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Purim Party

A commemoration of the Book of Esther, Purim celebrations are best known today for their gift-giving and wild costume parties.

Purim cookies

A picture of the special triangle-shaped cookies called “hamentashen.”

This hour on Harmonia, we explore the Jewish spring holiday of Purim. A commemoration of the Book of Esther, Purim celebrations are best known today for their gift-giving, wild costume parties, and delicious triangle-shaped cookies called hamentashen. The story of Esther was also the inspiration for a number of musical works, as we will see. Plus, we’ll hear from our featured release, a collection of 17th-century German music on a CD entitled Heart and Soul, performed by Ars Lyrica Houston.


Anello, by an anonymous composer, performed by Ensemble Lucidarium on their 2005 release, La Istoria de Purim: Music and Poetry of the Jews of Renaissance Italy. On Harmonia this hour, it’s a musical celebration of the Jewish spring holiday of Purim.


The Story of Esther

For the Jewish holiday of Purim, congregants read the story of Esther, told in the Megillah. I’m told that it’s traditional to imbibe so heavily that you cannot tell the difference between the names of the characters in the story. Since you’re supposed to boo and hiss when you hear the name of the villain, Haman, the party can become very boisterous. The title of our first work, sung in Yiddish, translates to “Allow yourself the freedom to sing this song in Purim, when already drunk.”

We heard ensemble Di Tsaytmashin perform a Purim song, from their album Yiddish Baroque Music.

Next, we head to Spain for Sephardic music from the Spanish Renaissance. We’ll hear “Koplas de Purim.” In 15th-century Spain, this would have possibly been performed by a woman, accompanying herself on frame drum. Here, the ensemble La Roza Enflorese uses influences from the period after 1492, when the Jews and Muslims had been expelled from Spain–to infuse this recording with sounds from European and Middle-Eastern traditions and influences. In this track, we’ll hear voice accompanied by chogur—a plucked and fretted instrument, and riqq (a tambourine).

La Roza Enflorese performed “Koplas de Purim” from their 2011 release Chants Judeo-Espagnols d’Orient et d’Occident.

An early version of Handel’s oratorio Esther was titled Haman and Mordechai, after the villain and hero in the Purim story. This 1720 work was Handel’s first attempt at oratorio writing. He later revised the text, music, and title. The final version with its new title, Esther, was premiered in 1732 with a libretto by Samuel Humphreys. Here is a duet “Who calls my parting soul from death?” sung by the king Ahasuerus and his Jewish queen Esther. The King’s aria “O beauteous Queen, unclose those eyes!” follows—music from Handel’s Esther.

Music from Handel’s oratorio Esther. John Butt directed the Dunedin Consort in that 2013 Linn Records release.

As with other Handel oratorios, Esther remained popular after the composer’s death. Austrian composer Christiano Giuseppi Lidarti familiarized himself with a 1774 Hebrew translation of Humphrey’s Esther libretto. Lidarti decided to use this Hebrew libretto with his own music for Ester, written for the Portuguese Synagogue in Amsterdam. Here is “Shiru Leoim” from Lidarti’s Ester.

We heard the Salamone Rossi Ensemble perform music from Lidarti’s Esther. That was from their 2008 recording, Jewish Baroque Music.


Chant for the Feast of Purim

On their CD La Istoria de Purim, Ensemble Lucidarium explores music of Jews in 16th-century Italy. According to Avery Gosfield, the group’s co-director, Jews who had fled from Germany embraced the flourishing humanist culture they found in some parts of Italy. Gosfield writes that the recording “reflects the permeability of that place and time … It wouldn’t have been unusual for a rabbi to sing a prayer to a song he just heard on the street.” In an anonymous collection of songs, “Chants pour la fête de Pourim,” we hear how this music may have sounded in Renaissance Italy. There are episodes of a woman singing in Italian accompanied by recorder, plucked and bowed strings, and hurdy-gurdy. This is interspersed with chanting and singing in Hebrew, both accompanied and unaccompanied. Let’s listen.

We heard “Chants for the feast of Purim” performed by Ensemble Lucidarium on a recording titled La Istoria de Purim: Music and Poetry of the Jews in Renaissance Italy.


Heart and Soul

Our featured recording this week is by Texas-based ensemble Ars Lyrica Houston, who are known for their live and recorded interpretations of baroque and classical music. Led by Matthew Dirst, Ars Lyrica is the early music ensemble in residence at the Hobby Center of the Performing Arts in Houston. In their 2015 recording Heart and Soul, the ensemble turned to devotional works of 17th-century Germany. Here is Philipp Heinrich Erlebach’s “Trocknet euch ihr heißen Zähren.”

Music by Erlebach performed by Ryland Angel, countertenor, with Ars Lyrica Houston.

Though not a household name today, Dietrich Becker was a well-respected Kapellmeister and violinist in Hamburg in the late 17th century. As a civic musician, Becker dedicated a collection of pieces to city officials. We’ll hear an Aria from Suite for 5 from that collection, whose title translates to “Musical Spring Fruit.”

Aria, from a suite by Dietrich Becker, performed by Ars Lyrica Houston, Matthew Dirst, director, from a 2015 recording entitled Heart and Soul.


Break and theme music

:60, Yiddish Baroque Music, Di Tsaytmashin, Brilliant 2016, Tr. 3 Zing dash Gzang um Rosh-Khoudesh: den er iz ouch Koudesh

Theme: Danse Royale, Ensemble Alcatraz, Elektra Nonesuch 79240-2 1992 B000005J0B, Tr. 12 La Prime Estampie Royal

The writer for this edition of Harmonia was Sarah Huebsch Schilling.

Learn more about recent early music CDs on the Harmonia Early Music Podcast. You can subscribe on iTunes or at http://www.harmoniaearlymusic.org.

Music Heard On This Episode

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Sarah Huebsch

Sarah Huebsch , DM, performs on period oboes throughout North America. Sarah holds degrees from the New England Conservatory and Indiana University. She started writing for Harmonia in May 2016.

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