-existence of peculiar Italian, Sephardi (or Spagnoli) and Ashkenazi (or Tedeschi) identities, rituals and traditions. Thus, Jewish Italy is both as a time capsule, where ancient Jewish cultural traits have been preserved, as well as a "laboratory of Modernity", where such traits were adapted to constantly changing conditions. Italian Jews successfully mediated their way amongst tradition, diversity, religious conflicts, emancipation, cosmopolitanism and multi-culturalism, all at the very heart of Christianity.

Italy's own peculiar history is indeed reflected in its Jewish melodies. Each community developed a style of synagogue song according to its origins. Some groups retained the ancient Italian minhag (ritual), which differs from the Sephardi and the Ashkenazi ones especially in the cantillation of the Torah (Hebrew Pentateuch) and in the pronunciation of Hebrew. At the same time, Jews who immigrated to Italy over time kept their original (Sephardi, Ashkenazi) rituals, but adapted them to the Jewish and non-Jewish Italian musical environment and often adopted the local pronunciation of Hebrew. In all communities, the impact of Italian art and popular music has been tremendous: folk tunes, as well as Italy's most celebrated music, Opera and bel canto vocal style, have been incorporated into the liturgy.

Some Jewish melodies created in Italy were disseminated throughout the Diaspora, where they are still sung even if their origin has been forgotten. Due to migrations, persecutions and assimilation, many musical traditions extant until before World War 2 are now lost. Yet, the contemporary Italian Jewish community of less than thirty thousand people, with its local differences and currents, still retains its multicultural world in their music.

Leo Levi

Leo Levi (Casale Monferrato, 1912- Jerusalem 1982) was the first scholar who devoted his research to the Italian Jewish oral musical traditions. Yet, his role within the field of Jewish ethnomusicology, as well as in the development of ethnomusicology in Italy, remains to be fully recognized. The grandson of a Rabbi, he was an uomo di lettere of wide-ranging interests. His plan to devote a dissertation to the Italian synagogue song was frustrated by the rise of Fascism and anti-Semitism in Italy. During his student years in Turin, he was arrested twice under the charge of engaging in subversive activities. A fervent Zionist, he promptly changed his major to Botany and settled in Palestine in 1936.

After WWII, he immediately returned to Italy to work at the newly founded (1948) Centro Nazionale Studi di Musica Popolare (CNSMP, now Archivi di Etnomusicologia) at the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia in Rome. A socialist, Levi connected with the interest for the "music of the people" that permeated the new wave of Marxist-oriented Italian culture of the time. A Jew deeply attached to tradition and to the practice of Judaism, he became the first Italian scholar to research a broad spectrum of liturgical musical traditions, Jewish and Christian. Levi became part of the ethnographic team of the CNSMP and was granted access to the facilities of the RAI-Italian National Radio as a partner in documenting Italy's folklore.

In over eighty recording sessions Levi assembled seventy-two audio reels, for a total of circa 1000 recorded items. These recordings bear the testimony -- in most cases, the only account -- of twenty-seven liturgical traditions preserved in the Jewish communities of over twenty Italian cities, allowing us to draw a picture of the country's Jewish musical traditions prior to their loss: a musical memory from the ones who carried it.

The CD

The present selection is an anthology of Leo Levi's previously unreleased recordings from the original reels kept at the Archivi di Etnomusicologia of the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia in Rome and at the National Sound Archives in Jerusalem. Levi's fieldwork was aimed at documenting a very large and diverse repertoire, with restricted means and in extremely limited time. Thus, most items in his Collection are only a few minutes, or seconds, long. This enabled to present a choice of forty-two pieces (less than five percent of the whole!) varying in ritual, location and musical content, and sung by twenty-eight different performers.

The content follows a liturgical order, beginning with the Shabbat (Sabbath) and the High Holy Days and continuing with the various Festivals and holidays, following the Jewish calendar. The last sections include liturgical songs and piyutim for the "life cycle" (birth, circumcision and wedding). All songs are performed unaccompanied by solo voice or by small groups in the traditional style (although from the 19th century and until the early 1950's, several pieces were sung in a polyphonic setting, accompanied by the organ). All the performers (except tr. 5 and 41) are men, and were identified by Levi as carriers of the tradition of their respective communities. All texts are in Hebrew, except for some Passover and Purim songs [tr. 24-27, 35-36] sung in the local Judeo-Italian dialects, and a hymn for the Jewish emancipation [tr. 42].


(Each track is fully described in the CD booklet)

Shabbat and Torah Readings

1. Mizmor ledavid (Casale Monferrato, Ashkenazi)
2. Lekhah dodi (Torino, Italian)
3. Yigdal (Pitigliano, Italian)
4. Qiddush (Roma, Italian)
5. Tzur mishelo akhalnu (Ferrara, Italian)
6. En kamokha baelim adonay (Gorizia, Ashkenazi)
7-9. Torah readings: Bereshit (Gen. I) -- 7. Roma, Sephardi; 8. Torino, Italian; 9. Pitigliano, Italian
10. Qaddish --- Hamavdil (Ferrara, Ashkenazi)
11. Havdalah (Roma, Italian)

High Holy Days

12. Kol berue (Padova, Italian)
13. Ahot qetanah (Trieste, Sephardi)
14. Shofet kol haaretz (Venezia, Ashkenazi)
15. 'Alenu (Asti, Apam)
16. Hon tahon (Venezia, Sephardi)
17. Kol nedarim (Torino, Italian)
18. Birkat kohanim (Alessandria, Italian)
19. El nora 'alilah (Firenze, Sephardi)
20. 'Et sha'are ratzon (Torino, Italian)

Passover and Shavu'ot

21. Betzet yisrael (Ferrara, Italian)
22. Yigdal (Venezia, Ashkenazi)
23. Qiddush 'erev pesah (Trieste, Ashkenazi)
24. 'Avadim hayinu -- Schiavi fummo (Ancona, Italian)
25. Chad gadiah -- E venne il signor padre (Firenze, Italian)
26. Jé rivà 'l lüu (Moncalvo, Apam)
27. Che volera, che intendera (Siena, Italian)
28. Hallel (Ps. 117-118, Livorno, Sephardi)
29. Yigdal (Gorizia, Ashkenazi)

Simhat Torah

30. Mashiah wegam eliah (Siena, Italian)
31. Amen amen amen shem nora (Ancona, Sephardi)
32. Shalom lekha dodi (Firenze, Sephardi)

Hannukah and Purim

33. Berakhah -- Ma'oz tzur (Verona, Ashkenazi)
34. Megilat Esther (Est. I:1-5, Casale Monferrato, Ashkenazi)
35. Akh zeh hayom qiwiti/Fate onore al bel Purim (Livorno, Sephardi)
36. Barekhu/Wal viva, viva nostro Burino (Livorno, Sephardi)

Nascite, circoncisioni e matrimoni

37. Yehi shalom behelenu (Trieste, Sephardi)
38. Bar Yohai (Roma, Sephardi)
39. Arze levanon yifrahu (Padova, Italian)
40. Qehi kinor (Casale Monferrato, Ashkenazi)
41. Haleluyah (Ferrara, Italian)

42. L'emancipazione israelitica (Casale Monferrato, Ashkenazi)