JHOM - Salamone Rossi

by Joshua Jacobson

Salamone de Rossi (Heb. Shlomo Min-ha-Adummim) became the leading Jewish composer of the early Baroque period, and a court musician of the Gonzaga rulers of Mantua. He is considered the pioneer of new baroque forms which include the trio sonata and suite.

As a Jewish musician, his lasting contribution is his Ha-Shirim Asher li-Shlomo (1622), 33 settings for three to eight voices of Hebrew texts, comprising psalms, hymns, and other religious poems for festive synagogue services.

The following are excerpts from an article by Joshua Jacobson, founder and director of the Zamir Chorale of Boston.

Salamone Rossi was active at the court of the Gonzaga family in Mantua at the turn of the seventeenth century as violinist and composer. He achieved fame through the music he composed in the most modern styles of the time, but in his later years he also applied the old-fashioned polyphonic principles to the liturgy of his own people, a move that was as controversial as it may have been popular.

Very little is known about the details of Rossi's life, but we may surmise that he was born about 1570 and died about 1630. The composer was a descendant of the illustrious Italian-Jewish family "de Rossi" which is the Italian translation of the Hebrew family name "Me-Ha-Adumim." This proud family, which included the famous and controversial Bible scholar Azariah de Rossi and a number of fine musicians, traced its ancestry back to the exiles from Jerusalem, carried away to Rome by Titus in the year 70 of the Christian era.

What little information we do have is gleaned from his published works, consisting of six books of madrigals, one book of duets, one book of canzonets, four books of instrumental works (including sonatas, sinfonias and various dance pieces), a single balletto, and a path-breaking collection of Hebrew motets for the synagogue.

Shir haShirim Asher li'Shlomo: cover page
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Living in the shadow of such great figures as Monteverdi and Gastoldi, Rossi has generally been overlooked by historians and performers; yet much of his music posesses great depth and charm. Moreover, in several ways, Rossi was in the avant-garde. He was the first madrigal composer to favor the so-called mannerist poets. (Mannerist poetry is characterized by a serious self-consciousness; love is the subject of nearly every poem love often unrequited and the poet sees himself as a martyr, dying, sighing, suffering and burning with passion for his beloved).

In the field of instrumental music, Rossi likewise occupied a pioneering position. His book of Sinfonie e Gagliarde, published in 1607, contains the first trio-sonatas in the literature. Further, he is the composer of the only extant collection of polyphonic music for the synagogue (Hashirim Asher Lish'lomo, 1622) to appear in print before the nineteenth century.

excerpted Joshua Jacobson's original article from which this was excerpted appeared in The American Choral Review 30:4 (Fall 1988).
excerpted Joshua Jacobson, founder and artistic director of the Boston Zamir Chorale; composer; musician; educator; and scholar. He recently published the comprehensive Chanting the Hebrew Bible: The Complete Guide to the Art of Cantillation (JPS).



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