Sung Nusach - mp3
What is Nusach?
An important part of the cantorial repertoire consists of Nusach:
the basic collection of traditional, melodic motives used to recite
Jewish prayers. The specific pattern to be used for a prayer depends
both on the holiday on which it is to be sung, and on the type of
service (e.g. morning or evening service). In this way Nusach sets the
mood for the entire service.
Each Jewish community traditionally had it's own local variation of
Nusach. Today, in a globalizing world, much of that variety is getting
lost. Within the Ashkenazi (i.e. occidental) branch of Judaism, there
can be distinguished two main types of Nusach: the Western
European and the Eastern European tradition. On this page
I'll illustrate the Western European Nusach as it can be heard in
As an example, I've sung a short fragment ("Retseih") from the Main
Prayer. While the text remains the same on all occasions, the Amsterdam
Nusach has no less than six different melodic patterns for it. Below,
you can listen to mp3 recordings of all six variations:
Each pattern has its own distinctive character. Notwithstanding
that, there are striking similarities in phrasing and
accentuation; in opening and closing formulas. An often encountered
mistake is that people tend to use the Nusach from the Pilgrimage
Festivals on the High Holidays as well; while the closing formulas
are indeed roughly similar, the rest of these two patterns differ a lot.
I've also sung a short fragment ("Venismach") from the evening
service. Again, the text remains the same on all occassions. Accidentally,
also this time there are six different patterns and thus six different
mp3 recordings to listen to:
The "Solemn Weekday" Nusach is used during Chanukah, Purim, and on other
solemn weekday occations such as inaugurations and commemorations. On the
Pilgrimage Festivals a liturgical poem can be inserted into the text which
it's own Nusach; for clarity I haven't sung such a poem on the recording.
As you might have noticed, the 9th of Av is the only day on which the
Nusach for "Venismach" is exactly the same as the Nusach of "Retseih." On
that day, all the main prayers of the evening and the morning service
are sung to the same Nusach. Due to the fact that "Venismach" forms the
direct introduction to the main part of the evening prayer---the
"Shema"---most patterns end here somewhat more triumphant than normally.
I noticed above that much of the variety in Nusach is getting
lost. One of the symptoms is that the traditional Western European
"venismach" for Shabbat is often replaced by a totally different
variant of Eastern European descent:
Mark Slobin noticed this striking symptom already in his book
Story of the American Cantorate."
The Dutch Nusach is known for its melodic Kedushah tunes. The
Kedushah is the section from the main prayer in which the praying
community sanctifies God, by echoing the words of the angels: "Holy, Holy,
Holy is the Eternal One, Master of Legions, the whole world is filled with
his glory" (Isaiah 6:3).
The Mussaf service of Rosh Hashannah (New Year) features an extra long
version of the Kedushah. Below you can listen to a mp3 recording of it.
For practical reasons, I've split the recording into three files:
The melody is based on the theme of "Vehakohanim," part of the Mussaf
service of Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement).
Note that the central verses of the Kedushah are said responsive: these
verses are first sung by the community, after which the cantor repeats
them. I've only sung the cantor's repetition, which is virtually the
same as what the community sings. A small difference is that unlike the
cantor, the community does not say the word "Echad" in the sentence
"Echad hu elokeinu." Since the verse "Addir Addireinu" is repeated by
the cantor to a different tune than initially sung by the community, I
sang this verse twice.
Kaddish and Priestly Blessings
Another striking feature of Dutch Nusach is that each holiday has its own
tune for the "Kaddish" prayer and for the Priestly Blesssings. The
different melodies for the Priestly
Blessings were all transcribed by Berlijn. Lissauer transcribed three
of the many different Kaddish tunes.
Below you can listen to a rare recording of the Minchah Kaddish of Yom
Kippur, sung by the late Amsterdam chief cantor Bentsion Moskovits:
This piece comes from a private gramophone
recording of the wedding of his son. The bridegroom fasts on the day
of his wedding, and says parts of the Yom Kippur liturgy during the
Minchah service preceding his wedding. Therefore it's an old custom that
the cantor sings the kaddish of the wedding Minchah service according to
the tune of the Yom Kippur Minchah service.
Keywords: nusach, mp3, cantorial music, chazzanut, liturgy, synagogue, prayers, jewish music.
You might want to read my
introduction to my collection of notated Nusach.
The patterns of Nusach are on their turn based on the basic motives of the
Prayer Modes, or Staygers. Josh Horowitz wrote an excellent
article on these
Staygers and their significance for Jewish music in general.
Josh Sharfman has recorded an Eastern Ashkenazi nusach of more or less
the whole year. He made it available on his website virtualcantor.com in no less
than 725 MP3 tracks!
See the Encyclopedia Judaica (Vol.12, p.1283) for
a more elaborate definition of Nusach.
Cantor Sam Weiss highly recommends Sholom Kalib's
Musical Tradition of the Eastern European Synagogue"
for a study of Eastern European Nusach.
Kol Tefilah has also some online