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Maoz Tzur & Shavuot

At 02:49 PM 12/25/01, Robert Cohen wrote:
>I can find no mention, Sam, now that I've done some (more) reading, of 
>"Ma'oz Tsur" as perhaps a hymn for Shavuous--Who says/thinks so, and on 
>what basis?  As anomalous as it is that we sing "Ma'oz Tsur" only for 
>Chanukah (as opposed to, say, Purim, or Passover), its singing, or 
>reciting, on Shavuous would presumably be even odder, as it's one holiday 
>that's *not* referred to.  So whence?

The journey from Shavuot is not so odd:
Shavuot=>Blintzes. Blintzes=> sour cream. Sour cream=>latkes. Latkes=>Chanukah.
Not convinced?  Neither was I, so I scoured my memory bank, but that 
account seems to be dormant for quite a while.
I did some reading and came across what =could= have been the original 
source for my assertion.  But if it was indeed my only source, then I had 
misremembered it and I need to retract my statement that the poem Maoz Tzur 
might have once been sung on Shavuot.  (But frankly, I think there was some 
other source that I cannot now locate.)  The silver lining is that the 
information coming from this source is undoubtedly more interesting to this 
list than my original statement.  In a nutshell, it's the Maoz Tzur 
=melody= that might have originated on Shavuot.

[The following is excerpted from p.90 of  ?A Voice Still Heard... The 
Sacred Songs of the Ashkenazic Jews? by the late eminent musicologist Eric 
Werner (Pennsylvania State University Press). FYI, Werner?s use of 
?Ashkenazic? and ?Minhag Ashkenaz? in this important book is almost always 
limited to Western Ashkenazic (German) usage and sources.]

<< Ma'oz Tzur: The poem is by an Italian hymn writer named Mordecai, of the 
thirteenth century. The melody is definitely of German chorale character, 
consisting of three parts, each derived from a different source?
?The background of Ma'oz Tzur is still more complex. The first allusion to 
the tune -- but by no means the complete melody -- is found in [Ahron] 
Beer's manuscript (ca. 1760).  There it is not identified in any way with 
Hanukkah, but rather with Shavuot [i.e. applied to ?neutral? texts like 
Hallel. S.W.]?

The first identification with the popular Hanukkah melody seems to have 
occurred in Braham and Nathan's song to Lord Byron's ?Hebrew Melodies,? in 
particular in the song "On Jordan's Banks" (1815).  There is evidence that 
other melodies were sung to the text of Ma'oz Tzur: first, a melody of 
older vintage about which we hear only indirectly [i.e. without any musical 
information], and yet another?  transmitted by the Venetian composer 
Benedetto Marcello. Marcello cites the tune as "Intonazione sopra ma?oz 
tzur." Today in Israel this noble tune is generally preferred to the 
Germanic one.

That melody [i.e. the ?standard? tune] seems to have become customary in 
German synagogues about 1750 or even a little earlier.  Yet the fact 
remains that meter and syllabic stress of the tune invariably go against 
the Hebrew accentuation. This would be unimportant if the Marcello tune had 
the same flaws; however, that version fits the Hebrew accents precisely. 
[Note: I find this point of Werner?s, repeated below, not at all 
convincing. -S.W.]  Moreover, there exists another poem for Hanukkah that, 
in turn, is much better suited to the Germanic tune than is the customary 
Ma'oz Tzur. It is the old Piyut, ?Sh'ney Zeytim? (Two Olive Branches), 
which used to be chanted on the Sabbath of Hanukkah. The meter of that 
Piyut truly matches the metric structure of the Germanic tune.

At this point I submit a conjecture that I cannot prove decisively: the 
original tune of Ma'oz Tzur in Minhag Ashkenaz was the one transmitted by 
Marcello, which fits the rhymes and stresses of the text exactly. At the 
same time the older Piyut, Sh'ney Zeytim for the Sabbath of Hanukkah was 
sung to the Germanic tune. When, however, that Piyut fell into oblivion, 
the cantors and congregations, unwilling to give up the popular tune, 
transferred this much more catchy air to the text of Ma'oz Tzur. In the 
United States, where even this text is not too familiar, the melody is 
maintained in an English paraphrase, "Rock of Ages." >>

Cantor Sam Weiss === Jewish Community Center of Paramus, NJ

---------------------- jewish-music (at) shamash(dot)org ---------------------+

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