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Sephardic Songs


Sephardic Songs

Jana Lewitova and others

Arta 47

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The Sephardic Tradition
Sometimes the greatest music comes from peoples who are oppressed or impoverished. Whether its is the need to make the best of a bad situation, or the need to express their sorrow, their music can be the most moving and heartfelt of all.

Such is the case with the Jews in Spain near the end of the Spanish Inquisition. In 1492, the Catholic Isabella of Castille and Ferdinand of Aragon put out a decree:
All Jews, both men and women, are to leave our Kingdom by the end of he month of July, together with their sons and daughters and wet-nurses and Jewish relatives, and let them not dare to return, for they do so under pain of death and the confiscation of all their property by the Royal Treasury.
The result was that 200,000 Jews fled into Northern Europe and around the Mediterranean. Almost half of these found their way into the Ottoman Empire, now Turkey. Here they were welcomed by the Sultans and valued for their intellectual and professional skills. In this environment of tolerance, the Jews were free to practice their lives as before, keeping their old language (Ladino), customs and traditions.

They called themselves the Sepharadim, from the Hebrew word Sepharad meaning Spanish, and their music became known as Sephardic. It is a curious mix of Spanish folk music, with a definite Jewish flavour, and more than a sprinkling of the local Middle Eastern spices. Combine that with its medieval origins, and we get served a truly interesting and cosmopolitan dish.

Sephardic songs are traditionally sung by the women, without instrumental accompaniment. It is derived from the Spanish Romansa or heroic ballad, but later taken on by the common people, describing everyday events, wishes and feelings. Not surprisingly, the Sephardic Songs have more than their fair share of sorrow and pain.

The Sephardic tradition is oral, the songs taught by mother to daughter. The lack of a written form means that the origins of these songs is difficult to trace. Some are obviously medieval, but most have a timeless quality. They could easily have been written for today. They are sad, happy and most of all, haunting.

This recording is from a Czech group with the marvelous Jana Lewitová as mezzo-soprano. She is accompanied by a small group of strings, lute and percussion, all common and popular in their day.

This is specialized music, being from an small ethnic group exiled to a distant land long ago, but it speaks a universal language, alien but familiar at the same time.

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Track Listing

Sephardic Songs
Jana Lewitová - Mezzo-Soprano
Rudolf Merinsky - lute
Hana Flekova - Viola Da Gamba
Pavel Plaanka - Percussion
Ingeborg Zadna - Viola Da Gamba

  1. Avrix Mi Galanica
  2. A La Nana, A La Buba
  3. Aire De Mujer
  4. Vars On The Song 'The King Of France' I
  5. Adio Querida
  6. Al Pasar Por Casablanca
  7. Irme Quiero
  8. Variace II
  9. El Rey Que Muncho Madruga
  10. Ven Querida
  11. La Serena
  12. Variace III
  13. Partos Trocados
  14. Durme, Durme
  15. Paxaro D'Hermozura
  16. Variace IV
  17. Noches, Noches
  18. Un Lunes Por La Manana
  19. Variace V
  20. Ya Viene El Cativo
  21. Esta Montana
  22. Quando El Rey Nimrod

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