Oxford Seminar in Advanced Jewish Studies, ‘Between Sacred and Profane – Jewish Musical Cultures in Early Modern Europe’
The Oxford Seminar in Advanced Jewish Studies for 2019-2020 will focus on Ashkenazic, Italian-Jewish and Western Sephardic musical expressions in Europe during the early modern period (excluding European Jewish communities under Ottoman rule). Special emphasis will be given to the connection of liturgical, semi-liturgical and secular spheres within both composition and performance practice—hence the title “Between Sacred and Profane”. A group of up to eight Visiting Fellows in each Oxford term will examine the connections between these three major Jewish cultural entities (especially in urban spaces where they were all part of a complex Jewish soundscape) and external connections with the European musical cultures in which this Jewish music developed.
The study of Jewish Music 1500-1750 has been fuelled in the course of the last decades by the discovery of the early modern period as one of the formative periods in Jewish history; by a shift of focus from a ‘high culture’ perspective to the history of everyday life and gender studies, including the vernaculars and their musical expressions; by the rediscovery of important materials relating to the music of the Sephardic and Italian Jewish communities in the West; by reconstructions of Jewish song culture and performance practice in Italy and Ashkenaz; by the discovery of secondary sources on Jewish Music in this period in the writings of Christian Hebraists and fragments in Christian compositions; and by analysis of concepts expressed by Jewish religious authorities with regard to music. The group will build on this earlier work, examining in particular the manifestations of Jewish music which elude the categories found in Western musical traditions, such as synagogue music, prayer chants, various semi-liturgical songs and hymns and the traditions that would eventually evolve into klezmer, as well as the interdependence and processes of demarcation between sacred and profane in various European Jewish musical cultures throughout this period.