Dutch Notated Nusach,
Before the Second World War, a number of Dutch chazzanim/composers
endeavoured to transcribe a collection of typically Dutch synagogue
tunes. These melodies belong to the now disappearing tradition of
Western European Jewish music. Neil Levin
aptly characterized this special heritage:
"Outside the synagogue, German Jewry developed a broad tapestry of
regional melodies. Some families handed down tunes through the
generations, especially in Frankfurt where they were considered communal
treasures. German kohanim had melodies that no one else sang. Distinct
tunes existed for Shabbat zemirot, for portions of the seder and even
for secular Zionist songs. Most of these, some known only in a single
community, are now virtually extinct."
The collections discussed on this page form an important source for
studying this repertoire.
Among these collections, the most important one is a manuscript
by Abraham Katz (1881-1930). Katz
added detailed annotations in
Hebrew and German concerning the proper
usage of the transcribed melodies. This manuscript is
considered to be
one of the "treasures" of the Amsterdam University
Library, which owns
the work. The current cantor-in-chief of Amsterdam,
Prof. Dr. Hans
Bloemendal made a clarifying
of the work.
Two other collections are notable, since they are among the few works on
Dutch chazzanut that were actually printed. The first one of these two
works (1861) is by the Dutch composer Aron Wolff Berlijn (1817-1870). It
contains the traditional melodies for the Priestly Blessings. In Holland, on each
festival a specific melody is used to sing the Priestly Blessings.
Berlijn arranged all these tunes for 2-part choir. I provided midi
files for all these tunes.
The second collection (1924) was
transcribed by J.A. Lissauer and published in the prewar weekly "The
Friday Evening." Especially important are the three kaddish tunes in
this collection: they give evidence of the Dutch tradition of using
specific kaddish tunes for each festival.
Furthermore, Chazzan Maroko wrote an exposition on Dutch Nusach for the
prewar "New Israelite Weekly" (1935). He provided quite a number of
notated examples. Among many other things, he noted that the priestly
tune for shacharit shel Matnat Yad is largely based on the daily
recitative used in the German city of Frankfurt for "Divrei 'Elokim
Chayim" and "Habocheir Be'amo Yisra'eil Be'ahavah." See Ugutsch, "Der
Frankfurter Kantor", No. 13.
I received the following reaction from Charles Vitez:
"Thank you very much for such an interesting website. It would be great if
you could get someone to translate the newspaper articles into English.
I was particularly interested in Chazan Berlijn's book on nigunei kohanim.
Unfortunately I cannot really read music, but your midi files were a great
The only tune that I actually recognised was the one called
"shacharit shel yomin noraim" (page 7)
apart from the first few bars (which in any case do
not seem to blend well and are probably just a fancy bit of chazanus added
possibly because he realised that this chant was too short as it stood) it
is much like the tune that my late father taught me and which he learned in
the synagogues of Budapest almost 90 years ago.
The difference is that the way I know it the first set of ascending bars are
repeated and the final bar holds on some more and finally ascends before
repeating "ve-yishmerecho", "vichunecho" and "sholaym".
The timing here is essential because the congregation has to have sufficient
time to recite the prayer "ribaynay shel aylom", complete it before the
words themselves are uttered by the kohen and then be ready with the
Cantor Sam Weiss commented:
"Related evidence of the blurring of the distinctions between
free-flowing hazzanut and metrical melody is found in Berlijn's The
Dutch Priestly Melodies. Here the interesting evidence is in written
form as well. His "Birkat Nesi'at Kapayim"
gives the instruction "Andante, quasi recitativo," yet it is composed
for two voices.
That the written transcription is an attempt to fit a non-metrical work
into a metrical strait-jacket is indicated by all the fermatas that it
contains. Yet the scoring for two voices indicates that the composer
heard this music with more "Western" ears than his East-European
counterpart would have."
More reactions are welcome.
Last update: 04 January 2006