The Sword of the Dove
A Judeo-Spanish Purim Fantasia
HOLIDAY TRADITIONS Series, Volume II
Voice of the Turtle
Judith Wachs, Artistic Director
Derek Burrows: psaltery, mandolin, guitar, Spanish medieval bagpipe, flute, bombard, dumbeks, percussion and voice
Lisle Kulbach: kamanja, viola da gamba, medieval fiddle, rebec, saz, violin, recorder, harp, psaltery, percussion and voice
Jay Rosenberg: tenor chalumeau, ‘ud, guitar, clarinet, derbouka, naqqara, grogger, dumbeks, riqq, percussion and voice
Judith Wachs: soprano chalumeau, flute, baglama, psaltery, bombard, percussion and voice
Purim alegre, anyo bueno ke tengas!
A happy Purim – may you have a good year!
In 1492, all the Jews of Spain (Sephardim, from the Hebrew word for Spain, Sefarad, found in Obadiah 1:20]) who refused to renounce their faith, as required by the Inquisition, were expelled from their homeland of 1500 years. The Ottoman Empire welcomed this educated population, who brought with them technological skills so valuable to the aspirations of the Empire. But despite this hospitality, and because of the Ottoman policy of allowing their minorities almost total autonomy, these exiles continued to identify themselves as Spanish Jews, preserving the old Castilian language, and much of the culture of their Iberian experience. Because music was so central to their daily lives, particularly in the domain of women, they were able to preserve this astonishing musical heritage for five hundred years by oral tradition.
In 1992, the western world marked the Quincentenary – the 500th year since the momentous voyage of Christopher Columbus. Voice of the Turtle hopes to expand the modern perception of that history through its series of CDs called the “Paths of Exile.” This special recording project will enhance the significance of the Quincentenary from the little known perspective of the Jews of Spain. This third volume follows the “path” of Bulgaria and Yugoslavia.
The medieval Castilian Spanish spoken by the Jews of Spain at the time of the expulsion is called Judeo-Spanish, Judeo-español, Djudezmo, ‘Spanyolit, ‘Spaniol de mosotros, and Sephardi. The language was spoken and written, first in Hebrew characters and recently, in the Latin alphabet. It was preserved in exile largely by the women, whose insulated life protected the language and maintained its vitality. It is often called “Ladino,” which historically was the language emerging from Latin into which liturgical Hebrew texts were translated. The word comes from the old Spanish “ladinar,” which means “to translate from Arabic or Hebrew into Latin or a latinate language.”
ABOUT THIS COLLECTION
This is a Purim ‘fantasia’, a musical collection of fabulous, intriguing, surprising melodies created, remembered, preserved and adapted by the Spanish Jews. Our collection offers traditions from many different Sephardic communities, in Hebrew and Judeo-Spanish. The variety of expressions—from spiritual through humorous parody—reflects the wide dimension of the character of the holiday. In order to introduce as broad a perspective of the content of the texts, we have begun many versions in the middle of the narrative, since many of the songs have the same words, particularly at the beginning. The texts tell the stories of Purim which have been preserved in Coplas and Piyutim. The versions of the songs on this recording have, with the exception of one version of “Purim lanu” (from the Idelsohn collection, Volume 3), come from the remarkable twentieth century anthology of Isaac Levy, Antologia de Liturgia Judeo-Española. These notated versions of the melodies which have informed and inspired our composed arrangements, were collected by Levy from many communities of the Spanish Jews. These songs were among the first repertoire we had the pleasure of discovering from the treasure chest of Judeo-Spanish music, melodies which have stayed with us for 22 years.
SPECIAL SUPPLEMENT ON THE WEB!
For an extensive, informative, scholarly discussion of each of the Coplas de Purim and the Piyyutim included on this album by Professor Edwin Seroussi, of the Jewish Music Research Center at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, please go to http://www.voiceoftheturtle.com/articles.html
It is the ‘Turtle’ process to digest these melodies for their musical beauty, and collaboratively, to create a cappella or instrumental arrangements. We strive to reflect the inherent power of the music—the energy, dynamism, and integrity of the repertoire—and evoke an aural perspective of history through sound. Isaac Levy’s notated versions of these songs only represented the melodies. The instrumental and vocal arrangements are evolved by creative conjecture, a process in which the choices of instruments are determined by objective and subjective analysis of emotional, rhythmic, textual and musical factors.
THE HOLIDAY OF PURIM
The holiday of Purim celebrates the miraculous, last minute escape by the Jews living in the ancient kingdom of Persia (fifth century, B.C.E.) from an edict of total annihilation. The story is told in Megillat Ester, the Scroll of Esther.
Haman, the wicked vizier of King Ahasuerus, Akhasverosh (believed to be the Greek King Xerxes), devises a plot to kill all the Jews of the Kingdom.. The former Queen, Vashti, is deposed because of her refusal to ‘show’ herself to the assembled guests of the King. Mordekhai, the cousin of Esther, and advisor to the King, convinces his cousin Esther to enter the kingdom-wide beauty contest, the winner of which will become Queen. Whatever ‘show’ meant, Vashti demanded that her dignity be respected, for which she paid dearly, replaced easily by the winner of the beauty contest. Esther is counseled by Mordekhai not to reveal her religion (which probably would have disqualified her), hoping that by gaining the ear of the King, she might be able to persuade him of the injustice of Haman’s plot.
Esther becomes Queen and gains the love and respect of the King tosuch an extent, that she is able to expose Haman’s wickedness. Queen Esther risks her life by interference in matters of state—ultimately revealing to the King that she is a Jew, and that she and all of her people would die by edict of his own minister, Haman. The King, outraged, repeals the edict, and the Jewish people are saved. Haman and his family suffer the fate that he had ordained for the Jews. The Jews have escaped annihilation, and are now in positions of power. The name of Haman becomes synonymous with evil forever.
An historical novel, an allegory, a metaphorical tale, the story resonates with elements of Persian and Babylonian folklore, and other tales in which Jewish bravery vanquishes threats of total annihilation. Esther’s ascent to the throne is reminiscent of 1001 tales of Scheherezade.
In ancient Babylonian tales, the names of the hero and heroine are the god Marduk and the goddess Ishtar, names too similar to be dismissed as random. And also in evidence are elements of the story of the fall of Nicanor, the Jew-hating General under the Syrian King Demetrius who tried to destroy the Jews in Palestine. Nicanor was defeated by Judah Maccabee (First Book of Maccabees). The date of the accounting, the 15th day of Adar is the same. Further, there are recognizable elements of the story of the defeat of Holofernes by Judith, a tale which also credits the combination of a woman’s intelligence, bravery and beauty to vanquish a threat to the Jewish people.
Megillat Ester, The Scroll of Esther, is recounted on the 14th day of the Hebrew month Adar in Jewish communities all over the world. It is read aloud in the synagogue, and the mention of the name of the wicked Haman is accompanied by noisemakers which the children wield in order to erase his name forever. It is an excellent story which inspires art, poetry and music, and gives cause for joyous yearly dramatic inspiration, celebration, and even, unusual in the customs of the Jews, inebriation. The holiday is a joyous one, marked by feasts, community sharing of gifts of food, drinking, masquerades, and the re-enactment of the story by children and adults in elaborate theatrical presentations.
For adults, the story invites a continuing dialogue addressing issues of ethics, power and justice that confront so many communities throughout history. For the children, as it was for the Baal Shem Tov, it is enough to tell the story.